Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

28 Elul 5763 - September 25, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
". . . To Envision the Punishments [of] Gehennom"

by HaRav Nosson Wachtfoge, ztvk'l, prepared by a student

The disaster that took place in the U.S. two year ago at this time came to us vividly in photos and films. The differences between this and other acts of murder were many, but one of the lesser noted aspects was the fact that everything was captured on a live broadcast and transmitted to the four corners of the earth. All the terrible disasters that take place are covered fully in the media, and the horrifying details are laid out before us.

Chazal taught us that if something is brought to our attention and makes a deep impression upon us, this is for a definite reason. It is meant to teach us something.

The sight of any disaster has the power to suppress and dull a person's innate compassion, and this is surely not the purpose of our viewing it. What then is the message we must take to heart? Why were we privy to those horrible scenes? What did it mean in its timing -- the tail end of year 5761?

Some years previously, one of the most influential figures of Torah Jewry in America, the Mashgiach HaRav Nosson Wachtfogel ztvk'l, had this observation to make:

"And it was when the king heard the words of the Torah, he rent his garments . . . Thus said Hashem the G-d of Israel . . . Because your heart was tender and you submitted yourself before Hashem upon hearing what I said regarding this place and its inhabitants that they would be desolate and accursed, and you rent your garments and wept before Me . . . Therefore shall I gather you to your ancestors . . . in peace and your eyes shall not behold all the evil that shall befall . . . " (Melochim II 22:11,19).

The Alter of Kelm explains (Choshen Mishpot I, 1) that whoever hears rebuke and does not accept it is to be considered a haughty, arrogant person. For this is the nature of a baal gaava -- he does not become impressed or shocked upon hearing the punishments written in the Torah.

Along these lines, it is written, "One who hardens his heart . . . will fall in evil" (Mishlei 17:20). Hardening one's heart indicates a person who does not feel abject and submissive when he hears of the punishments of Hashem. His heart is hard as iron and he does not lower himself before Hashem.

Our work on Rosh Hashonoh is to repent so that we will be worthy of standing before the King and serving Him. When one accepts upon oneself the yoke of the Heavenly Kingdom, he must become aware of the greatness of the King and of His capacity to bless or punish, to give life or withhold it. One who obeys the King's command shall live, and whosoever disobeys it will be punished.

Therefore, a person must take these things to heart and submit himself before Hashem. By virtue of this submission, he rends the harsh decree of his sentence, as explained in the historic account of King Yoshiyohu. This is the purpose of the effort demanded of us on Rosh Hashonoh.

R' Betzalel Horowitz zt'l Hy'd came to Kelm before the Second World War and could not help asking why that fiend, Hitler ym'sh, rose to power. How was it possible for him to inflict such terrible suffering, to display such brutality and cruelty, in the face of the entire world? Evil men arose in the past, but they had been ashamed of public censure and wrought their evil deeds away from public scrutiny.

He explained that the prime object of a person's toil is to submit himself to the will of Hashem. In former times, faith was much stronger amongst Jewry and everyone believed firmly in Gehennom. They were able to visualize it in their mind's eye and this served as a sufficient deterrent to sin.

But with the deterioration of the generations and the subsequent weakening of faith, Heaven found it necessary to demonstrate before the entire world what suffering really is, so that we take the lesson to heart and apply the insight to our very selves: that whatever we see is only a foretaste of the suffering of Gehennom. If we do this in this world, in time, and submit ourselves wholly to Hashem, we can avoid being punished in the next.

This is our obligation on Rosh Hashonoh: to visualize the magnitude of Hashem's power and to realize that everything depends on Him. If we transgress His commandments and disobey His will, we shall be duly punished. We must actually imagine the terrible suffering and bitter punishments that are the Divine retribution when necessary, and thereby coerce ourselves into obedience. Thereby we can rend the evil decree hovering over us and emerge successful in our judgment.

The Connection to Rosh Hashonoh

The Mashgiach drew a comparison between the above idea and Rosh Hashonoh in the following manner:

We can better understand the tochochoh-rebuke found in the Torah, which is read right before Rosh Hashonoh. This reading is designed to arouse a person to fear those punishments meted out to the sinful. It helps a person to become abject and submissive to Hashem, whereby he will be acquitted of all punishment in his judgment. One who hears all the tribulations read aloud and is complacent in his ways, and continues to pursue willful sinfulness, will not be forgiven. Rather, Hashem will become wrathful against him and be zealous in effacing his very name from the face of the earth.

We must realize how severe this attitude is -- so severe as to arouse Hashem's wrath against someone to such an extreme extent as depicted in the Torah in these portions, at this time.

The key is that in order for us to emerge victorious in our judgment on Rosh Hashonoh, we must subjugate ourselves completely to our King. A person who heard the punishments read from the Torah and remained serene and unmoved and deceived himself into thinking that all will go well for him as it has up until now, is displaying the very opposite of submission. It is pure arrogance, a denial of the capacity of his King to punish and visit retribution for evil, as the Alter of Kelm explained.

He is dismissing, as it were, the power of the King. It is only just and logical that his name be wiped out for this vanity and insolence. Says Hashem of such a person: He and I cannot abide together in the same world. Therefore, it is he who must quit the world.


This, then, is our duty. In Aseres Yemei Teshuvoh, in retrospect of the horrendous tragedies that took place in the last year, we must not suffice with a mere recollection and continue on our carefree, oblivious way. We must remember that the shocking events we witnessed are an example of the harsh justice that is meted to those deserving of them in Gehennom, so that we return to Hashem with love, with all our heart, for then we can be guaranteed to live in peace and not be witness to any more such suffering.

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