01 Sep Getting Ready for the Day of Judgement
As we get closer and closer to Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, we try to prepare ourselves in every possible way. Of course, we engage in the making of a cheshbon hanefesh, a personal accounting, so that we may determine areas in which we need to do teshuvah, repentance, and other areas in which we need to improve. We also try to find projects of compassion and kindness, for the Gemora tells us, “Kol hamracheim al habrios, merachamin alov min HaShamayim – Whoever has mercy on his fellow man will be shown mercy from Heaven.” We also should muster the courage and strength to forgive those who have wronged us, for it is the Divine way to judge midah kneged midah, measure for measure. Therefore, if we look away from the misdeeds of others, Hashem then will likewise look away from our sins.
Prayer is also most effective at this time of the year. As we know, Elul is an acronym for “Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi li – I am to my Beloved, and my Beloved is to me.” This means that if we attempt to come close to Hashem, Our Beloved, He reciprocates in full measure. Prayer is one of the most direct ways to come close to Hashem. At this time of the year, we should ask Hashem that He rev-up our teshuvah motors, as when we say in the Shemone Esrei ‘V’hachazireinu b’tshuvah shleima lifonecha – Give us the impetus to return to You in perfect repentance.”
We should also ask Hashem for forgiveness heavily in the Shemone Esrei bracha of ‘s’lach lonu.’ We should pray, too, for the knowledge to know what needs to be improved and for what needs to be changed in the bracha, ‘Atah chonein laadom daas.’ And, when we say these prayers, we should not restrict them solely to ourselves. Rather, we should pray that others as well should be motivated to repent and better themselves.
Thus far, we have looked at two of the three ingredients that repeal any evil decrees – for like we say in Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur liturgy, “U’Tshuvah, u’Tefilah, u’Tzedakah maavirin es roah ha-gezeirah.” We’ve talked about repentance, and we’ve covered prayer. Now let’s take a serious look at the third ingredient, tzedakah.
The Gemora teaches us that “Tzedakah tatzil mimoves – Charity saves one from death.” This is particularly important when we pray for life on the Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgment. Since Rosh Hashanah is also the time when Hashem distributes our annual income, it behooves us to beef up on our tzedakah output, for the Torah promises us “Aser t’aser – You shall surely give tithes,” which the Gemora homiletically explains “Aser bishvil shetisasher – Give tithes and you will become wealthy”.
At this point one might wonder “Wait a minute! I know a lot of people who diligently give charity and are not wealthy! To the contrary, they are still struggling.” This question is dealt with in several ways by a variety of commentators. The Chofetz Chaim explains that while a person might give charity, he doesn’t get the Divine reward of wealth unless he gives in proportion to his means. Thus, when there is an Hatzolah appeal in shul and everyone, rich and poor alike, calls out one hundred dollars, this is not the proper spirit of tzedakah. As an example, the Chofetz Chaim cites the daughter of Nakdimon Ben Gurion who was found picking barleycorns out of dung in order to survive. The Gemora asks how such a thing could have happened to the daughter of a great philanthropist. The Gemora answers that indeed Nakdimon gave a lot – but not according to his ability.
The Marchazu, in his response, answers that one isn’t rewarded with wealth unless he gives his charity happily. As the Torah says, “Lo yeirah levovcha bsidcha lo – Let it not hurt your heart when you give charity to him.” This is indeed a great challenge for many people for, although we do give money when people knock on the door, call on the phone, or ask us in shul, too often we give it grudgingly or with a frown. In order to receive Divine reward, we need to train ourselves to give tzedakah with a smile.
My favorite answer is the explanation of the Haflaah. He explains that the blessings of wealth for giving charity are not apparent in the bank book or in one’s investment portfolio. He quotes the Gemora which says that the reward will be ‘shetisasher,’ one will become ‘asher,’ wealthy. The Mishna says in Pirkei Avos, “Eizehu ashir? Hasomeiach b’chelko – Who is wealthy? He who is satisfied with his lot.” Thus, concludes the Haslah, the reward of charity is a sense of satisfaction and well being. This is indeed the prophecy in Malachi – that for giving charity, Hashem will open up the skylight in Heaven, “V’harikosi lachem bracha ad bli dai,” which the Gemora explains to mean that Hashem will shower reward upon the Baal Tzedakah until his lips will tire from saying enough. This, the Haflaah says, is a poetic way of expressing an attitude of fulfillment and wellbeing.
In the zechus of our multi-pronged attempts to get ready for the Day of Judgment, may Hashem bless us all a kasiva v’chasima tova u’mesukah, that we be written down and sealed for a good and sweet year.