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Where Else Should A Chassid Be On Rosh HaShana?
By Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Ginsberg

Chassidus changes the way we relate to Hashem, or more precisely, it reveals the underlying reality of the relationship between the Jew and G-d. Seen in this light, the Yomim Nora’im aren’t sad or depressing, but the happiest and most joyful days of the year.

The mashpia Reb Mendel Futerfas, of blessed memory, once related:

Years ago I had a friend, a Chassidic Jew, who for decades had fought with great self-sacrifice to spread Torah and Yiddishkeit behind the Iron Curtain. One time, in the course of our conversation, he made an observation that was very perceptive. On the surface, it was only an offhand comment, but upon deeper reflection, I realized that it reveals something quite fundamental.

In his continual efforts to elude the K.G.B., my friend had the opportunity to attend many different shuls throughout the Soviet Union for the Yomim Nora’im. Some were Chassidic, some were non-Chassidic, and they followed all varieties of nuschaos of davening. His observation was as follows:

In every synagogue where Jews come together to pray, there are certain portions of the davening that are more "exciting" than others. Some prayers seem to spiritually arouse the congregation, while others do not elicit the same enthusiastic response.

Having visited a wide assortment of shuls, my friend detected a small but significant distinction between Chassidic and non-Chassidic kehilos. In non-Chassidic shuls, the most stirring parts of the davening were those that focused on Rosh HaShana as the Day of Judgment: "Today the world was created. On this day, all creations are subject to judgment"; "Who will live and who will die, who at his appointed time and who before his time, who by water and who by fire, etc."

By contrast, in Chassidic shuls, the spiritual arousal would climax during the recitation of "You are the King, the living and existing G-d"; "You alone, G-d, will reign"; and "King of the entire earth."

In fact, this tiny but significant difference actually expresses the innovation of Chassidus and the way it teaches us to relate to the entire High Holiday season.

If a Jew hasn’t studied Chassidus, no matter how frum or learned he is, he will look forward to the Yomim Nora’im with fear and trepidation. For how can he do anything else? On Rosh HaShana, the Holy One, blessed be He, the Creator of the universe, will put him under the microscope. The fate of the Jewish people and the entire world will hang in the balance. On Rosh HaShana, G-d gives every individual exactly what he deserves – reward to the righteous and punishment to the wicked.

The verdict on Rosh HaShana will affect everything in the coming year, every spiritual and material detail in the individual’s life: who will live and who will die, who will lead a tranquil existence and who will suffer. How can we stand in judgment before the One Who knows everything, and from Whom there is no escape? The Holy One, Blessed Be He cannot be bribed; how can we ever justify not having lived up to His expectations, given that "G-d only requires of a person according to his strength"? When we look at ourselves honestly, we all recognize our many failings and lack of perfection. It is only natural, therefore, that any believing Jew will be prompted to return to G-d in teshuva, to ensure that he be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a good and sweet New Year.

For this reason, before the advent of Chassidus, the month of Elul was generally regarded with anxiety and dread, a time in which intensive efforts had to be made to appease the King before it was too late. People would walk around with downcast faces, weddings and other simchas would be postponed, and the emphasis was on begging and imploring G-d to overlook our sins and unworthiness and give us another chance.

Not that there is anything wrong with doing teshuva, of course; Chassidus certainly expounds upon the subject at great length. But with such a negative approach and outlook, there was nothing really all that joyful about the month of Elul. It was a depressing time! For who could say with confidence that he wouldn’t repeat his past mistakes, even if G-d were merciful and granted him a reprieve?

When a person knows that he is being judged and the verdict is crucial to his future, it is impossible for him to remain indifferent. The knowledge will motivate him to improve his behavior and correct his ways. At the same time, he will be very frightened and terrified of the outcome. Thus, it is not farfetched to say that if given a choice, such a person would willingly forgo the entire "unpleasant" experience of Elul and the Yomim Nora’im altogether!

Despite the fact that Rosh HaShana is the Day of Judgment, with all that that implies, Chassidim have always rejected the idea of Elul being in any way negative or depressing. The Kotzker Chassidim, who never refrained from using sharp language, used to relate such a negative perception of Elul to the word "elil," meaning idol, as we say in the Aleinu prayer, "…and false gods will be utterly destroyed." (Among Polish Jews, a shuruk, as in "Elul," is pronounced the same as a chirik – "elil.")

This entire approach stems from the narrow perception of our relationship with G-d as merely a contract between an employer and an employee: G-d’s part of the bargain is to create us and give us life and livelihood, while our obligation is to learn His Torah and fulfill His commandments. When we fail to live up to our responsibilities, we worry about how our Employer is going to react.

Chassidus, however, changes the whole way we relate to Hashem. More accurately, it reveals the underlying reality of the relationship by defining the eternal bond that exists between the Jew and G-d. Seen in this light, the Yomim Nora’im are neither sad nor depressing, but the happiest and most joyful days of the year. We are judged and we do have to correct whatever mistakes we’ve made, and a certain amount of regret and bitterness is certainly appropriate. But the most important thing to remember is that not only is the Judge before Whom we stand omnipotent and all-powerful, He is also all good, the essence of good itself, and "the nature of goodness is to extend goodness to others"!

On Rosh HaShana, it isn’t just any "employee" coming before the Judge; every Jew is an only child of the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed Be He, and if for whatever reason he has become estranged from his Father, now is the time to repair the rift. In Elul, the King goes out into the field to meet with His subjects, even to the most remote locations in His kingdom. (As the Rebbe has explained, this includes even those Jews who live in a "desert.") The King extends a warm and loving hand to every individual, helps him shake off the dirt that accumulated over the course of the year, and prepares him for entering the King’s own palace chamber. There, the King and his subject will become completely united, for the King’s essential love for him surpasses that of "elderly parents, whose only son was born in their old age."

Rosh HaShana is not only the Day of Judgment, but first and foremost the day on which we coronate the King. We implore our Father in Heaven: "Reign over the entire world in Your glory" and "L-rd our G-d, You are He Who alone will reign over all Your works." In the same way that a trumpet is blown when a mortal King is crowned, the "mitzva of the day" on Rosh HaShana is the sounding of the shofar, the ram’s horn.

This is also the reason why it is extremely important to declare "Yechi Adoneinu Moreinu v’Rabbeinu Melech HaMoshiach l’olam va’ed!" before the shofar is blown and at the very conclusion of Yom Kippur (after saying "G-d is the L-rd" seven times), when the "establishment of G-d’s sovereignty" reaches its climax, as has been done in 770 since 5754. For according to Divine Plan, G-d will ultimately reveal His sovereignty over the world through Melech HaMoshiach, which is the common theme of all our prayers on Rosh HaShana.

On Rosh HaShana, the sounding of the shofar inspires a sense of awe at being in the King’s presence, but it is not the kind of fear we would rather not experience, G-d forbid. On the contrary, it is a positive and pleasant sense of complete bittul and self-nullification before the Ruler of the entire world. At such an intense and lofty moment, there is nothing more appropriate than declaring "Yechi Adoneinu," expressing our desire that G-d’s sovereignty become fully revealed throughout Creation through His appointed Moshiach.

Accordingly, Chassidim have always made every effort to be with the Rebbe for Rosh HaShana and for the month of Tishrei in general (the letters of the word "Tishrei" are the same as "reishis" spelled without an Alef, as the entire month is the "head" of the year to come), for the experience of actually being in the Nasi’s presence for the King’s coronation is entirely different than experiencing it from afar. As the Rebbe Rashab said, "Where else should a Chassid be on Rosh HaShana except for Lubavitch? Is there any other place?"

Again, I would like to thank the organizers of the Hachnasas Orchim and Beis Midrash LeNashim of Crown Heights. As mentioned in last week’s column, it is extremely important for all guests – "my guests," as the Rebbe referred to them – to officially register with these institutions, as the vessel for receiving the Rebbe’s blessings. (Note: Your continued generous support is desperately needed! It is simply impossible to provide these services without your help!)

Spending Tishrei in Lubavitch provides us with a year’s worth of hiskashrus, enabling us to live with the Rebbe for an entire year when we go back home. It allows us to take all the details of the fabric of our lives and weave them into a single point: the essential point of G-d’s revelation in the world through Moshiach, who exists eternally in every generation, in a physical body, and is immutable (unlike the holy ark, which was concealed).

The progression of the entire world toward the Redemption is unstoppable. As Chassidim of the Rebbe MH"M, we must do all in our power to fulfill his directives, heed his council and believe in his prophecies, above all the main prophecy of "Behold, Moshiach is coming," which was uttered "not as a wise man or judge but as a prophet, implying certitude." This is the merit and responsibility of every member of our generation, man, woman, and child, Jew and non-Jew alike (through observance of the Seven Noachide Laws). For very soon, even "the stones of the wall will cry out" "G-d is the L-rd," and from all corners of the globe the declaration will echo:

"Yechi Adoneinu Moreinu V’Rabbeinu Melech HaMoshiach L’olam Va’ed!"



Not only is the Judge before Whom we stand omnipotent and all-powerful, He is also all good, and "the nature of goodness is to extend goodness to others"!








The experience of actually being in the Nasi’s presence for the King’s coronation is entirely different than experiencing it from afar.





If our only objective in going to the Rebbe were to "see" and "hear," we could stay at home and learn a sicha, or watch a video of a farbrengen...


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