Strengthening the fulfillment of mitzvoth demonstrating our commitment to Torah on Rosh Hashanah * The immense significance of seemingly superficial mitzvoth * The importance of wearing tzitzit outwardly, especially for those working in non-religious surroundings * Modest dress for women is not intended only to save men from inappropriate thoughts * Answering ‘amen’ with kavanah, out loud, and in a pleasant tone * Bringing children to synagogue – from what age? * Women who take care of young children should pray at home, and not bring them to the synagogue *Stonewalling the Haredi attempt to disqualify judges because of their halachic opinions
Rosh Hashanah – Acceptance of God’s Kingdom
The central theme of Rosh Hashanah is the acceptance of God’s kingdom, and consequently we pray to merit being partners in improving the world by revealing His kingship. Accordingly, in all prayers we are required to say “Ha’Melech Ha’Kadosh” (‘the King, the Holy One’) instead of “Ha-El Ha’Kadosh” (the Almighty, the Holy One), and one who mistakenly forgot to say “Ha’Melech“, must return to the beginning of the prayers.
Therefore, during these days it is fitting to strengthen our performance of mitzvoth which give expression to the acceptance of God’s kingship and our commitment to the fulfillment of Torah and its commandments: arriving on-time to prayers, answering ‘amen‘ out loud, and dressing in a proper Jewish manner – ‘tzitzit‘ (tassels) and a nice ‘kippa‘ (head-covering) for men, and halachically modest clothing for women.
Revealing the ‘Brit’ through Declarative Mitzvoth
Some people tend to underestimate these mitzvoth because outwardly, they seem superficial. In truth, however, they express the deepest foundation – the acceptance of God’s kingship. Thus, we find that one of Israel’s greatest accolades was saying at Mount Sinai ‘na’aseh v’nishma‘ – first “we will do”, and afterwards “we will listen.” By doing so, the People of Israel showed that its relationship with God is absolute, beyond comprehension and emotions – a bond based on a ‘brit‘ (covenant). As a result, it is Israel who is destined to repair the world by revealing the Heavenly ideals according to the instructions of the Torah.
Reward in This World Precisely by Means of These Mitzvoth
Characteristically, reward for spiritual mitzvoth is received in the ‘Olam HaNeshamot‘ (‘World of Souls’), while for tangible mitzvoth involving ‘kiddush Hashem‘ (sanctification of God) reward is given in this world. The reward for all mitzvoth combined is in ‘Olam Ha’Ba‘ (the World to Come), wherein the soul returns to the body in ‘Techiyat HaMaytim‘ (Resurrection of the Dead).
This is because the primary reward for mitzvoth expressed through the mind and heart is a spiritual one in the Upper Worlds, in Gan Eden. On the other hand, here in the present world, the main reward is for the practical mitzvoth – observable commandments that perfect our deeds in this world, by which we declare to the world our faithfulness to the covenant which God made with Israel. In this fashion, Heavenly ideals descend from above and are revealed in the world, infusing godliness into worldly matters – via the blessing of children, health, and good living.
Wearing Tzitzit Outwardly
The mitzvah of tzitzit (tassels) was given to us by the God in order to express our loyalty to the Torah and its commandments, as it is written: “These shall be your tassels, and when you see them, you shall remember all of God’s commandments so as to keep them” (Numbers 15:39). The primary intention of the mitzvah of tzitzit is that they be visible, as written in the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 8:11). This is also implicit from the words of the Ari HaKadosh, that one should look at the tzitzit ‘every hour, and every minute’ (Sha’ar Hakavanot 7:3).
This mitzvah is especially important for those working with non-observant Jews, because by exposing one’s tzitzit, he declares to himself and those nearby that he is committed to Torah and mitzvoth and not embarrassed by it at all, and as a result, receives strength to withstand all trials.
Although the halachic basis for wearing a kippa (skullcap) is a minhag (custom) from the Amoraic period, after being accepted as obligatory amongst Jews, wearing a kippa involves a public declaration of loyalty to God and his teachings. Therefore, it is fitting to be meticulous in fulfillment of this mitzvah and wear a kippa that covers the majority of one’s head or at the very least, a nice kippa that is visible from all angles.
Modest Clothing for Women
The public statement of loyalty to Torah and mitzvoth for women is dressing modestly – and the test is difficult. On the one hand, the desire to beautify oneself is healthy and positive, but on the other hand, the ‘yetzer ha’ra‘ (evil inclination) persuades women’s hearts to embrace non-Jewish fashions. In wake of Rosh Hashanah, one should strengthen herself in accepting God’s kingship, and decide that above all, the most important thing is that her clothes are ‘kosher l’mehadrin‘ (strictly “kosher”) in accordance with halakhah.
Some women think the main problem is that immodest clothes are liable to trigger forbidden thoughts in the minds of men, and if so, they claim: ‘Why should we have to be strict with ourselves? Let the men overcome their inclinations!” However, it should be pointed out that the problem of men’s thoughts is of less importance.
The first reason is that modesty expresses the sacredness of Judaism, teaching us to look towards the inner side of things, and expresses our loyalty to the Divine purpose and faithfulness to one’s spouse.
The second reason is not to follow in the ways of the Gentiles, for anyone drawn after Gentile clothing fashions is also liable to be influenced by their world views.
Since there is nothing more visible than one’s clothes, any compromise on this issue reflects a lack of allegiance to Torah and mitzvoth, and consequently, is a ‘chilul Hashem‘ (desecration of God). Conversely, a woman who strictly adheres to halakha, while at the same time paying attention to her pleasant appearance as well, publicly sanctifies God’s name.
Honor for the Synagogue
Guarding the honor of the ‘Beit Knesset‘ (synagogue), including being careful not to chat during prayers, is also one of the mitzvoth which reveal God’s reign in the world, because every in ‘Beit Knesset‘ there is a certain revelation of the Holy Temple, as our Sages said the synagogue is similar to “a small sanctuary” (Megillah 29a). By way of praying in the ‘Beit Knesset‘, one’s prayers are accepted, because by honoring the Divine Presence in the world, one’s requests are accepted as well (Berachot 6a).
Someone who regularly attends ‘Beit Knesset‘, arrives before prayers begin, and leaves after they have finished, merits longevity (Berachot 8a).
Answering ‘Amen‘ Out Loud and in a Pleasant Tone
Our Sages said: “He who responds ‘amen‘ with all his might, has the gates of Paradise opened for him, as it is written (Isaiah 26:2): “Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faithfulness [in Hebrew, ‘shomer emunim‘] may enter“. Read not ‘shomer emunim‘, rather ‘she’omrim amen‘ [who answer ‘amen‘] (Shabbat 119b). By responding ‘amen‘, we express our faith in God, that He is ‘El Melech Ne’eman‘ (‘God, a faithful King’, which is a Hebrew acronym for the word ‘amen‘). A person who despite the darkness and obscurity of this world is faithful to God and responds ‘amen‘ with all his might, truly cleaves to Him, and the gates of Paradise are opened on his behalf.
What is the meaning of responding ‘amen‘ “with all his might”? Rashi and Tosephot explain: “B’kol ko’ach kavanato” (with all his concentrative intent), and seeing as this refers to the intention of one’s heart, the reward is in Heaven.
Nevertheless, there is also virtue in saying ‘amen‘ out loud and in a pleasant tone, for by doing so, God’s name is sanctified in the world. This is the meaning of our Sages statement that blessing is drawn to a person in this world according to the manner in which he answers ‘amen‘, for “one who draws out the ‘amen‘, his days and years will be prolonged” (Berachot 47a).
When the congregation responds ‘amen‘ together and in a loud voice, it is a great ‘kiddush Hashem‘, as Tosephot wrote according to the Midrash: “When the Jewish nation enters synagogues and says ‘Ye’hey shmay rabba mevorach‘ out loud, harsh decrees are cancelled” (Shabbat 119b).
‘And We Will Hear’
Accepting God’s kingship is the foundation and vessel for receiving blessings, but this is not enough. Following ‘na’aseh‘ (we will do), one needs to continue rising to the level of ‘nishma‘ (we will hear) in order to imbue his deeds with substance and guide them to perfection, and this we must continue pursuing during the Ten Days of Repentance.
Bringing Children to Synagogue
There is a mitzvah to bring children who have reached the age of education, i.e., children who have already started praying, to synagogue in order to hear the shofar, and answer ‘amen‘ to ‘Kaddish‘ and blessings. The average age of education begins at five or six years old.
However, even before reaching this age, there is a certain value in bringing the child to synagogue for a short period of time, provided his father makes sure he sits quietly and does not disturb other worshipers. Still, one should reprove those accustomed to bringing young children to synagogue and in order not to disturb others give them bags of various snacks, thus debasing the sanctity of the synagogue, and interfering with the prayers. By doing so, parents are not educating their children, but on the contrary – accustom them to disrespect the synagogue and prayer. In addition, they cause a ‘siman ra‘ (bad sign) for themselves for the entire year, because just as they did not take into consideration respect for the synagogue, prayers, and their peers, they will also be treated in Heaven likewise.
Women are obligated to pray. Some halachic authorities say the intention is they are required to pray the Amidah (Eighteen Benedictions) once a day – Shacharit (Morning Prayer), or Mincha (Afternoon Prayer). Others say they are required to pray twice a day – both Shacharit and Mincha, and according to all opinions, they are obligated to recite Birkot HaShachar (Morning Blessings). And although throughout the year, a woman who wants to be lenient and pray one Amidah a day may do so, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is proper for every woman to pray the Amidah of Shacharit, Mussaf, and Mincha.
A woman who is scrupulous in the performance of mitzvoth and wishes to pray all of the High Holiday services in the synagogue – ‘tavo aleyha bracha‘ (this is pious conduct for which one is blessed for being strict). And although women are exempt from praying in a minyan and in synagogue, this is considered a ‘hidur‘ (beautification) and ‘zechut‘ (merit).
Prayer for Women Taking Care of Children
However, as long as a woman has young children to care of, it is preferable for her to remain at home, because in any event, the rabbis did not obligate women to pray with a minyan. If taking care of her children makes it difficult for her to concentrate on her Amidah prayers, she should suffice by reciting the Birkot HaShachar. How fortunate she is – taking care of her children is her prayers, and there is no better ‘siman tov‘ (good sign) for the entire year than to take care of a small child patiently and happily. Just as God gives life to all living things on Rosh Hashanah, she also takes care of her child and gives him life.
Nevertheless, if she wishes, she can coordinate with a neighbor that at certain times she will watch both of their children so that her neighbor can go to synagogue, and at other times, her neighbor watches the children so she can go to synagogue.
Do Not Bring Toddlers to Synagogue
However, a mother should not come to synagogue with a baby or a small child. And women who do bring their small children, thinking they can rely on the fact that only a few mothers will bring their children to synagogue, must ask forgiveness from all the men and women for whom bringing children makes it difficult for them to concentrate on their prayers. Such women must also ask forgiveness from all the other women who stayed at home in order not to disturb the prayers, and must ask forgiveness of all those women who went out of their way to find someone who could take care of their children so they could come to synagogue. In short, it’s a pity to start the year with the ‘siman ra‘ (bad sign) of a lack of consideration for the honor of the public, synagogue, and prayer.
After the representatives of the Haredi community decided to reject the candidacy of Rabbi Uriel Lavi to the Supreme Rabbinical Court, and Rabbi Benayah Brunner to the Rabbinical District Court, it is our duty to stand firmly against them, and stand on the principle that they specifically, be appointed.
Rabbis and judges are afraid to express their Torah opinions because of the harassment of the Haredi leadership, thus transgressing the Torah command “lo toguru mipnei ish” (“fear no one”). If, God forbid, the Haredi representatives are successful, the number of judges fearing to speak their mind will increase for fear they will also be harassed, and as a result, the Torah will be uprooted.
Naturally, sometimes there are disagreements on matters of halakha, and if there is a rabbi or judge who thinks differently than Rabbi Lavi or Rabbi Brunner and brings arguments to support his opinion – this is fine. But anyone who claims that their opinions are invalid uproots the foundations of the Torah. And if among the new candidates there is someone who invalidates others with different opinions, then he disqualifies himself from serving as a judge, and public representatives must act so that he is not appointed to serve as a judge.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: