1. This gathering is being held in a place that is connected with a special light and holiness, a place where Jews pray and study, and during a unique time as well, the days of Selichos. During these days, G-d forgives and pardons each and every Jew. The Medrash relates that when Moshe saw that the Temple would be destroyed thereby preventing the Jews from bringing sacrifices to atone for their sins, he asked G-d what should be done at that time. G-d answered that the Jews should gather together in unity and recite Selichos and G-d would grant them atonement.
The Medrash continues with an extremely unusual statement. Instead of merely stating, as is the usual case, that a particular act would bring about atonement, it declares that G-d wrapped Himself in Tallis and Tefillin and recited the thirteen attributes of mercy and the other Selichos prayers showing the Jews an example of how they should say Selichos and thus ensure G-d’s blessings even in the times of Golus.
This concept is relevant to our service of G-d, for although we are found in the midst of Golus, the approaching days of Rosh Hashanah remind a Jew of Teshuvah and he returns to his true self, to Torah and Yiddishkeit. For Teshuvah does not constitute a totally new experience, but is on the contrary, a return to one’s true self, one’s real life and source and vitality, what one really holds dear and precious. Foreign influences can temporarily create the illusion that we have other desires and other things inspire us. Hence, when the Jews are found in Golus, — a Golus from which the Torah declares we will leave only through G-d’s power and not through our own — it is necessary for G-d to display an extra sign of encouragement. Thus He shows how He will pardon and forgive all the undesirable things the Jews have done in the past, making the days to come Jewish days, days of light and holiness. Therefore, G-d not only promised His forgiveness to the Jews if they would recite Selichos; He wrapped Himself in Tallis and Tefillin and recited Selichos. Thus, He demonstrated to the Jews that no matter what their situation, even if it is one which requires Teshuvah, G-d will dwell among them, wherever they are to be found.
When a Jew recites Selichos, G-d recites Selichos with him, keeping His promise to forgive and pardon all undesirable acts. Just as G-d is called the Tzaddik of the world, the Jewish people are Tzaddikim as it is written: “Your nation are all Tzaddikim.” However, G-d also gives the Jews the potential to achieve the level of Baalei Teshuvah.
Through this process of preparation we proceed to the happiness of “the season of our rejoicing,” the joy of Sukkos, a holiday which brings about greater joy than the holidays of Pesach and Shavuos. The Jews share in G-d’s joy for they have recited Selichos together with Him. This, in turn, gives each Jew an inscription for a good and sweet year with open and revealed good, in both spiritual and material matters, good that can be appreciated by the body as well as the soul.
The achievement of all the above is dependent upon the Jewish women. She is the one who establishes the mood and atmosphere of the home, making it a small sanctuary, a home in which G-d will dwell. This concept is emphasized by the fact that at the time of the Giving of the Torah, G-d spoke first to the Jewish women and then to the men. Similarly, when the Jews built the sanctuary, the women were the ones who brought the first gifts.
Likewise, in the establishment of a small sanctuary, the Jewish home, the women play a primary role, making the house not only a house in which a Jew lives, but a Jewish house, a house which follows the path G-d has shown. Thus when the days of Selichos come and the thirteen attributes of mercy which Torah promises that will not return empty are recited, G-d forgives and pardons all the undesirable acts.
2. Then, we proceed to the days of Rosh Hashanah when we blow the Shofar — “the merciful calling of His people Israel.” This, in turn, awakens G-d’s mercies and here the role of the women is also emphasized. The Torah reading begins with “G-d remembered Sarah,” relating how G-d had blessed Sarah, the first Jewish woman with a child and kept His promise; thus she gave birth to one of the fathers of the Jewish nation. Furthermore, this passage is read before the blowing of the Shofar, letting it be known that G-d blesses the Jewish people and fulfills His promise in this material world. Children are born who are worthy to be called the sons of Avraham, Yitzchok, and Yaakov, and daughters of Sarah, Rivkah, Rochel and Leah. And they train children to behave from their childhood on, within the context of their everyday lives, in a manner which would satisfy Sarah their Matriarch, following the path which she herself demonstrated.
The above is the lesson from the first day of Rosh Hashanah. The reading of the second day describes the binding of Yitzchok, showing how Sarah had raised Yitzchok to the point where he was willing to sacrifice his life for Yiddishkeit. This sacrifice did not hurt him, but on the contrary, brought about G-d’s blessings of “I will greatly multiply your seed,” and through this behavior, he established the entire Jewish people. It was Sarah who devoted herself to Yitzchok’s education, to an even greater extent than Avraham. She sacrificed herself to teach Yitzchok that even though he was the one and only Jewish child in that generation, he was not to be influenced at all by the gentiles or gentile society. Sarah could have made excuses for herself: She was very busy, caring for the many guests she brought into the home and she performed many acts of kindness to all. However, when it came to educating a Jewish child she would not let anything stand in her way, even her natural feelings.
When a child is educated in this manner, the promise “I will greatly multiply your seed” will be fulfilled in both a spiritual and material sense. He will influence his entire surroundings and bring true pleasure to his father, his entire family and the entire Jewish people. Our sages add that Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the year, is the day on which G-d remembered Sarah, Rochel, and Chana. Sarah was the first Jewish woman and Rochel was one of the four matriarchs. When the Jews went into exile, they passed Rochel’s grave and Rochel consoled them, giving them strength to withstand all the difficulties of exile, trust G-d, and remain distinct from the other nations. This behavior will hasten the redemption led by Mashiach. Hence, the Zohar relates that when the Jews return from Golus they will again pass by Rochel’s grave to thank her for the encouragement and reinforcement she gave them. Chana the prophetess was the first to mention the coming of Mashiach. She uses the expression “He shall exalt the horn of His anointed (Mashiach),” which implies openly revealed strength. Thus, the Jews will leave Golus “upright” with raised heads, unafraid of anything.
All of these women were blessed with children on Rosh Hashanah, the day on which Jews accept G-d as King of Israel; and through that acceptance, He becomes King over the entire world. Furthermore, even the gentiles will recognize the connection between the two as the verse declares: “He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.” The days of Selichos serve as a preparation for that occasion. During these days, we make good resolutions in regard to our behavior on Rosh Hashanah and for the entire year to come.
When these resolutions are accepted by Jewish women and carried out with true happiness and satisfaction, we will merit that G-d grant us the “light of Torah” which will illuminate our daily lives making them not only “days of life” but “living days.” This comes about because of their connection with the Torah of life which was given by the living G-d. Furthermore, when we begin to fulfill the resolutions during the days of Selichos, G-d will already inscribe us for a good year. We can be assured of this for G-d Himself has promised it and shown us the example of how to pray in a manner which will be answered in regard to both spiritual and material things.
May G-d bless all of you and bring you success; all of you that are gathered here, all who are hearing this address through other means, and all to whom the message will later reach. Every one of you, should know that “G-d will lead him alone;” G-d is with every Jew, from the great to the small. His presence is particularly emphasized when there is Jewish unity; when, as we read in the Torah portion of this past Shabbos “you are standing all of you, your heads, (the leaders of) your tribes,... your choppers of wood and drawers of water.”
This adds to G-d’s blessing to each and every Jew wherever he is to be found and is particularly true of those in the land of Israel, “the land where the eyes of the L-rd, your G-d, are upon it from the beginning of the year until the end of the year,” thus making it a full year, because it is full with Yiddishkeit, Torah, and Mitzvos. This is connected with Shleimus HaOretz, the complete state of the land of Israel. Israel will remain complete, belonging in its entirety to the Jewish people. No one can take any part of it for it belongs to the entire Jewish people and every Jew is the master of the entire land of Israel. Just as no one can detract from Shleimus HaOm. (the complete state of the Jewish people) for they will remain one nation, a single and unique nation connected with the One G-d who is master of the entire world; no one can detract from Shleimus HaOretz. As previously mentioned, the reason for the existence of the gentile nations is to help the Jewish people and to do so in a pleasant manner.
Wherever a Jew is to be found, he is an emissary of G-d. “From G-d, the steps of man are directed.” G-d sent him to spread Yiddishkeit and illuminate the darkness of the Golus with the light of Torah, a process which begins by producing light in his own surroundings, thus making him master of his environment. Thus, even in the last days of Golus, the Jews will have, as they had in the closing days of the exile in Egypt, “light in their dwellings.” Although “darkness will cover the world,” the Jews will have light and “the nations will follow your light.” Then we will proceed to greet Mashiach with the coming of the true and complete redemption. And since the coming year is a Hakhel year, the entire Jewish people, men, women, and children will gather in the Temple “that they may see and learn to fear the L-rd, your G-d.”
May each one have a good and sweet year with open and revealed good. May we meet all together on happy and bright occasions and in the near future may we meet together to greet Mashiach.
- (Back to text) The Golus came about because we behaved improperly as we declare in our prayers “because of our sins we were exiled from our land.” This is the only reason for the Golus, and not because a non-Jew could rule over a Jew.
This concept is brought out by a verse in this week’s portion (32:8): “He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.” The existence of the nations is dependent on the children of Israel. The passage continues (9) “Yaakov is the cord of His possession” i.e. each Jew possesses a strong cord of connection to G-d. Hence, even though the Jews are one nation among seventy wolves and the relations between the nations and the Jews are not always as they should be, nevertheless “G-d alone did lead them;” G-d is single and unique for “there is no strange god beside Him” and G-d leads the Jewish people who are a single and unique people. They cannot depend on any other people. However, this does not weaken their strength. On the contrary, the strength of the Jewish people is dependent on the fact that they are “one nation in the land and their beliefs are different from all nations.” Furthermore, their behavior is also different.
The existence of the Jewish people as one nation is related to the “One G-d” and the one Torah. When a Jew follows the directives of the Torah, acting in a Jewish way in his own home and in the environment around him, he receives daily support, blessing, and strength from G-d. Likewise, through this behavior we gain control over the entire world situation. Not only are the gentile nations unable to harm Israel, they realize that they must aid Jews, particularly in regard to Jewish matters. This assistance gives them the right to exist; hence, they will provide their assistance with happiness.
However, if one looks at the situation in the world at large the truth of the above-mentioned statement might be questioned. These questions can be resolved as the verse declares (32:7) “Ask your father, and he will declare to you, your elders and they will tell you.” Many times in the past the superficial picture of the Jew’s situation has appeared different from the truth. “Your father” and “your grandfather” i.e. the Jews of the previous generations will explain that although they may have had difficulties, ultimately Jews and Judaism were victorious. This was achieved through G-d’s power and strength, for He is the Master of the entire world.
- (Back to text) Shechinah — a term commonly used for G-d’s presence — is derived from the word Shochain meaning dwell. The use of that term emphasizes that G-d is with the Jewish people no matter what their situation.
- (Back to text) This prophecy is included in the Haftorah of the first day of Rosh Hashanah.
- (Back to text) This unity is enhanced when, as in the present occasion, gatherings are held in a holy place and in a holy time, the days of Selichos.
- (Back to text) This is also dependent upon the Jewish women, for they are the one’s who will prepare the children to participate.