emunah, tefillah, a little mussar, and a shmeck of geula

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Serving Hashem B’Simcha

Query: What’s the difference between serving Hashem b’simcha and being samayach b’chelko?

As we said in Samayach B’Chelko, …the essential ingredient of our happiness is not what happens to us but rather what happens within us.

It’s all about whom and what we are, and we write our own ticket.  And if we write it in indelible ink, then our sense of joy will be such that even when we suffer pain in any of its manifestations, be it physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, etc., we will not lose sight of the essential goodness of our lives.

Being samayach b’chelko speaks in terms of our happiness, our sense of joy, and the essential goodness of our lives.  We are center stage in the spotlight of Life’s travails, and we play our parts according to how we have internalized the lines we have written for ourselves.  It’s all about us and how we relate to what Hashem has bestowed on us.  And, at its root, it is essentially passive.

Being b’simcha in our Avodas Hashem, however, has a different focus.  It’s an active concept and it’s about doing as opposed to having or receiving.  And when the doing doesn't get done, the Torah reminds us that the consequences are dire, as in churban and golus....because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, amid gladness and goodness of heart, when everything was abundant.

Serious stuff, this serving Hashem b'simcha business.  

We mentioned in EmunahSpeak: "Nishmas", that the Chovos Halevovos teaches us that the function of the mitzvos is to express gratitude to Hashem.  And that this mitzvah-driven expression of gratitude is, in turn, merely a subset of our whole purpose of being in this world.  One might be tempted to say that in the view of the Chovos Halevovos, the performance of mitzvos is (a futile attempt at) payback time for all that Hashem has bestowed upon us, and concerning which we have been bidden to be samayach b’chelko.

In a sense, we could say that being samayach b’chelko is a prerequisite for serving Hashem b’simcha, for how is it possible that that which we are doing for Hashem (mitzvos) can reflect the smile of our kavanah if that which He constantly does for us elicits nothing more on our part but the emptiness of indifference?

Serving Hashem b’simcha, means actively harnessing our happiness, our sense of joy, and the essential goodness of our lives that we spoke about above, in relation to being samayach b’chelko, and making it the leitmotif of our mitzvah observance. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


The soul of every living being shall bless Your Name, Hashem, our G-d, and the spirit of all flesh shall always glorify and exalt Your remembrance, our King, always.

So begins Nishmas Kol Chai

This is the prayer for gratitude, and an acknowledged segula for good health, parnossa, marriage, children, and success in all endeavors. 

And says Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, it’s recited on Shabbos and Yom Tov, at the end of the Pesukei D’zimrah, when the soul becomes aware of its place in the presence of G-d.  He tells us that this tefillah declares that every soul, every breath and every thought, conscious or unconscious, in all things that have life and feeling, joins with the chorus of all other creatures in one hymn of praise, glorifying G-d and paying tribute of obedience to the name and concept of G-d that dwells within the heart of man.

Accordingly, it would seem that Nishmas is the vehicle by which Klal Yisroel interfaces with the Niggun of Perek Shira, thereby adding its voice to the acoustical mosaic of Creation.   

The Chovos Halevovos teaches us that the function of the mitzvos is to express gratitude to Hashem and, as such, Nishmas reflects our core purpose for being in this world.  The praises of Nishmas proclaim the ultimate truth of our existence, and so when one recites Nishmas he is, in essence, affirming the foundation upon which this world has been erected. 

And virtually every word is a case study in the praise of Hashem and of being makir tov to Him:

Were our mouths as full of song as the sea, and our tongues as full of joyous song as its multitude of waves, and our lips as full of praise as the breadth of the heavens, and our eyes as brilliant as the sun and the moon, and our hands as outspread as eagles of the sky, and our feet as light as the deer – we still could not thank You sufficiently, Hashem, our G-d…

But we should try, exercise in futility though it may be.

And with the realization that our mouths, tongues, lips, eyes, hands, and feet can’t quite cut it, praise-wise, we marshal all innermost feelings and thoughts and sing praises to His Name by subsuming them into the words of Nishmas.

No, you don’t have to know the meaning of all the words as they roll off your tongue.  It suffices that you know what they mean in the aggregate, that you intend them to be your emissaries on High to specifically reflect your Hakoras HaTov for all of the minutiae of your existence, and that your intention be manifested with the deepest kavanah of which you are capable.  After all, doesn’t the Medrash learn Neshimos kol chai, which means that we should praise Hashem for every breath that enables us to remain alive rather than Nishmas kol chai?

One who intones Nishmas with the aforementioned appropriate kavanah has hit the high note in his relationship with Hashem for that given moment, and Hashem reciprocates by showering the Baal Nishmas with tokens of that relationship, as one who loves bestows gifts upon the object of that love.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Burning Need

In EmunahSpeak: So Say Something Already!, we spoke of wants versus needs vis á vis tefillah in the context of having, as in Tatte, I have a need!  That’s enough in itself, we said over there because your need requires a response.  

And we ended with: your desires (wants) are another story.

But wants and needs can also be juxtaposed in relation to doing, as in those who want/wish to do or, more accurately, those who want/wish that something be done as opposed to those who need to do.

In Parshas Shemos, when Pharaoh’s daughter, Batya, saw Moshe in the basket floating upon the water, Rashi quotes the Medrash to say that Batya’s hand extended a great distance to retrieve Moshe from the water.  Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein tells us that we learn from this Rashi that it’s your job to put your hand out even if it doesn’t reach, and keep it there until it does because if you really need something, if you have a burning need to do (accomplish), your hand can stretch to make it happen.

If you merely want it, have a nice day.

Wanting is passive and, as such, it’s not wired for tachlis.  If it so happens that that which was wanted actually comes to be, the fruition of that want was not in response to it.  A need, by contrast, is proactive and, by virtue of its fiery nature, it can (and usually does) clear a path for itself.

Or put another way, the player that wants his team to win gives encouragement to his teammates and roots them on, whereas the player with the need to win puts the ball in the basket.

This dichotomy between a needs determination and a wants resignation impacts on practically everything we touch.  And for those, whose comprehension of this dichotomy allows them to taste its true significance, it’s a life changer that will reveal to them where they’re standing in this world.

Think not?

You want to do the right thing, as do we all, so every Elul you dutifully jot down all the areas in which you wish to improve in the coming year.  But do you find your present madreiga so insufferable that you need to do the right thing so that the possibility of second, third, and fourth best no longer exists for you?  If you did, you would be tenacious in pursuit of that goal and you wouldn’t compromise it for anything.  For the sake of that need you would go inside yourself to know how to satisfy it, and you wouldn’t stop until you achieved your purpose.

And who doesn’t want that there should be achdus amongst Yidden? But how many feel the need for it?  How many of us are driven by such a burning need for achdus that we are willing step out of our comfort zone to make it happen? And how many of us are so tortured by this need that we would be willing to compromise on anything that didn’t contravene Halacha?

And so it goes for almost any situation.  Most of us want to learn.  How many need to?  Do you want to help others or do you need to help others?  Would you like (want) to connect Hashem or do you need to connect to Hashem?

If you go through life merely wanting to do, nothing will ever get done.  But if, with a soul on fire, you take that journey needing to do, nothing will ever get in your way.

In light of this, Rabbi Wallerstein suggests that the reason Moshiach is not here is because we want Moshiach now as opposed to we need Moshiach now.  In its terminal passivity, the wanting of Moshiach in and of itself will do nothing to bring the Geula. If he comes, he comes.  If not, we’ll keep on wanting until he does, whereas the need for Moshiach will inevitably push Klal Yisroel in innumerable directions that will create the conditions to bring the Geula ever so closer, speedily in our days.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Nothing but Thoughts

Rabbi Shalom Arush tells us in the name of Rebbe Nachman that character traits are nothing but thoughts, with the prevailing thoughts delineating the essence of one’s mindset at any given time.

Here’s a baal gaiva.  He struts around like he’s the somebody that he imagines himself to be.  He looks down on those that he perceives to be beneath him in intelligence, learning, financial status, physical appearance, social status or anything else that he holds to be important.  His arrogance is manifested in his haughty demeanor, speech, tone, clothes, and all the rest of the expressions and trappings of his lifestyle.

For all of his pretense he is nothing more than an actor and a lousy one at that because nothing he does even remotely resembles extemporaneous action.  He is rigidly reading his lines; the lines that he has written for himself; the ones etched into his thoughts.  He thinks he’s better than yenem so he acts accordingly.  If his thoughts were saturated with humility it would be physically IMPOSSIBLE for him to conduct himself in an arrogant manner.  And so it is for every other midda, be it positive or negative. 

You are what you think.

Our thoughts also parallel our inclinations, with our good thoughts courtesy of the Yetzer Tov while the bad thoughts come to us by virtue of the other guy.  But it’s deeper than that because the two yetzers aren’t in the business of running a shuttle service for our thoughts.  The two inclinations are our thoughts, with one being our good thoughts, and the other the bad. 

This all leads to the rather sobering conclusion that at such a time when a person is harboring bad thoughts the Yetzer Hora has taken over his mind and is now in charge.  And as Rav Miller z”l, relates in the context of the Hakdama to the Chovos Halavovos, it’s an aveira to hold in our mind bad thoughts such as jealousy and resentment because we are being observed by Hashem at all times.  As soon as we have such thoughts we are commanded to remove them from our mind.

Chazal has described this sparring between the Yetzer Tov and Yetzer Hara as the War of the Inclinations.  It’s an ongoing struggle resembling a tug of war in which the good thoughts are striving to overcome the bad.

The somewhat less than good news is that the acquiring of good thoughts is not the product of a life spent on a hammock.  It’s work.  And not a day’s work either.  You’re in it for the duration because it is a situation of constant war in which you must perpetually marshal your good thoughts so as to overcome the thoughts that are south of desirable.

Rabbi Arush says that the upside of this lifetime struggle is that we don’t have to sit back in a defensive posture and let the evil thoughts that are from the dark side overwhelm us.  We have it on good authority from Chazal that one cannot hold onto two disparate thoughts at the same time, so all we have to do is to decide to put good thoughts into our heads, thereby pre-empting the dark side competition.

Very nice to be sure, but how exactly does one go about pushing the envelope on good thoughts, he asks?  And he answers:

New data!

Think of your mind as a computer (l’havdil) that works on the classic GIGO principle of garbage in garbage out.  Common sense dictates that you can’t get out any better than you put in.  

And that brings us to a typical baal Teshuva who comes to Torah Judaism with a shmutz kop because he has spent his formative years and, depending on age, some or many of his adult years immersed in negative unwholesome thoughts of all kinds.  If in a burst of new found religious fervor he would attempt a frontal assault on the evil thoughts that predominate in his mind he wouldn’t make a dent, his noble intentions notwithstanding.

The road from shmutz kop to a mind permeated with positive attitudes anchored in Torah hashkafa is paved with new data.  Tzubisilach, word by word, concept by concept, thoughts of Torah and emunah Pesach clean the mind from the remnants of the Street that have burrowed themselves within.

And by the rest of us it’s different?

To the extent that the thought driven output of what we are pleased to call our minds does not merit to be noted on our resume for Olam Haba, we have to input fresh data sufficient to dictate a positive entry because as we said above, we are what we think.  And what we think about is what has been given to us to think about because it all depends on what inhabits the precincts of our mind.

If what we think is good then so are we, because our character traits are nothing but our thoughts.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A One Trick Pony

Anyone old enough to be familiar with this expression either already is or will soon be exerting pressure on the (so called) Social Security Trust Fund.

Who among us hasn’t heard, at least once in his life, the expression (chant, mantra, demand) of we want Moshiach now?  On paper, at least, it’s beautiful, concise, and to the point because in four words we have the twelfth of the Rambam’s thirteen Ikkurim distilled to perfection, and nonetheless it tends to grate on many of us. 

Why so?

It could have something to do with the incessant repetition, ad nauseum.  Or perhaps it’s because in certain circles it seems to be the sole concern of those most animated by it, with no second or third concerns hanging out in the bullpen waiting to be summoned to round out the breadth and depth of one’s Yiddishkeit, with breadth and depth being defined as we want Moshiach now.
And then there’s emunah. 

It is such a yesod that the Rambam counts it as the very first mitzvah in his Sefer HaMitzvos.  The Ramban goes a step further and posits that emunah is bottom line, and that it’s the foundation of all of the mitzvos, and therefore can’t be counted as one of them.

And wouldn’t you know it, there’s a group that takes these two Rishonim at their word, and puts emunah at the epicenter of their understanding of Yiddishkeit.  And it just so happens that emunah also occupies most of the space between the circumference of that understanding and its epicenter.

And although they have a firm grasp on this foundation of foundations known as emunah, their articulation of it also tends to grate on us a little for the same reasons that were put forth as concerns Moshiach.

Yishuv Eretz Yisroel is also a very great mitzvah, and for a very large group it has become the central focus of their lives. 

Over thirty years ago, Rav Nachman Bulman z”l told a cousin of mine, who at the time was one of those who were living in Hadassah Hospital in Hevron, that from both a hashkafic/halachic point of view it was a risky proposition for Gush Emunim (the name at that time of the movement to settle Yehudah and the Shomron) to make settling the Land the exclusive focal point of their Yiddishkeit.  If they were ever, chas v’shalom, detached from the Land, he said, some would give up their Yiddishkeit altogether.  And this is exactly what happened to a number of them after Korban Gaza.  No longer being tethered to the Land that had been the center of their Jewish lives, religiously speaking they took a walk.

Query:  So what exactly are the rest of us riding?

The vast majority of us are not riding a one trick pony, because its defects and limitations are all too apparent.  But at least it’s a living, breathing expression of Yiddishkeit, even if it is too narrowly focused.  As we have already said, each trick represents a fundamental concept of Judaism.

But in our aversion to the tumult that is made concerning these inyonim (and a number of others also), in that the drums that beat for them perhaps beat a little too loudly, many of us tend to forget the centrality of these concepts.  We take a dive on these inyonim in toto, eliminating almost all references to them from polite discussion lest we be suspected of latent sympathies with the aforementioned partisans for emunah, Moshiach, and Yishuv Eretz Yisroel.

I recently heard the best shiur ever on Moshiach, and the maggid shiur began with a disclaimer that just because the subject of the shiur was Moshiach, the audience shouldn’t think that he (the speaker)was a member of a certain group.

Rabbi Dov Halperin: Waiting for Moshiach. 

So this is what we’ve come to.  In our stampede toward the exits away from the groupies extolling emunah, Moshiach, Yishuv Eretz Yisroel, and the like, all too many of us have eschewed a one trick pony only to settle instead for a no trick pony, devoid of much of the essence of Judaism.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Two Tests

So who are you anyway?

How do you deal with wealth and how do you deal with adversity?  Many of us get a shot at both ends of the wealth/adversity continuum while for the rest it’s an either/or proposition not of our choosing.

The test of wealth is, in actuality, a reality check because it references what is as opposed to what was or what might be and it prompts two questions: where did it come from and, by the way, who’s in charge here?  The answer for either one suffices for the other because the two questions are essentially one.

So where did your wealth come from?

You made it you say?  How so?  What’s that, you’re a software engineer with an advanced degree from MIT?  And after you graduated you developed a plethora of killer applications that you licensed to the likes of IBM and Microsoft for millions of dollars?

So now that we know that it all came to you by your power and the strength of your hand, we can venture a pretty educated guess as to who is in charge of your world.  But how about the guy to your left?  How about you, sir?

So where did your wealth come from?

From the Ribbono Shel Olam?  And it was a Nes you say?  Exactly what kind of a Nes are you talking about?

You’re a software developer, and even though you developed and sold for millions what everyone said were killer applications, there were a number of other applications that were functionally competitive with yours, but the public always seemed to prefer your stuff and you can’t understand why?

Yeah, you already said it was a Nes, so there is no sense in asking who’s in charge of your world.

The test of adversity, aside from the obvious quantitative differences that distinguishes it from that of wealth, also inhabits a distinctly different qualitative plane because given the nature of the test, the trap of Kochi VeOtzem Yadi is not an option.

Unlike the test of wealth, where the choice is inherently between the emes that Hashem does it all and the sheker of the strength and the power of my hand, adversity presents only one choice, and the test, as such, is in how we deal with it.  Rather than look back and ask, where did this wealth come from, the focus is prospective, and the question to be asked is, when will it come, or better yet will it come? 

And as to adversity, who’s in charge morphs into is anyone in charge?

So at the end of the day, the two tests present us with two risks, each one unique unto itself. The test of adversity puts us at risk by pushing the envelope of our free will in the direction of denying the Creator, whereas the test of wealth, the purpose of which is to dazzle us with our own greatness, puts us at risk of ignoring Him.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Waiting for Godot

Barely a week ago, we said in EmunahSpeak: Perhaps They’re Better Than You, that as far as kiruv is concerned the Internet is a win win phenomenon with no apparent downside, which enables us to reach people that heretofore were totally inaccessible vis á vis kiruv in any form. 

In light of the ongoing Chillul Hashem that has made Beth Shemesh the poster boy for hate and intolerance, courtesy of both Israel’s Leftist controlled media and the Internet, by way of You Tube, Twitter, Facebook and the like, it appears that the Internet also has a downside vis á vis kiruv.  Thanks to the Internet, what used to be localized manifestations of Chillul Hashem, Mea Shearim style, have now become internationalized. 

Not relishing the idea of eating my words, I deleted them instead.  The words win win phenomenon with no apparent downside, have been safely consigned to a digital cemetery somewhere out in cyber space.

Halavai that the defusing of the tension in Beth Shemesh should prove to be as easy as the updating of the essay.

This brings us to Marcus Lehmann who, in the famous Hagaddah bearing his name, asks why this Golus has been so long.  He gives four reasons, among them greed, sensuality, and indolence.  Keep in mind that his Hagaddah was first published over one hundred years ago and he was referring to the German Jews of the late Nineteenth Century who were known for their yashrus, modesty, thrift and hard work. 

What would he say about us!?

But I digress, because greed, sensuality, and indolence were only reasons numbers two, three, and four.

Rabbi Lehmann writes that reason number one as to why this Golus of ours is shlepping out as long as it has is because of dissension, and he tells us that dissension comes in two flavors:

“There has been no lack of pious and holy men and women in the many centuries of the present Golus, but salvation could not appear because of the innumerable conflicts dividing the people.  Sects and parties have continuously disturbed the peace of the exile.  Sadducees, Boethusians, Minim, Karaites, Sabbateans, etc. have brought distress and confusion to the community of Jacob scattered throughout the world. 

“But there were squabbles that did not involve great matters of principle.  They very often arose over trifling affairs; and these conflicts turned into hate and enmity, which sometimes affected large segments of Jewry, but more frequently caused utter confusion within individual communities.

“Alas, the situation is no better today (late 19th Century).

“It is not sufficient that we have enemies about us, we also cause enmities amongst ourselves and often make our lives bitter for really trivial reasons.  About two centuries ago the study of Talmud blossomed amongst German Jewry as perhaps never before.  The communities of Germany both large and small were distinguished for their upright piety.

“Then there arose an unholy dispute which was directed particularly against the great Rabbi Jonathan Eybeshutz.  The damage caused by this dispute, and the extent to which it contributed towards dissuading young people from studying the Torah and demoralizing the ranks of the G-d fearing cannot be adequately described.

“We do not wish to speak of the dissensions caused by the so-called Reform movement.  But it is most inexcusable that there is continuous conflict and dispute amongst the orthodox and faithful Israelites, for it lengthens the night of the Golus.

Without mentioning the names of or pointing fingers at the participants in the Beth Shemesh reality show, suffice it to say that it falls well within Rabbi Lehmann’s admonition concerning continuous conflict and dispute, and that it is certainly most inexcusable.  To posit that he’s wrong about lengthening the night of the Golus would be more in the realm of wishful thinking than a credible critique of his conclusion.

If there ever was a squabble that did not involve great matters of principle, this was it.  The secular Jews aside, why is it that nearly all of the factions that comprise Religious Jewry in the State of Israel are either directly involved in the Beth Shemesh imbroglio or stand condemned by way of group libel?  Put another way: 

Why did Hashem let this happen to us?

I’m not privileged to be in the know in these kinds of things so the best I can do is guess, but as is well known, Hashem punishes on the basis of midda keneged midda (measure for measure).  

Meanwhile, there was another incident in which several Hesder boys quietly walked out of an Army performance in which female soldiers were singing.  Aside from some grumbling at the fringes and a flurry or two of calls and emails from Hesder affiliated Rabbis there wasn’t all that much done about it.

The soldiers who walked out on the singing performed a Kiddush Hashem for which they were disciplined and basically hung out to dry by the non-response of the religious public.  As we said above, there were no big protests to be carried by YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter to the far corners of the earth.

But maybe that’s what Hashem wanted.  Maybe He wanted to see how big a deal would be made on a matter of great principle.

He didn’t see anything, and so the Satan came to Beth Shemesh to churn up a massive chillul Hashem on a kleinikeit instead.

Even though we wait for Moshiach every day as per the 12th of the Rambam’s ikkurim, Moshiach and Sinas Chinam can’t occupy the same space at the same time.  For as much as Moshiach will come any time soon, given our current achdus meltdown, we might as well be Waiting for Godot.*

* Google Waiting for Godot if you are clueless.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Cutting the Line

Reflections on the DIVINE Dialogue

Is there a heimishe bakery worthy of the name at which one doesn’t have to wait on line at 11 o’clock on a Friday morning?  And who, after having endured the enforced passivity of the de rigueur fifteen minute wait at the more popular venues hasn’t been told: we’re out of large challahs with seeds or some other response no less disappointing?

Our Tefillos tend to follow a similar pattern.

We do our best (with our best being a five star relative term) to knock out a tefillah that will garner a positive response, but regardless of its intrinsic quality, it’s first stop is at the back of the line where it will wait its turn to be heard.

We’re out of large challahs with seeds also doubles as a metaphor for the Heavenly responses to our tefillos that go south of what we requested, because as we said in EmunahSpeak: So Say Something Already!, We have the power to talk to Hashem like a person talks to his fellow because the real idea of prayer is communication.  And in the context of that dialogue, we attempt to push the buttons to which everything in the world is connected.  The good news is that no sincere prayer goes unanswered.  That’s heads.  Tales is that sometimes the answer is no

And this is how the process of tefillah works for the vast (with vast being an understatement) majority of us.  Every word we utter will be attended to and someone somewhere will be the better for it.  But as for us, we may come home from Hashem's bakery with a medium chalah with no seeds or perhaps no challah at all because there are no guarantees in the realm of tefillah.

But for those few who are on a rarified madreiga of trying to come close to Hashem, Rabbi Mordechai Aderet tells us that the Zohar HaKodesh puts forth four conditions that will put one’s tefillah on an express track.

A person must feel poor.  You can be the wealthiest person on earth but you must mentally and emotionally undress yourself from your wealth.  It’s crucial to think that everything belongs to Hashem.

And you must be a slave to Hashem in your heart.  Unlike most everyone else, your actions are no longer motivated by your welfare, but rather by what’s in it for Hashem.

You also have to be a chossid in that you love to learn Torah and keep the mitzvos.  And what does it mean to love to learn?  On Tisha B’av, the restrictions on your learning ache you more than your hunger. 

And if you should chas v’shalom be an Onain who is forbidden to perform mitzvos, your suffering from that prohibition is as acute as your suffering from the loss which caused you to become an onain in the first place.

And you must be ready to stand up for Hashem in any and all circumstances. 

You are attending a large fundraising dinner, and the speaker makes a somewhat disparaging remark about the Gadol Hador.  Do you continue eating or do you walk out in protest?
Many years ago, at a very big fundraising dinner for a major Jewish organization, the president of the organization made a negative comment about Rabbi Moshe Feinstein z”l.  Rabbi Avigdor Miller z”l, rose from his seat, walked up to the speaker, who was standing at the microphone, and slapped him across the face in front of hundreds of people.

The Zohar HaKodesh promises that if you do these things, your tefillah is guaranteed to be accepted.  No ifs, buts or maybes, and no going to the back of the queue.

Those tefillos literally cut the line, go straight to the front, and receive a two thumbs up Heavenly equivalent of a large challah with seeds.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Yom HaDinless

As we said in EmunahSpeak: A Real Deal Teshuva-part two, In Elul you are what you want to be.  You are the sum total of all the aspirations and kavanas you have for growth in the ensuing year.  During the rest of the year, however, you are what you do on a daily basis…

What better time to go back and review the progress we have (hopefully) made on the tearful resolutions we accepted upon ourselves in Elul, in the run up to the Yom HaDin, then in the aftermath of January 1st.  The rest of the country is recovering from its collective hangover awash in the tens of millions resolutions that were dead on arrival.

It’s bad enough that the same old same old has its fingerprints all over their new year.  It shouldn’t also be calcifying the good machshovas that we had in relation to our new year when we took on to improve ourselves in a myriad of ways each according to his capacity and temperament.  

But over and above our individual spiritual successes and failings, the calendar demands that at this time of the year we also make somewhat of a cheshbon as to what distinguishes our New Year from theirs.  More often than not, we tend to view it in terms of our resolution as to the future versus their dissolution in the present, but this is not a satisfying comparison because, after all, their new year is not a Yom HaDin, it’s a day of celebration.  And how else should goyim celebrate, if not to drink themselves into oblivion?

But as Rabbi Leib Kelemen tells us, there’s more to it than we pray and they drink.  A lot more.

He lets us know that way back when, during the hey day of the Roman Empire, the contrast between our way of kicking off the New Year and theirs was a bit more pronounced.   It seems that excessive drinking was a daily staple rather than a once a year exercise in exuberance, so something more was needed to create that proper yom tovdik atmosphere, le’havdil.

So they closed the courts for a week.

With the courts closed, the City of Rome was a hefker velt with neither law nor authority.  Any girl foolish enough to be found outside was fair game with no legal recourse.  And who’s to say that this closing of the courts of law was not a direct response to the Yom HaDin (our New Year), when the whole world, including Rome, was being judged?  It’s as if the Romans said:  We want no part of your Yom HaDin, or the judgment’s of your G-D.  And then they conveyed their contempt by closing the courts on their new year.

Don’t be fooled by the drinking.

It wasn’t the bottom line of what their new year was all about.  It only fueled it.

In light of what we have been taught concerning the origins of the new year celebration in the Western world, it all comes down to this:  The proper distinction between our New Year and theirs is not the juxtaposition of the Yom HaDin and the Yom HaHefker, but rather the Yom HaDin and the Yom HaDinless.