June 23, 2024
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Joy and Fear on the Yomim Noraim

The Rambam writes (Hilchot Chanukah 3:6): “There is no Hallel on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur because they are days of teshuva, fear and awe, not days of excess joy.”

The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 32b) also explains why we don’t say Hallel:

Rabbi Abahu said: The angels said before God: Master of the Universe, why doesn’t Israel sing before You on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur? He said to them: Is it conceivable that a King is sitting on the Throne of Judgment, with the books of life and death open before Him, and Israel are singing?

However, the Yerushalmi (Rosh Hashanah 1:3) describes a different feeling:

… when a person knows he has an impending court case he will wrap himself in black and grow his beard and not cut his nails because he doesn’t know what his verdict will be.

Not Am Yisrael. They wrap themselves in white and shave their beards and cut their nails and eat and drink and are joyful on Rosh Hashanah, because they know HaKadosh Baruch Hu performs miracles for them…

How can we reconcile the two feelings, of awe and trepidation on the one hand, and joy and celebration on the other?

The Zohar (Bamidbar [Part 3], p. 118a) suggests the difference is between Am Yisrael living in the Holy Land and Am Yisrael living in other lands.

When Am Yisrael are in galut we have to work on fear and awe; while in Eretz Yisrael, our avodah is joy.

The Sfat Emet (Devarim, Re’eh 5661) explains. The avodah of joy comes from the soul. The avodah of fear comes through the body. In Eretz Yisrael there is a special kedusha that gives strength to the soul. The work outside Israel is that of fear and awe (and from that we merit simcha). In Eretz Yisrael, the avodah is with joy, and from the simcha we merit awe, a closeness to God and the fear of Heaven!

Rav Kook offers a different explanation. When Am Yisrael are in galut, even if they are many, they are a collection of individuals (Orot 166, 18). Each person thinks about their own needs. In Eretz Yisrael it’s a communal avodah. Individual Jews become “klal Yisrael.”

When one enters Eretz Yisrael, this neshama klalit—collective soul—comes into them, and the more one desires to be included in the neshama klalit, so will one’s inner sanctity shine.

Hence, a person who arrives at Rosh Hashanah “privately” is full of fear and trepidation, while a person who arrives at Rosh Hashanah with a “collective” outlook comes with a sense of joy—deep happiness in crowning God in the world, in Am Yisrael’s role in crowning Hashem (and on Yom Kippur, in God’s forgiveness).

Of course, we need the trembling, trepidation and tears just as we need the joy, singing and elation.

Eretz Yisrael is able to hold these opposites. Here we can rejoice and we can cry. We can sing Unetaneh Tokef in fear and Mareh Kohen with joy. And on the same day we can say Yizkor on Shemini Atzeret and celebrate Simchat Torah!

Only in Eretz Yisrael!


Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon serves as head of Mizrachi’s educational advisory board and rabbinic council. He was recently appointed as the first rabbi of the Gush Etzion Regional Council and is a member of Mizrachi’s Speakers Bureau ( www.mizrachi.org/speakers ).

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