And more thoughts on Rosh Hashanah
“This world is like the nighttime.”
Babylonian Talmud Avoda Zarah 3b
“In the evening one lays down with tears, but in the morning – a cry of joy!”
“Some ‘darkness’ is not darkness at all, but is in fact a light so brilliant that it afflicts man with blindness!”
Vilna Gaon (Siddur, Yotzer Hameoros)[i]
The Jew must keep the Sabbath meticulously. There are 39 main categories of creative activities that the Jew must “rest” from on the Sabbath, as well as many, many sub-categories. If a Jew violates the sanctity of Sabbath any time from Friday night through Saturday night, he is put to death. But with gentiles, this is not so. Not only is a gentile not obligated to keep the Sabbath; shockingly, the Talmud declares that if a gentile does keep the Sabbath, he is to be put to death![ii] He was not truly put to death. The gentile would simply be beaten, and punished, and informed that he ought to have been killed.[iii] A gentile who chooses any day of the week, starting in the morning and culminating the next morning to refrain from work in interest of a Sabbath, has forfeited his right to live! [iv]
There are several peculiarities that must now be investigated. The first question is; why on earth should this be? Is it so horrible to keep a Sabbath when you are not meant to? We find no such penalty for a gentile who chooses to dwell in a Sukkah, don Tefillin, or hear the blast of a Shofar. Another glaring question is; for a Jew the Sabbath begins at nightfall and ends at nightfall. For a gentile, observance of such a Sabbath is not considered a Sabbath, rather he is held responsible only if he keeps 24 hours beginning in the morning and culminating the next morning. Why?
A gentile is meant to recognize reality. He is obligated to live by the Seven Noachide laws – the basic moral obligations God gave to mankind. The gentile is to recognize God, but he need not necessarily become a member of the chosen people. A gentile who keeps the Noachide laws has led a moral life and will merit a place in the world to come.[v] There are several other laws aside from these seven, enumerated in the Talmud. A gentile may not study the Torah, for example.[vi] The Sabbath is “a sign” between the Lord and His people.[vii] Only the Jew is to keep the Sabbath.
[If a man wishes to take his wife to dinner on the night of their anniversary, the table should only be set for two. And should an extremely close and loyal friend wish to dine with them, that friend has made it clear that he truly does not understand the nature of this rendezvous.]
A gentile is expected to understand the purpose of the universe, and to know his place therein. Should he entirely misunderstand the place of the Jew in the world, he has lost his right to live and must be chastised back into his right mind.
We are still bothered by why a gentile begins his day in the daytime and not at night. Let us backtrack a bit. Our sages teach, “Abraham establish the morning prayers, Isaac the afternoon prayers, and Jacob the evening prayers.”[viii] Now the Talmud teaches that the Jewish day begins at night, as it says in Genesis[ix], “And it was evening and it was morning.” First came nighttime; the day followed.[x] If this is so, should Abraham not have begun with the first prayer of the day - the Evening prayer - which is the first prayer after nightfall? Why did he begin with the second in the sequence of prayers?
The Sefer HaMikneh[xi] teaches an interesting thing. He proves that at Sinai there was a major change in the calendar. Whereas until Sinai, the days were calculated with night following the day; after Sinai, the Jews began counting the night first with the day following the night. Abraham, who lived prior to Sinai, began his days in the mornings, and thus established the morning prayer, as it was the first in the sequence at that time. For gentiles, who were not party to the Sinai experience, the day still begins in the morning, and the night follows. There is a relatively simple reason for all this. The Talmud teaches that the reason that the darker animals walk first amongst the flock, is that darkness always precedes light. The Jew looks forward to better times, when “God will rule the whole world,”[xii] and he prepares for the world to come. He knows that the darkness and bad times experienced in this world are but a prelude to great things to come. The secular, Epicurean outlook, “eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” is essentially one that sees this world as the daytime. “This is the daytime, and all we have to look forward to is the grave,” is a falsehood - and the Torah is here to correct it. Thus when the torah was given, its guardians were then on the level to live a life where night precedes day. But the gentiles who did not learn this message still relate to this world in the wrong way. As the Vilna Gaon explains, when it comes to the idea – in concept - light precedes darkness, but in actuality, darkness precedes light. Jacob is conceived before Esau, but Esau is born first. Esau inherits this world, and Jacob the next world.
But when did this all change? The Talmud makes it clear that in the creation of the world, darkness preceded light.[xiii] So when was this massive change to “night following day,” which was only corrected at Sinai? The Talmud teaches that the nations of the world heard loud sounds at the time of the Sinai experience and approached the prophet Bilaam to find out what was going on. They asked him, “Has God returned to the flood?”[xiv] and he replied, “God is establishing himself as eternal king, God is giving strength to his nation,” to which they replied, “may God bless his nation with peace.”[xv]
What is the connection between the flood and Sinai? “Day and night shall not cease,” [xvi]was God’s vow after the great flood. But the Talmud reads more into these words. Day and night will not “yishbosu,” which is the root of the word Sabbath. “For a day and a night, they may not rest,” is an alternative translation of these words, and it is from here that the Talmud derives that a gentile may not celebrate the Sabbath. The scriptural source that night follows day for a gentile’s observance of the Sabbath, is found just after the great flood. After the flood, mankind was on a distinctly lover level than he had been prior to it. Life spans were greatly reduced. A world that once boasted permanently delightful spring-like weather was suddenly introduced to harsh winters, and stifling summers.[xvii] Humans had been capable of destroying the universe, and were likewise capable of building it. But humanity abused its great power, and was taken down a notch. They would never destroy another world, but they could not build one either. A humanity on such a drastically lower level could not truly comprehend the worlds ultimate goal. They could not live on a level where night preceded day. To them, day was primary. But at Sinai, the Jewish nation was given the keys to build the world, and with them, the ability to destroy it! They were back to pre-flood status. They now related to the world as it was created; the night precedes the day.
[There is another great connection between the flood and the generation that accepted the torah. Our sages teach[xviii] that God originally intended to give the Torah to the generation that was wiped out in the flood, if only they had merited it. In fact, the Arizal teaches that the generation of the flood and the generation of the torah giving had the same souls. They were reincarnated. Noah and Moses were one and the same! Moses was name “Moses” because he was “saved from the water” - the water of the flood! Noah had an ark that kept him afloat in the water, and Moses had a small basket which served the same purpose for him. Both are called a “Tevah” by the torah. The flood lasted 40 days and 40 nights, as did Moses’ stay on Sinai where he was showered with Torah, and “water always hints to torah.” The Talmud shows how Moses was hinted to in the torah in the verse where Noah is told that the flood will begin in 120 years. Noah’s major mistake was that he did not expend enough energy in attempt to save his generation. Thus, the flood is referred to as “Mei Noach,” “the waters of Noah.” Moses corrected this when he told God that should He destroy the Jews, “Macheini na misifricha - Erase me from your book.” The word “Macheini” is made up of the same letters that spell “Mei noach.” Moses corrected the mistake that he made the first time around. This time he was willing to sacrifice it all to save his generation. This generation was incredibly powerful. Led by Noah/Moses, they could have either built or destroyed the world. At Sinai, they complained when they were forbidden illicit sexual behavior,[xix] which they had engaged in during the times of the flood. They constantly fought with Moses about water all thorough their excursion in the desert. This powerful generation was the one who first brought the world to a state where it would see day as preceding night. But on their second time around, they successfully reversed their goof-up. For a Jew, darkness precedes light.]
The Vilna Gaon writes, “In all worldly things, husks precede their fruit, as with Jacob and Esau – Esau emerged first, though Jacob was the first child conceived. For Esau’s portion is this world, while Jacobs is the next world. Jacob was thus conceived first because the final result is the first thought, and the result is the world to come.[xx] When one has a goal in mind, he first envisions the goal – the results – and only then develops a scheme to reach these ends. The goal is the world to come, so it is “conceived” first. But the means are created first in practice, for they must precede the ends. Elsewhere, the Vilna Gaon explains,[xxi] “Whenever our sages speak of something ‘originally being conceived in the mind’ of God, this is the ultimate goal.” We are taught that, “originally God conceived the idea of creating the world in strict justice, but when he saw that it would not survive, he mixed mercy with that justice.”[xxii] We are similarly taught that “God created the world and it collapsed again and again until he created repentance.” [xxiii]We are taught that ““originally God conceived the idea of creating the world in the month of Tishrei, but it was not actually created until the month of Nissan.”[xxiv] Tishrei is the month of Moznaiim, Libra. Scales. It is the month of justice. The Yom Hadin, the “day of judgment” is Rosh Hashanah, the first of Tishrei upon which we proclaim, “Hayom Haras Olam,” “today is the conception of the world.” Originally, God wished to create the world in strict justice, for the ultimate goal is a world of justice. But the means to get to such a world required a more merciful relationship. The perfect conception of the world is in “din – strict judgment” as indeed the world will be in messianic times.[xxv] The day that God decides to take stock of his world, and measure its state against its ultimate goal is that very day when he first conceived of the goal, this first day of Tishrei.
[“Now that we know that symbols are meaningful, a person ought to eat pumpkins, clover, leeks, beets, and dates on Rosh Hashanah,” says Abaye in the Talmud.[xxvi] We have all heard of dipping an apple in honey to give us a sweet new year. It sounds like a nice tradition, but there are interestingly no other holidays in the Jewish calendar with such symbols. Eat a head to avoid being a tail. Eat carrots to annul harsh decrees. Symbols on Rosh Hashanah of all days…why? The world was conceived in the month of Tishrei. Tosafos teaches that God conceived of the idea to create the world on Rosh Hashana, but he did not actually create it until the month of Nissan, six months later. Thus we say on Rosh Hashana, Hayom Haras Olam, today the world was concived – not born. There were ten statements made by God in the creation of the world.[xxvii] Nine of them begin with the words, “and God said,” except for the first one. “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.” The Talmud teaches that this was a statement as well. The Chasidic masters read more into this verse. God created the world with language; but with what did he create language. “BiReshis,” using wisdom, (Reshis means intelligence)[xxviii] God created “Es,” which is the first and last letter of the alphabet. Using pure thought and intelligence, God created the alphabet – language. Using language God then created all else in existence. On the first of Tishrei, when God “conceived the idea of the world,” the he did not create for another six months, we celebrate the anniversary of God communicating in a way far beyond language. A purer level of communication that is above language, was used by God on this day. Could there be a day in the Jewish calendar more appropriate for us to attempt to communicate super-verbally, though the use of symbols?][xxix]
Ultimately the ends will explain the means. The ravages of this world will fade in the morning sunshine of the coming world. Rosh Hashanah is a glimpse into the goal of it all. It is a time when we can be aware that God has a grand master plan for our universe. The beginning of the relationship was one of pure thought. Pure goal.
[Jacob gave Rachel “Simanim,” “signs”[xxx] the same word used for the super-verbal symbols that we use on Rosh Hashanah. It is commonly assumed that these signs were simply for the purpose of Jacob being capable of ascertaining the identity of his intended should Lavan choose to replace her with her sister. Yet when Rachel realized the horrific embarrassment that her sister Leah would suffer should she not have the “simanim,” she gave them over to her, and thus Jacob was confused as to whom he was marrying. Yet, asks the Revid Hazahav,[xxxi] the Talmud teaches that voices are distinguishable. Why was Jacob unable to recognize that this was not Rachel!? He explains that the Talmud’s rule that voices are recognizable is only true when there is no reason for one to suspect otherwise. If one receives a phone call from a woman claiming to be his mother, and she sounds nothing like her, he will certainly be suspicious, but should his “mother” tell him information that proves to him that it is her, he will assume that he has made a mistake and that it is indeed his mother. Because Leah had the “simanim,” Jacob was certain that it was Rachel! The “simanim,” which were only created to avoid confusion are the only reason that Jacob did not discover the fraudulent identity of his bride. They messed it all up! Has he not used any “simanim” at all, he would have had no problems! Why did he make them at all, and not simply rely on voice recognition? But Jacob did not make these simanim simply to discern the identity of his bride. There was much more to it. When God began his relationship with humanity, he used simanim.” And so did Jacob, our father.]
This world is a place of darkness, where we eagerly prepare for the world to come. We must never give up - as bleak as things may look. However long the night may last, the morning is always coming. For a Jew, the day follows the night.
[i] See “Maamarei Pachad Yitzchok” Sukkos: Maamar 9, where Rav Hutner elaborates. He explains that this is why the period between day and night is known as “bein hashmashos,” literally, “between suns.” There was a light originally in the sun that was hidden away for the righteous to eventually use in the world to come. The stars contain traces of this light, as they were substitutes for the sun. This entire discussion, says Rav Hutner, sheds further light on the Talmudic expression for the blind person, “Sagi Nahor,” “[one with] abundant light,” usually taken as a euphemism.
[ii] Sanhedrin 58b
[iii] Maimonides Melachim 10:9
[iv] Sefer HaMikneh Kiddushin 37b, See Chasam Sofer (quoting Sefer HaMikneh) to Shabbos 87a. See Panim Yafos Al Hatorah Genesis 8:22, and Shut Rabbi Akiva Eger 123 Hashmata.
[v] Maimonides Melachim 8:11
[vi] Sanhedrin 59a
[vii] Exodus 31:13
[viii] Brachos 26b
[ix] Genesis 1:5
[x] See Chullin 83 a
[xi] Kiddushin 37b, see note [iv] above
[xii] Zecharia 14:9
[xiii] Shabbos 77b except for a minority opinion of rashbam, that is the literal translation of the pesukim.
[xiv] Psalms 29:10
[xv] Zevachim 116a
[xvi] Genesis 8:22
[xvii] Bereshis Rabbah 34:11 “The weather was pleasant, as it is between Passover and Shavuos.” Sforno explains that the suns course was unlike today, but rather much closer to the earth, and physical life was much more like it would be in the messianic era. See Or Gedalyahu Noach, 2.
[xviii] Zohar 3:216b, Shmos Rabbah 30
[xix] Rashi Numbers 11:10 s.v Bocheh, quoting Sifri. Chida in Midbar Kedamos Dalet, 3, that because the Jews in the desert were children of illicit relationships, they could not enter the land of Israel!
[xx] Perush HaGra Limigilas Esther Al Derech Haremez 1;1
[xxi] Commentary to Proverbs 9:10
[xxii] Rashi Genesis 1:1
[xxiii] Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer Chapter 3
[xxiv] Tosafos to Rosh Hashanah 27a
[xxv] In the messianic times, we will follow the rulings of Shammai. This is often quoted in the name of the Arizal, as in Bnei Yissaschar gloss to Dvash Lifi, “Divrei Elokim chaim.” Herczeg in “Patterns in Rashi,” says that while this idea is commonly attributed to the Arizal, it’s earliest known source appears to be Sefer Vayakhel Moshe of Rabbi Moshe Prager. Tzidkas Hatzadik 169, explains that Yitzchak will be head in messianic times for it is a time of strict Din, and explains Rosh Hashanah in this light.
[xxvi] Kreisos 6b
[xxvii] Avos 5:1
[xxviii] Targum Yesushalmi to Bereshis 1:1
[xxix] Bnei Yissaschar Tishrei 2:10
[xxx] As to the nature of these simanim, see Chida in Midbar Kedemos Zayin 12, and elsewhere, quoting his grandfather Rabbi Avraham Azulai (Chesed Lavraham mayan sheni nahar 61) that Rachel was to touch his right thumb right, right big toe, and right ear, as is found in the temple service. Sefer HaChaim (part 1, chapter 2) explains that the simanim were “secrets of the oral torah, specifically the hidden meanings of the fantastic aggados.” The connection between the Rosh Hashanah and Jacob/Rachel Simanim is made by a cryptic passage in Bnei Yissaschar Tishrei 2:11 in which he mysteriously asserts that “Simanim should be done only on the first of the two days of Rosh Hashanah for the 1st day corresponds to Leah and the 2nd to Rachel, and Rachel gave her Simanim to Leah. Apparently these simanim are of the same essence.
[xxxi] Quoted in Torah Temimah Parshas Veyetze