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Rosh Hashanah (5768 (1))

Near the end of this week's Torah portion (Ki Tavo), Moses, after leading the Jews for forty years in the desert prepares them for entering Israel without him, and says:

"… You have seen what G-d has done before your eyes in Egypt … miracles… signs… wonders. But G-d has not given you a heart for knowledge and eyes for seeing and ears for hearing until today." (29:1-3)

This doesn't seem to make sense.

First, what does it mean that G-d didn’t give them eyes etc until that day? The paragraph even begins saying they DID see …in Egypt forty years earlier! They even praised G-d at the sea for all the miracles they had seen and experienced.

Second; what has this got to do with preparing the Jews to enter Israel?

Third; the holiday of Rosh HaShanna is approaching. Is there a connection?

To understand this, here is a story told by the Maggid of Kosnitz some two hundred years ago to his pupils. (Y'dion HaKfar 23.8.07)

In a certain Jewish Polish village, the entire village of some two thousand people were gathered around the old Rabbi's house waiting for the inevitable; the Rabbi of the community was on his deathbed. He had been an excellent leader for almost seventy years. Wise, loving, knowledgeable and even stern and unyielding when necessary.

Inside the house the dying Rabbi called his beloved pupil, Reb Avraham, to his side, asked him to bend closer and, in the presence of the elders of the community put his frail hands on his head and appointed him as his successor. Moments later he said "Shma Yisroel…." Closed his eyes and returned his soul to its Creator.

It was no surprise to anyone. Reb Avraham was a Torah genius, and a powerful speaker and leader. His fear of G-d and his knowledge were remarkable and had been at the Rabbi's side constantly since he mysteriously arrived some ten years ago.

In fact, no one actually saw him arrive. Just one day the Rabbi was seen leaving his house with a young man that he said 'had arrived several months ago' and since then they never parted. But it was a small detail. No one doubted Reb Avraham's credentials.

After the days of mourning Reb Avraham began to fill the old Rabbi's place and everything returned to normal. He was busy day and night with the questions and problems of the community; making sure everything was according to Torah, making peace, deciding monetary issues, resolving quarrels, providing for the sick etc.

But one day an unusual problem arouse; a madman entered their village.

He was filthy, disheveled, barefoot and was constantly jumping grunting like an animal or talking incoherently. And he was Jewish; occasionally he spouted sayings from the Talmud or from Psalms… but he was very insane.

So the elders of the village went to Reb Avraham to ask him to pray for the unfortunate fellow.

But Reb Avraham refused. "What? Are my prayers any more potent than yours that I can exempt you from praying? Tonight we will all gather in the Synagogue and pray for him together.

An half hour later they were all saying Psalms and, strangely enough, the madman was there too, walking in a small circle in the corner looking at the ground before him and mumbling to himself non-stop.

But as soon as they finished the book for the first time and saw it had no effect Reb Avraham began to speak words of inspiration. The madman stood still, pointed a finger at Reb Avraham and yelled out to the startled crowd.

"What! He is going to inspire you? He is your Rabbi? Heh!! Why he and I sinned together! We left the Torah together!! Heh heh!! I'll even tell you the sins we did! Why, everything the worst gentiles do we did; we ate what they ate, drank what they drank and acted like they acted!! This you call your Rabbi??"

The entire congregation was stunned. Now he was getting offensive… maybe he'll become violent. It was insanity. They all turned to the Rabbi to see what he would say, ready to throw the fellow out at a moment's notice.

The room was filled with silence, it was obvious that their Rabbi was going through some sort of inner turmoil and they were waiting to see the outcome. Several minutes passed and all eyes were on him.

"He's right!" Reb Avraham answered quietly. "Everything he said is true!" Again he was silent for several more minutes until finally he stood straight and said in a loud voice. "And I thank G-d for this moment!"

The crowd let out a gasp! And Reb Avraham continued.

"Over twenty years ago we learned Torah together. We were both from the finest, most G-d fearing families and we excelled in our studies. Everyone predicted great things from us. But somehow we fell. It began slowly, we began reading foolish books, then hanging around with the gentiles until we decided to leave Judaism altogether and enjoy life. Just as he said.

"After a few years of this we finally parted our ways. I went into business while he went to university to learn philosophy. We wrote occasionally but finally we lost contact completely. I succeeded fantastically, married a gentile woman, built myself a castle with a huge estate and lived like royalty; no one had any inkling that I was a Jew… I even forgot it myself.

"But then one day when I was taking a stroll in one of my forests my dog began barking, broke away from me and ran to a spot not far from us. I approached and there lay the body of a dead Jew. "Probably some anti-Semite gentile murdered him" I thought to myself.

"Suddenly my entire being became filled with mercy. I called for my servants and ordered them to bury the man and put a marker on his grave. But from that moment something happened to me.

"I felt as though G-d sent this to awaken me to my true self. It was a sort of miracle.

"A few weeks later I went to the city, presented myself to the local Rabbi and told him I wanted to repent. At first he thought that I was a gentile and was either insane or trying to get him into trouble but finally he believed me. It was another miracle.

"He advised me to take a bag of money, write a note to my wife giving her all my riches and to flee to a Rabbi friend of his in a distant place to learn Torah. And that is what I did.

"That was when I arrived here over ten years ago. I purposely arrived in the dead of night so no one would see me. I took to the Torah like a fish to water. In fact with our Rabbi's guidance I remembered everything I had learned as a boy and in just a short time I became quite a scholar. But although I became the Rabbi of your community I somehow felt that it all happened too quickly and easily.

"Just now my first reaction was to have this fellow thrown out of the Synagogue. Then my second reaction was to deny it and then tonight, run away myself. I was ashamed to the bone. But now I realize that this too was a miracle of G-d; perhaps even more than the first miracles. Now let's all pray for my friend."

As soon as they all finished the next Psalm the sick fellow suddenly became calm, a normal expression returned to his face and he fell heavily into his seat… a cured man.

"The reason I told this story" concluded the Rabbi of Kosnitz, is because it contains an important lesson.

"The miracles that brought Reb Avraham to repentance; finding the dead body, the Rabbi believing him, the ease with which he was able to leave his gentile life and remember all his Torah were almost obviously the hand of G-d; they put meaning and Judaism into his life.

But the words of the madman were the opposite: they returned him to his past, to his selfish nature, to his own faults. And when he was able to see the hand of G-d in them; in even his faults, then he knew he had achieved true humility and truly could see, hear and feel G-dliness in all things.

"This is called true repentance or 'Tshuva'".

This answers our questions. The miracles the Jews saw in Egypt were obviously the hand of G-d. It wasn't difficult for them to see, hear and feel that they were supernatural.

But their experiences in the forty years they were in the desert were different. There they came face to face with their own shortcomings; their desire for idolatry with the Golden Calf, their impatience with the Manna, their fear to enter Israel, their stubborn rebellions against Moses and more.

This was Moses' message to them, "Only now, after forty years in the desert, G-d has given you eyes, ears and a heart to see etc. that your own shortcomings are ALSO gifts of G-d… namely that you accept them and TRANSFORM them to good.

This is an important message for Rosh HaShanna. Perhaps the essence of Rosh HaShanna.

This holiday, celebrating the date that the first man was created also celebrates the PURPOSE of man.

Namely, G-d created man with flaws, weaknesses and imperfections but also gave him (and each of us) INFINITE power to transform them to good.

In other words, the more we realize and accept our shortcomings the more we can believe and accept that G-d has blessed us with the ability to make them into assets. They are our keys for bringing blessing to the world.

This is job of the Shofar and ultimately of Moshiach - to bring EVERY individual to realize this potential and transform themselves and the dark selfish world around us into heaven on earth.

Wishing all our readers a happy, sweet, successful NEW year with....

Moshiach NOW!

Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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