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28 Ellul 5767 - September 11, 2007 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
All The World's Inhabitants Pass Before Him

Prepared from Divrei Torah of HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv by Rav Shlomo Yitzchok Rosenstein

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 Hashem's eyes.

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 anyway.

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 Judgment

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 — Rashi).

"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 Judgment.

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.)

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