A Rosh Hashanah 5774 Message
By Rav Aryeh Z. Ginzberg
For the past dozen or so years, the editor of this newspaper has asked me to write an article as an introduction to the yom tov season that would send a timely and important message. Every year I complied and shared with the community at large my heartfelt thoughts and concerns that would be the focus of my yom tov message in shul.
This year, despite a significantly increased workload, I had agreed to do the same. Having to carefully navigate my schedule to take pen in hand (still old-school), I had originally blocked out some time for this past Sunday afternoon, which would be fit in between unveilings in the morning and multiple weddings in the evening.
This all changed–not just for me, but for the hundreds (possibly thousands) of friends and neighbors as well–when we felt the need to participate in an extremely painful and tragic levayah of young Aaron Shalom Tepfer, z’l, that was held this past Sunday.
The accidental death of any child is painful and shocking; but when we add to the fact that he was such a special and wonderful child (as heard again and again by the maspidim) and the fact that he is the child of such unusual parents who are not only leaders in the Cedarhurst community, but are also role models for the rest of us to follow, it makes that tragedy that much more difficult to bear and to comprehend.
And so, having just returned from that unforgettable levayah, all I can do is sit with pen in hand and stare at the blank paper in front of me. What message can I share after such a loss and such a shock to the entire Five Towns community? What words in my or anyone else’s vocabulary can be used to express the significance and severity of the Yemei HaDin better than participating in such a tragic levayah that screams out to us all that “Avinu Malkeinu, ein lanu Melech ela Attah.”
This year, there is now unfortunately no need, nor is it in my limited ability, to bring the yom tov message home, other than to bring attention to the stark realization that, as in every Rosh Hashanah, the Sifrei Chayim and Sifrei Meisim (the decrees of those who will live and those who will not live) are opened before the Melech Malchei HaMelachim. Though this terrible tragedy happened in our midst just days before the upcoming Yemei HaDin, it was decided in Shamayim (for reasons that we will never know) at the closing hours of Yom Kippur last year. There just cannot be any message more compelling and more powerful than that.
Before I conclude with my annual birkas hedyot to the entire community, allow me a brief thought that I hope we will all (myself included) take to heart. We as human beings are a sensitive bunch and we often feel we have been wronged or ill treated by others. We carry hakpados, ta’anos, and resentments against others, often without real cause or reason except what is in our own heads.
It could be between friends in shul, neighbors, relatives, brothers and sisters, or yes, sometimes even one spouse and the other. We carry our hakpados, our resentments, with us like a heavy burden, every day wherever we go. Sometimes we do so quietly in our minds and hearts and sometimes (too often) we do so openly.
It may be resentment for not being invited for a Shabbos meal, or for being invited too often. There are ta’anos on people who we feel never ask about our parnasah difficulties, while at the same time resentment at others who ask too often. I know of one individual who does not speak to either neighbor, one for not doing enough to help him during Hurricane Sandy, and the other neighbor for doing too much.
It could be between parents and teachers, rabbanim and ba’alei batim, coworkers, or people that share a table in shul or the a car pool. We seem to always be carrying around ta’anos or resentments for a wrong done to us, whether real or not. When we are confronted with such a colossal tragedy just days before the Yemei HaDin, we are shell-shocked into the realization, even if only for a moment, of what is really important in life, and what is totally insignificant and unimportant. Let this be a wake-up call to all of us to let go of these petty and meaningless resentments and ta’anos, especially against loved ones, and focus on all that connects us and is really important.
One painful eye-opener for me personally was an event that took place approximately two years ago. Two couples were best friends and neighbors. Then the two women decided to go into business together. The business venture failed and the remaining assets dissolved. A dispute broke out between the women as to who was responsible for the failure and to whom the assets belonged, and they came to me for a din Torah. With both sides in agreement to abide fully with the decision of the din Torah, each presented her case. Rochel (names have been changed) claimed it was Leah’s fault that the business failed, and that Leah should not be entitled to any of the assets. Leah defended her contribution to the business and insisted that she was not responsible and should share equally in the division of the assets.
The p’sak was clear that Rochel’s claim has no basis in halachah and that all assets should be divided equally. While Rochel accepted the beis din’s decision, she still refused to let go of her resentment of Leah (despite admitting in beis din that her claim was not valid), and this resentment mushroomed into two former best friends and their families becoming enemies. The dispute went as far as dividing their shul into two camps (the Rochel supporters vs. the Leah supporters) and created tremendous ill will.
Approximately a year later, Rochel was diagnosed with a possible serious illness and had to undergo a few months of exploratory surgery and follow-up treatments. During these trying times, all hostility and resentment of Leah completely stopped, as it became totally insignificant with regard to her focus on trying to save her life. Thankfully, after several months of tension and fear, she received a clean bill of health, which was celebrated with a seudas hoda’ah in Eretz Yisrael. One month later, her past hostility and resentment to Leah began all over again.
How unfortunate and how sad. When we are faced with an event that shocks us into reality of what is important and what is not (whether it be a health scare or a tragedy, chas v’shalom) it should and must affect us on a deep level that can get us past these insignificant ta’anos, hakpados, and resentments that we carry in our hearts, whether warranted or not. We should and must focus on what’s really important in life. It took a health scare to focus properly on the things that really matter, only to fall back into the Sattan’s trap of resentment as soon as the scare was, thankfully, lifted.
If only we use the shock and pain of this terrible tragedy in our Five Towns extended mishpachah, and allow ourselves to remove our ta’anos and hakpados against even one person, then not only will it be a tremendous z’chus for this special and holy neshamah, z’l, that was so shockingly taken from us, it will be a great z’chus for bringing down Rachamei Shamayim on us as individuals and on Klal Yisrael as a whole, something we so desperately need.
I would like to express a berachah to all of Klal Yisrael that we should be zocheh to “Tichleh shanah v’kileloseha, tacheil shanah u’birchoseha,” an end to the past year of curses and pain and the ushering in of a new year of berachos of gezunt, parnasah, shalom bayis, and nachas from our children and grandchildren and an end to the tzaros of acheinu bnei Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael, both internal and external, and may we see the rebuilding of Yerushalayim ha’bnuyah in the coming year.
Kesivah v’chasimah tovah! v
Rabbi Ginzberg is mara d’asra of the Chofetz Chaim Torah Center.