Some Acquire Their Spiritual World In A Moment
On Yom Hadin, everyone passes before Hashem; on Rosh Hashanah
people's fates in the coming year are inscribed. Everyone
tries as hard as he can to emerge with an acquittal and
beseeches the King in prayer and supplication. This happens
every Rosh Hashanah, year after year.
Some people however, mistakenly imagine that since they have
experienced miracles every year and have thus far been
acquitted in judgment, their favorable outcome is assured for
the coming year too.
The truth is otherwise. Even people who have been acquitted
many times and have lived for many years have no guarantee of
winning their judgment for the coming year. One of the great
mussar teachers (Rav Yitzchok Blaser ztvk'l)
cited proof to this from the Torah. When Lot left Sodom on
the instructions of the mal'ochim he told them, "Here,
please, this city is nearby for fleeing there and it is new
[Rashi: it has been recently settled]. Let me escape there .
. . and my soul will live" ( Bereishis 19:20)."
Based on this, Chazal teach, "A person should always live in
a city that has recently been settled because the newer the
city the fewer its sins" (Shabbos 10). The
gemora points out that at the time of its destruction,
Sodom had been standing for fifty-two years while Tzo'ar,
where Lot wanted to go, had been standing for "only" fifty-
one. Because it was only a year younger, its time of
reckoning had not yet arrived.
This shows us the significance of a single year. Sodom was a
year older and was destroyed. One year is enough to heap a
measure of sin and bring in a verdict of destruction. What
can one argue from the positive experience of previous years?
We were younger then and even a short period is potentially
long enough to tip the scales in the other direction.
By the same token though, a brief moment also suffices to
change a person and transform his life positively. "Some
acquire their spiritual world in a moment" (Avodoh
Zorah 10) — one can win acquittal by repenting
sincerely for all one's sins, thereby finding favor in
Chazal show us the value that they attach to moments. The
halochoh is that someone who closes the eyes of a dying
person is a murderer. "It is like a candle that is going out.
If a person puts his finger over it, it is extinguished
immediately" (Shabbos 151). Why is this act viewed so
stringently, to the point of calling the person who does it a
murderer? In another few moments it will all be over
In the moment of life that was denied him, penitent thoughts
might have passed through the victim's mind. He might have
returned to Hashem and merited eternal life. The person who
closes his eyes perhaps deprives him of the most valuable
opportunity of his life.
To emerge meritorious from the judgment of Rosh Hashanah, a
single moment is also enough.
When the storm threatened the boat carrying Yonah Hanovi, and
the sailors' lots indicated that it was happening on his
account, he told them, "Lift me up and cast me into the sea"
(Yonah 1:12). Why did he make a point of telling them
to lift him? The baalei mussar explain that he wanted
to benefit from those extra moments that it would take to
lift him — so great is the potential of each moment.
As evening approaches on erev Rosh Hashanah and we pray
minchah, we ask Hashem to "bless this year for us . .
How much of the year is left — a few minutes? But who
can measure their value? One can rectify the entire year, or
even several years, by knowing how to use those closing
moments. When Chazal tell us, "Some acquire their spiritual
world in a moment," this is what they mean.
Three Kinds of Attitude toward Preparation for the Day of
The gemora (Rosh Hashanah 18) tells us, "On
Rosh Hashanah all the world's inhabitants pass before Him
like bnei maron" and asks, "What are bnei
maron?" Three explanations are given.
"Here they translated it as sheep (When sheep are counted for
tithing they pass through a small opening one by one —
"Resh Lokish said, `Like the stairs at Beis Maron' (The
passage is narrow and the valley is deep on both sides of the
road and two can't go side by side — Rashi).
"Rav Yehuda said in Shmuel's name, `Like the soldiers of
Dovid Hamelech's house' (The king's soldiers; Maron is
[derived from] marus, meaning mastery or ruling. That
is how they were counted when going out to war, one after the
other — Rashi)."
These three explanations seem to allude to three different
periods when people adopted differing attitudes. With each
one Chazal teach us how to view Rosh Hashanah, the Day of
Some people feel secure yet they still do whatever they can
to emerge with an acquittal. They know that there's no sure
way of winning one's judgment unless one makes efforts and
does good deeds. Such people are like Dovid Hamelech's
soldiers about whom the posuk says, "Shaul smote
thousands while Dovid smote tens of thousands." They were
always victorious — Dovid Hamelech said, "I will pursue
my enemies and catch them and I won't return until I've
destroyed them" (Tehillim 18:38). Chazal nevertheless
tell us that "Anyone going to take part in a war waged by the
house of Dovid Hamelech would write a bill of divorce for his
wife" (Shabbos 56). They didn't rely on themselves. We
too ought to approach the Day of Judgment in great fear and
not be sure of ourselves.
There was also a different period when people's attitude was
different and was comparable to traversing the stairs at
Beis Maron. Although walking there involved real
danger, nobody ever went to sofer to have a divorce
written or said viduy before he went there. People
knew that it was dangerous and that one had to be careful but
they were confident about passing through safely. They took
the same attitude to their judgment. They were serious and
level- headed yet they had confidence in themselves.
And there is a third kind of period, like the present, when
people's attitude is like that of sheep. An animal doesn't
feel anything; it's always in a good mood. Even the sheep
that passes through tenth and is daubed with red dye doesn't
feel any different from the playmates with whom it continues
gaily jumping and frolicking.
(Some of these divrei Torah were submitted by Rav
Avraham Tzvi Yisroelsohn, and were arranged from divrei
Torah said in HaRav Eliashiv's name.)