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Home » Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah: Without A Crutch

Submitted by on September 22, 2019 – 2:11 pmNo Comment | 1,566 views

A crutch can help you get past a difficult hump, but a crutch can also be a trap. When the time comes to discard the crutch, the crutch becomes a trap if you lack the courage to go without it. Athletes famously hold on to crutches. Wade Boggs was a talented Baseball player who famously stuck to a precise routine on gameday and never varied. His superstitions became his crutch, and the big question was could he succeed without his crutch?

In some small way, we each have a crutch. For some it might be their parents. For others it might be their circle of friends. For yet others, it can be a mentor or a series of mentors. It is good to utilize the tools in our arsenal to help ground us; the problems crop up when these crutches stifle growth.

The story is told of a woman who asked Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Bardichev to pray for her before Rosh Hashanah. The Rabbi replied that his prayers would cost money. She took out a ruble, but he insisted on more. When she emptied her pockets and he still wanted more, she gathered her son and said, come, we don’t need this rabbi, we can pray to G-d ourselves. At this point, the Rabbi returned her money and offered to pray for her.

He had always been willing to pray for her, but he did not want to become her crutch—her trap. So long as she thought she needed the rabbi, he wouldn’t pray for her. Once she discovered her own bond with G-d and her own ability to pray—once she freed herself from the crutch, he was willing to help.

Confused Prosecutors
There are several aspects about Rosh Hashanah that are conspicuous in their absence.

  1. During Rosh Hashanah we studiously omit any explicit mention of the fact that it is also Rosh Chodesh, the first of the month.
  2. Although we bless each coming month on the last Shabbat of the previous month, we skip this blessing on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah.
  3. Although we read the entire Torah throughout the course of the year, we don’t begin the Torah reading cycle on Rosh Hashanah. Instead, we wait until after the holidays to begin the cycle.

One of the reasons for these omissions is that we seek to confuse the prosecuting angels so that they won’t know it is Rosh Hashanah. If we avoid mention of Rosh Chodesh (first of the month), and avoid blessing the new month in public, and avoid the excitement of beginning a new cycle of Torah reading, the prosecuting angels might forget that it is Rosh Hashanah.

To be honest, the odds that the angels were forget are low. First, we mention Rosh Hashanah explicitly all day long, how will the omission of Rosh Chodesh help? Second, the angels can consult a Jewish calendar just like we can. I venture to guess that angels can even operate a smart phone and navigate an online Jewish calendar. Third, even if you believe angels are not smart enough for smart phones, they can always cruise into the celestial courtroom and find G-d sitting in judgement of the world. How can the fact that it is Rosh Hashanah escape their attention?

The answer is that we don’t mean that they will lose sight of the calendar. When we say they will lose sight of the fact that it is Rosh Hashanah, we are referring to the theme of Rosh Hashanah as a day of judgement. On the day of judgement, it is the role of the prosecuting angels to bring our sins to G-d’s attention. By avoiding public celebrations of Rosh Chodesh and beginning the Torah reding cycle anew, we hope they will lose sight of our judgement and fail to focus on their prosecutorial duties.

The Support
If we were to celebrate the newness of Rosh Hashanah to its fullest, including the newness of the month and of the Torah reading cycle, we would become doubly aware that it is our day of judgement and would be doubly inspired to turn over a new leaf. We would double down on repenting for our shortcomings and on making positive resolutions for the coming year.

If this were the only outcome, we would have embraced these practices in a New York minute. But there is a drawback to using these tools. Our added energy and focus would trigger a corresponding effort on the part of the prosecuting angels to block our efforts. And this, we would rather avoid.

We forgo the extra boost that we could have received from the fuller celebration and settle for a more subdued approach. In return, the prosecuting angels are lulled into a false sense of complacency and they too take a more subdued approach. And though they know that we do this deliberately to mislead them, they still take it easy because, irrespective of our motive, the fact is that we forewent the extra boost.

The Crutch
This explanation raises an important question. Is this a profitable exchange, do we come out ahead? Can we afford to go without the extra inspiration that we could have derived from those celebrations?

The answer is that ultimately, we don’t lose out. If we were to utilize these tools to enhance our inspiration, the added inspiration would quickly turn into a crutch without which we would feel unstable. When we go without the crutch, we become like the woman in front of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Bardichev. We realize that though it would be nice to use these tools to manufacture more inspiration, such inspiration is ultimately artificial because it is triggered by factors external to us.

Now that we choose to go without these crutches, we can generate authentic inspiration that is sincere because it comes from within. When we stop and think about the fact that we are vulnerable to prosecuting angels because we are guilty of sin, and that we have no choice but to resort to trickery to silence or at least soften their prosecutorial efforts, we become internally and authentically remorseful.

This remorse awakens a deep desire to turn over a new leaf, a desire that is stronger, deeper, and more internal than any inspiration we might have derived from celebrating Rosh Chodesh and the new Torah cycle. In fact, so intense is this desire that the prosecuting angels cannot muster a response to it.

While they ease up on their efforts, we crank it up a notch knowing that we must work twice as hard without our crutches. Once the prosecutors notice that we are fully in gear, it is too late for them to respond. This is what we mean when we say they won’t notice that it is Rosh Hashanah. They won’t notice that though we have relinquished our crutches, we are perfectly ready for our Rosh Hashanah judgement.

All this is possible because we have the courage to let go of our crutches. If we stubbornly clung to those crutches, we might have been able to stimulate some excitement and inspiration, but it would not have been as authentic, it would not have been as intense, and it would not have been as effective. We take a chance on ourselves, and it pays off in spades.

May we all be granted a happy and healthy new year.[1]

[1] This essay is based on Likutei Sichos, volume 24, pp. 222-227.

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