It is customary to "begin with blessings," and to "begin with a word of royalty (d'var malchus)," i.e. of Torah, the word of the King of kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He. Both "blessing" and "royalty" are closely connected with Erev Rosh HaShanah: "blessing" because this is the proper time to give blessings for the coming year; and "royalty" because on Rosh HaShanah we crown G-d and once more proclaim our acceptance of Him as our King. In addition, the sefirah of malchus is associated with Divine "speech," which was the instrument of creation.
Today is also the conclusion of the past year, and therefore one should also "conclude with blessings." The conclusion of a year is specially significant in that it includes everything which occurred in the past year. And just as this concept exists in the realm of time, so too in place -- that we have gathered together in a beis haknesses (literally "a place of gathering") in which all sorts of people are joined into a single existence.
The abovementioned applies to Erev Rosh HaShanah every year. There is a special quality to this year, however, since it precedes Rosh HaShanah of 5748. We need not look too far in order to ascertain its significance -- it is obvious from the way one writes the year. In Hebrew, one writes the four letters, çÄÖÜ, tov, shin, mem, ches (tismach). Although the numerical value only totals 748, customarily the "five thousand" is not written. This is reflected in Jewish law, which rules that the validity of the date on a document is dependent only upon these numbers, not on the thousands. Similarly, if you ask anyone what the year is, he'll answer, tov, shin, mem, ches!
And since everything in the world happens with Divine Providence, and these letters spell out the word, "rejoice" (tismach), obviously the special content of this year is that of extra joy. In addition, it is known that in order for preparations to be proper, they must be similar to the subject of the preparations. On Erev Rosh HaShanah, we must therefore experience tremendous joy, to the extent that it affects the entire coming year.
Another special quality of the coming year is that it follows the Sabbatical year, Shemittah. This itself has two aspects: first of all, Shemittah influences all the subsequent years by granting an extra measure of blessing. We can see this from the influence of the Shabbos day on the other days of the week, as the Zohar says, "From it, all the days are blessed." Similarly, Shemittah is a source of blessing for the subsequent six years.
A second factor is that the year following Shemittah is the year of Hakhel, when all Jews gathered together in the Temple in Jerusalem to hear various portions of the Torah read by the king. This Hakhel gathering was attended by every Jewish man, woman, and child, and instilled them with an extra measure of awe of G-d which affected their behavior for the rest of their lives.
Hakhel represented the complete equalization of the Jewish people. Something similar was accomplished by the times the Jewish people were counted, since then every individual counted the same, regardless of status, intelligence, etc. Nevertheless, only men were counted, and only those who had reached a certain age. During Hakhel, however, even the tiniest babies were included. And even those who had no knowledge of Hebrew, and were therefore unable to understand what the king was reading, still were affected with an intense awe which inspired them the rest of their lives.
The main thing is that all this should reach the realm of action, since "action is the main thing." The unique quality of the day, coupled with the holiness of the place, etc. should inspire all of us to make the strongest possible resolution to add in awe of G-d, and in a way that finds expression in actual deed.
Obviously, this causes a tremendous amount of joy Above -- and our knowledge of this must cause us down here to rejoice even more. This will further increase positive actions, as written in the end of the series of ma'amarim, "Samach T'Samach" from the Rebbe Rashab. There he explains that joy affects one's actions -- since the intense soul powers it reveals have the ability to nullify all boundaries, and even reaches the coarse physical world.
We previously discussed the special quality of this day, in that it marks the end of the year of Shemittah and the preparation for Hakhel. However, as the Alter Rebbe explains in Tanya, each year the world receives a new G-dly light which has never been revealed before. Therefore, we should discuss something unique to the way Rosh HaShanah falls out this particular year.
This year Rosh HaShanah falls on Thursday and Friday, and therefore it would normally be forbidden to prepare food for Shabbos. Therefore the law is that one must make an eruv tavshilin before Rosh HaShanah begins.
There are other types of eruvin mentioned in Jewish law, such as eruv chatzeiros and eruv t'chumin. Eruv tavshilin is unique, however, since one designates that his eruv should be effective, "for us and for all Jews who live in this city." Whether or not he knows them, he covers them in this declaration, and it is effective to the extent that as a result, they will be able to eat, drink, etc. on Shabbos.
This contains a striking lesson: that every individual has a tremendous ability to affect his entire surroundings. This lesson is stressed even more regarding a Thursday Rosh HaShanah than other holidays which fall on Thursday. Other holidays are only one day in Eretz Yisrael and two days elsewhere. Therefore, the whole idea of eruv tavshilin on such a day is only applicable outside Eretz Yisrael. Rosh HaShanah, however, is two days even within Eretz Yisrael, and therefore the lesson has universal application.
Another important aspect of a Rosh HaShanah which begins on Thursday is that there are three consecutive holy days: two days of Rosh HaShanah and Shabbos. This idea is further emphasized by the fact that Jewish law rules that the two days of Rosh HaShanah are really, "one long day" (yoma arichta). This is the reason that on the second day of Rosh HaShanah, unlike that of other holidays, one makes special arrangements in order to be able to make the blessing shehecheyanu.
[Incidentally, this concept of yoma arichta contains special significance to those in Chabad. In his Shulchan Aruch, the Alter Rebbe gives a lengthy discussion to the subject of yoma arichta. It is well known, as written in the introduction by his sons, that the Alter Rebbe wrote his Shulchan Aruch together with the reasons for the laws. This is unlike the Shulchan Aruch of R. Yosef Caro, which was written without reasons -- since he relied on his lengthy commentary on the Tur. The Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch is therefore longer since he also gives the reasons. However, the discussion of yoma arichta is unusually long in comparison with that of other subjects.]
There is another way in which Rosh HaShanah and Erev Rosh HaShanah are specially connected with eruv tavshilin. One may not make an eruv tavshilin on the holiday itself; but if one forgot to make it beforehand, it can be done even during the holiday "conditionally." This is because the second day of Yom Tov was originally established because of a doubt as to which was the correct day. Therefore, one makes the eruv tavshilin by saying, "If today is Yom Tov, then tomorrow would really be a weekday and I am allowed to prepare food; and if today is a weekday..." there is no problem, and he proceeds with the declaration, etc. of the eruv tavshilin. The two days of Rosh HaShanah, as mentioned above, are considered by Jewish law to be "one long day," and therefore no conditions are effective.
The point of this entire discussion is, as mentioned above, that everyone realize the ability they have to affect others and to act accordingly. This is closely connected with the idea of Hakhel, to influence all men, women and children in taking on a greater commitment to Judaism. This connection is further strengthened by the fact that eruv tavshilin is done in order to allow for the preparation of food. Eating and drinking are obviously acts which apply equally to men, women, and children, similar to Hakhel.
Some might wish to question this whole idea. The reasons for making an eruv tavshilin are explained at length in the various commentaries. How could one learn a new lesson from these laws, regarding influencing one's surroundings, etc?
Such a question has no foundation, however. The Rambam writes in the end of Hilchos Temurah that the majority of laws in the Torah were given in order to improve our actions and emotional makeup, and that we must try our best to learn out such lessons. Therefore, although the mitzvah of eruv tavshilin is certainly explained sufficiently, we can nevertheless learn additional lessons.
Within the 24 hours of Erev Rosh HaShanah, we don't find legal limitations as to when exactly eruv tavshilin should be made. We see, in fact, that some people make it earlier and others later. It makes sense to say that it could even be done at the beginning of the 24 hour period.
But the lesson which we derived from eruv tavshilin -- that we have to power to affect, and must reach out to all those we can reach -- should certainly begin immediately. One shouldn't think, "I can always begin later on...I should first daven maariv, shacharis too...maybe even minchah (after all, even Eliyahu was answered only at minchah)..." On the contrary, haste is of the utmost importance, and one must begin as soon as possible.
In connection with the necessity of deriving a lesson from everything in Torah, we should also examine the weekly Torah portion. The name of the portion is Ha'azinu, taken from the opening verse, "Listen (Ha'azinu) heaven and I will speak! Earth, hear (sishma) the words of my mouth." Our Sages explain that the difference between ha'azinu and sishma is that the first indicates hearing from close, whereas the second indicates that one hears from a distance. Moshe used ha'azinu when speaking to the heavens, they explain, because he was close to them. Through relating the song, Ha'azinu to the Jewish people, Moshe made it possible for all Jews to be close to "heavenly" things.
This is also the subject of the title page of Tanya, which quotes the verse, "It is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it." This indicates that serving G-d in thought ("heart"), speech ("mouth"), and action ("to do it") is "close to you." Furthermore, the use of the word "very" ("m'od") has the connotation of going beyond all limitation which might interfere with the pursuit of holiness.
Besides appearing in the parshah, this idea is connected directly with Erev Rosh HaShanah. The Tzemach Tzedek was born on Erev Rosh HaShanah, and it is well known that the Alter Rebbe said the first three chapters of Tanya in connection with his birth. And even though it was first printed many years later, certainly those that were present repeated over the content and committed it to writing. These teachings were therefore handed down to all his students and followers for all time, including men, women and -- for education -- children. As mentioned many times, mitzvos which are not time-bound, such as love and fear of G-d, etc. are incumbent upon everyone. This idea is stressed in the year of Hakhel, since even those who don't even understand the language which is being read are still permeated with awe of G-d.
The efforts which are expended on the abovementioned will hasten the fulfillment of the mitzvah of Hakhel in the plain sense, with the arrival of Moshiach. And, as mentioned above, the additional joy will shatter all restrictions and boundaries -- including those of time and space -- and bring Moshiach immediately.
And even though we are in the darkness of exile, and Jews are crying out "Ad mosai?" ("until when [must we wait?]") -- on the contrary! That is the greatest joy possible, when darkness is transformed to light. And even those that do not shout "Ad mosai" verbally do so internally, with an "inner voice that is heard." This is similar to the allusion to Rosh HaShanah in the verse, "The voice is the voice of Ya'akov" (ha'kol kol Ya'akov). The double usage of the word kol alludes to the two dimensions of the sounds of a shofar: "an inner sound that is not heard" and "a sound that is heard."
There is also a lesson to be learned from the daily portion of Chumash, from the beginning of the fourth to the fifth portion. It includes G-d's promise (Deut. 32:23), "My arrows will disappear (i.e. be used up) on them," and Rashi explains, "This curse...is really a blessing: `My arrows will disappear,' but they themselves will not disappear."
The promise that we will not disappear is not so surprising. On the contrary -- it is surprising that we do not disappear with our souls expiring from closeness to G-d.
This idea is conveyed by the famous interpretation of the Baal Shem Tov on the verse (Malachi 3:6), "I, G-d, do not change, and you, the children of Ya'akov, do not expire." He interprets this as a question rather than a statement. In view of the fact that during your prayer you meditate on the fact that "I do not change," and this brings you to a powerful love for G-d, how could it be that "you do not expire" from this intense love?! For this reason, the Baal Shem Tov explained, "It is a great kindness of G-d that a person remains living after he prays." The same idea is conveyed by the verse in Ha'azinu, since "arrows" allude to love and awe of G-d.
The ultimate purpose, though, is that the soul should exist within the body. In fact, love and awe of G-d actually add to the person's physical energy, enabling him to better fulfill the purpose for which he was created -- the revelation of G-d in the world.
This idea is also expressed in the daily portion of Rambam, which shows the extent to which a person can affect his environment. He writes (Hilchos Tumas Ochlin, 8:1), "Challos or loaves which were gathered together and became attached -- if he has in mind to separate them...only the one he touched becomes invalid...but if he didn't have in mind to separate them...they are considered as one."
This shows us the tremendous importance of thought -- that even though the loaves are physically touching, his thought has the power to make them halachically separate.
The reason he has this power is because they're his loaves; but from this we can learn that he can also affect the entire world. This is because the entire world was created for the Jewish people, as Rashi explains in the beginning of Chumash. Since all this was created for him, therefore he is considered like its "owner," and it is therefore dependent -- like the loaves -- on his thought.
The entire series of spiritual worlds and universes in included in this category, since they were created in order that this world should come about. In addition, when we crown G-d as the King of all creation, this includes all levels of creation. Therefore, their existence is dependent on us. The same idea applies each and every day, when we declare G-d as King by reciting modeh ani l'fanecha melech....
But "deed is the main thing," and therefore every man, woman, and child should facilitate the dominion of G-d in the universe indicated in modeh ani by gathering together all Jewish men, women and children who can possibly be reached, and arousing them to increased observance of Torah and mitzvos. This should be done both by acting as a living example and by speaking to them directly. And just as the king aroused the Jewish people at Hakhel, so too in such a situation, the one who has gathered them together is like a king to them. He therefore has the ability to affect their children and grandchildren for all generations.
It is customary that one who writes a letter in the month of Elul includes a blessing for a good year. The recipient should therefore respond with a blessing, the promise the G-d blesses the one who blesses another. So too for the blessing which I have received from individuals and organizations -- may G-d bless all with His infinite blessings.
As we have mentioned on many other occasions, it is impossible to answer each one individually, especially during this time of the year. Therefore, it is given in this way, collectively. But not only is nothing lacking, but there is an advantage this way, since many are gathered together, during a holy time, and in a holy place.
As is customary, we will conclude with the distribution of dollars for charity. This will hopefully inspire everyone to add from their own money, and moreso, to affect all those who they gather together for Hakhel to add in giving charity.
We will also sing the customary niggunim, including the Alter Rebbe's niggun, l'chatchilah ariber, and the niggun of the Tzemach Tzedek, whose birthday is today. Since both he and his written works are called by the name "Tzemach Tzedek," which is one of the names of Moshiach, may it be G-d's will that this hasten the complete redemption speedily in our days.