September 29, 2023
September 29, 2023

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I saw an ad showing a mountain climber hanging off the side of a dangerous cliff, with the words: “Live Life to its Fullest—Experience the Joy of Life!” This person was truly hanging on to life by the edge of his fingers. Strangely, some people feel more alive when they’re face-to-face with death. On Rosh Hashanah, we will be asking Hashem to grant us another year of life. So, what’s considered living? What are we really asking for?

The Gemara says that tzaddikim are considered alive even when they are dead; reshaim (the wicked) are considered dead even while they are alive. The Gemara gives us a new definition for life, which is expressed in the pasuk, “Veatem hadeveikim baHashem … chayim kulechem … —All those who are connected to Hashem are considered alive.” Tzaddikim are connected to Hashem; therefore, they are eternally alive. Reshaim are disconnected from Hashem; therefore, they are considered like the walking dead.

During the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah (10 Days of Repentance), we insert a request for life in the beginning of the Shemoneh Esrei: “Remember us for life, O King who desires life, and inscribe us in the book of life—for your sake, O living Hashem.” Our current “lease on life” expires on Rosh Hashanah! We need to request Hashem to grant us another year of life. There are different reasons why people want to live. The most compelling reason for Hashem to grant our request … is to serve Him and, thereby, be connected to Him. This is why our request for life in the Shemoneh Esrei concludes with the words, “ … for your sake, Hashem.”

But let’s be honest… Do any of us really feel we’re living our life for the sake of Hashem? We’re conducting a life-long battle with none other than the yetzer hara (evil inclination). The Gemara says that the yetzer hara is compared in turn to a passerby, a guest and then, master of our home. These are the three stages in the relationship of the yetzer hara to each individual. At first, he’s just an interesting passerby, but if we begin to indulge in his desires, he becomes a guest. And once we allow the yetzer hara to be involved in our daily conduct, he takes over and acts like the master of our home. He then calls the shots and directs our body what to do.

It’s said that during the year, the gates of Heaven are locked, but on Rosh Hashanah, when we blast the shofar, the gates open. In fact, the gates remain open from Rosh Hashanah through Hoshana Rabbah.

Besides opening the gates of heaven, the shofar has the ability to open and free us from the chains of the yetzer hara. At times, we cry out to Hashem, but we can’t even articulate words. We just let out a visceral cry for help. Rav Shimshon Pincus explains that this is similar to the cry of the shofar. Its piercing sound breaks through the chains of the yetzer hara and opens the gates of heaven for us.

Our New Year is called “Rosh Hashanah,” which means “the head of the year.” Rav Pincus explains that it is referred to as “head,” because Rosh Hashanah is all about the head: what our minds are thinking about. Rav Yisrael Salanter says that each person is “free in his mind,” but limited by his intellect and physical ability. We’re limited also by the yetzer hara, which always tries to lock us up with physical desires and does not allow the desire of our souls to follow the will of Hashem.

The sound of the shofar represents our cry to Hashem, expressing a deep inner desire to live in order to serve Hashem. When we hear the shofar, this allows our minds to soar free and express our inner desire to truly “live” a rewarding life in service of Hashem, thereby, connecting ourselves to Hashem.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit

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