Parshas Ki Seitzei 5758 - '98

Outline Vol. 2, # 44

by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein

Our thanks to the anonymous reader who dedicated this issue.

Chodshei Hashanah Vol. 2 # 27

Rosh Hashanah

Examining difficulties peculiar to Rosh Hashanah, we will first look at technical and legal issues, before eventually returning to our subject of last week: the judgment of the day.

The Original Dates

Rosh Hashanah is the only holiday which does not have a fixed date. Every holiday occurs on a given date of a month, except for Shavuos, which, although not having a fixed date, is a fixed number of days after Pesach.

Rosh Hashanah, however, occurs at the new moon following Elul. This could be 30 or 31 days past the beginning of Elul. (Rav Shlomo Zevin, "Hamo’adim B’halacha")

If the witnesses came on the first day, the second day would not be Rosh Hashanah at all. If, however, the witnesses failed to appear on the first day, then both days would be observed as Rosh Hashanah: The first, because of the doubt at the time; the second, because the day was now known to be holy.

Through an elaborate system of fire and smoke signals, the findings of the court in Jerusalem would be broadcast throughout the Diaspora.

Actual Observance

The first day was normally observed as the holiday, even though the matter could not be clarified for a number of hours as to whether the day was truly sanctified. The Me’iri in Tractate Beitza (4b) quoted two opinions as to whether Kidush and the prayers for Yom Tov were recited on the first day. The special services of Rosh Hashanah, including the shofar, were presumably performed on the first day (Tzafnas Pane’ach and Rav Zevin).

According to Rambam, the sacrifices of Rosh Hashanah were brought on the first day, conditionally. If the witnesses would not appear that day, the sacrifices would be reclassified (Lechem Mishnah, Chasom Sofer and others).

Some Later Changes

The fire and smoke signals were abandoned after the Samaritans attempted to deceive the populace. Agents were now sent to inform the Diaspora in time for the upcoming festivals. After sectarians tried impersonating the agents, only recognized officers of the court were accepted (Mishnah, Rosh Hashanah, chapter two).

Most holidays occur midway through the month. Since Rosh Hashanah occurs at the beginning, there wouldn’t be time for the agents to make contact with distant areas by word of mouth. Here the commentaries differ regarding the observance of Rosh Hashanah in the Diaspora. Rashi was of the opinion that the holiday was kept on the first day, alone, based on presumption. Tosafos felt that both days were observed, due to doubt.

Eventually, a further decree was made, in order to avoid confusion: If the witnesses did not arrive at the court by afternoon, the second day would automatically be sanctified. The first day was to be observed as well, since, if not for the interference of the new ruling, the first day would have been sanctified (Rav Zevin, "Hamo’adim B’halacha"). Here we find an interesting distinction: the essential sanctity of the first day, versus the actual sanctity imposed by the court, on the second day.

Dispute Regarding the Dates

At this point, we encounter a debate basic to the calendar as a whole. Which day begins the year? Tosafos and others claimed that the first day of Rosh Hashanah initiated the calendar year. Rashi (Menachos 100b) and Tzafnas Pane’ach, however, maintained that the day sanctified -- the second day -- would be the first of the year.

All of this refers to a period when the court sanctified the month in Jerusalem. After the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, further decrees were made, before today’s observance was established.

Confounding the Opposition

The Talmud states that the shofar is repeated in order to confuse the "Soton" -- the accuser. The commentaries explain (see Sidur Ishei Yisrael): Certainly the accuser knows that the shofar will be repeated. The "confusion of the accuser" actually refers to his claims. When the Jewish People are constantly admitting their faults -- before the prosecution is able to state them -- the claims are severely weakened.

Indeed, as we have seen, the Jews would declare the holiday, have the services and shofar sounds, without knowing if Rosh Hashanah had even begun. Why wait around for the trial? Let’s get a head start! If the real trial is only tomorrow -- the rehearsal will do no harm, but will be to our advantage...

The Nature of the Day

Rav Menachem Toker (Mevakshei Torah Vol. 3, p. 384) discusses the nature of Rosh Hashanah. People usually think that the judgment of the day brings about that we arouse ourselves to repent, so that our case comes out well. The truth is the reverse: The entire purpose of the judgment is that we become "Yirei Shomayim" -- filled with awe, respect, dedicated concern.

The only description of the day in the Torah is a reference to the shofar. The shofar is the tool to awaken us to introspection. This is the mitzva of the day, like Matza on Pesach or Lulav on Sukkos: the hearing of the shofar brings us to Yiras Shomayim.

Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156
E-mail: [email protected]

Good Shabbos!

Text Copyright © '98 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.

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