Two Paths To Rosh HaShanah and the Yomim Noraim – Which Will You Choose?

As a person enters the Yommim Noraim there are two, possible paths and feelings that they may experience:

Path #1:

The teshuvah process starts with our supplications during Slichos the week before Rosh Hashannah with prayers such as “To us Hashem is shame-facedness; unto You is Tzedukah”. The days of Slichos pass with deep introspection as the “Day of Judgment” looms ever closer. A sense of trepidation envelops us as we consider how will the scales of Judgment on this day be balanced? Will there be enough mitzvos to tip the scale of merit or the opposite, chas v’Shalom? Will we be written on the book of Life or ……

Rosh HaShannah arrives. While we partake of apples dipped in honey, angles tremble in the celestial spheres above – the world is being judged. Our prayers reflect their trembling and we fill them with supplication. Who can be found without flaws on this awesome day? We beseech Hashem to silence the Accuser and to bless our year with an abundance of life, children and sustenance. The shofar cries forth mirroring the sounds of the soul’s sobbing for deliverance.

The Ten Days of Teshuvah are spent with a keen awareness of how “Teshuvah, Tefillah and Tzedukah avert the severity of the decree!”. We work to add merit to ourselves so that any accusations can be erased and these merits can seal us in the Book of Life for a good and sweet year. We seek the forgiveness of those whom we may have wronged so that we may also be forgiven by Hashem in turn.

Yom Kippur is spent with tears of remorse as our prayers recount our sins and we lament our past. Neliah offers the last opportunity for teshuvah as “the gates of prayer are closing”.

Path #2:

Rosh Chodesh Elul ushers in the “month of accounting”. We take stock and reflect on how the past year was spent in avodas Hashem. It marks the second ascension of Moshe Rebbainnu on Har Sinai to receive the Second Tablets; “Just as the first 40 days were days of auspiciousness, so too are the days from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Yom HaKippor”….. We take advantage of Elul representing an “Ari Miklat”, a “city of refuge” where we utilized our time to complete any lacking in our avodas Hashem and to propel us forward to a state of “All of you are standing this day….”

With three weeks of introspection as well as increasing in Torah, prayer and gemilas chassudim – we turn to Hashem during Slichos and pray “The merciful Judge who answers the poor – answer us!”. While we indeed pray “To us Hashem is shame-facedness; unto You is Tzedukah” – our “shamefacedness” is from recognizing Your greatness. We feel transparent like a candle flickering under the blinding light of the sun at high noon. “unto You is Tzedukah” – we do not request to be judged measure for measure and receive only a limited shining of Your countenance [which would be “Tzedek”, “judgment”] but rather we pine for Your tedukah – an unearned and unlimited radiance of Your Shechinah [“Tzedukah”]. The month of Elul and the week of Slichos provides us the general preparation needed to enter into the coronation of our King:

The Shofar blasts forth as we completely submit to Your will. Yes, we request an abundance of blessings for life, children and sustenance but only so that we may fulfill Hashem’s ultimate desire to have a dwelling place in this material world.

The Ten Days of Teshuvah are spent striving for deeper levels of intimacy with Hashem through our teshuvah, tefillah and tedukah. We seek to repair our relationships since those who are beloved to the one we love, become beloved to us.

Finally, Yom Kippur arrives. We sing our viduy as we are cleansed with the sweat of our mitzvos and tears of joy – we have returned to who we really are and are united completely with our Heavenly Father. Yes, the gates are closing with Neliah – let them close – so that Hashem can be completely alone with His beloved bride – Klal Yisrael.

Two paths – each a 100% “kosher” derek in avodas Hashem. One emphasizes fear of Hashem; the other – love of Hashem. One emphasizes the lowliness of a person; the other – the greatness of Hashem. Each has an advantage the other doesn’t but:

Whereas tears unlock the gates of Heaven, joy bursts through its very walls….

May our teshuvah merit that we experience the sound of the Shofar HaGadol and surely we will be blessed with the ultimate of blessings – the return of our exiles to Zion and the building of the final Beis Hamikdash with the heralding of the complete Redemption.

Originally Posted Sept 21, 2006

6 comments on “Two Paths To Rosh HaShanah and the Yomim Noraim – Which Will You Choose?

  1. Avrahom-Moishe Erlenwein said:
    “Whereas tears unlock the gates of Heaven, joy bursts through its very walls…”

    This quote about joy breaking walls has been said in the name of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, but I could not find it in the writings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov or anywhere else.

    If anyone knows the exact source of this quote, I would appreciate it.

  2. Great post–but I question the facile association of avinu with joy and malkenu with fear. Are they not both connected? To me there is nothing more joyous than the fact that Hashem is Melech Haolam–and I am not. Calling Hashem King can provide a great sense of freedom, especially for us baalei teshuvah who have known the terror of the anarchy of not having a king in our lives. To accept Hashem as Melech and to be accepted as His servant is the greatest joy and comfort. A father is not always able to help or guide his children, but our Father is the King of the Universe, so we can live safely in his palace. Al tashlicheinu milfanecha…vshavti b’beit Hashem leorech yamim.

    The love and the fear are one and the same: we fear that we will not meet the expectations of the king we love. The greatness of adam is precisely our ability to recognize that we are small and to connect with the One who is great, in contrast to the animals who are self-centered and though they may think they are great, really they are smaller.

  3. Thinking about the Yomim Noraim insertions declaring HaShem as Melech, I went through the daily davening one day paying extra attention to words like Melech, Melucha, Malchus and the like in connection with HaShem. Even on an ordinary weekday, there are many such references. While the insertions heighten our consciousness in this area, this aspect is clearly thought to be important to keep in mind all the time.

    Had I done a similar search for Avinu and the like, I’m sure these references would have been numerous, too.

    At any rate, scanning for Melech references during davening helped my concentration!

  4. Actually, in the newly published Machzor Mesoras HaRav, RYBS pointed out that this contrast between Gadlus HaAdam that we see in the Piyutim and Katnus HaAdam that we see in the Selcihos as well as a debate over the form of the shofar is a major motif of the Yamim Noraim.IIRC, RYBS also developed a major contrast between the Al CHet and the Ashamnu that is also built on the lines of distinguishing between the individual and the communal aspects of teshuvah.

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