Rosh Hashana – Venting: A Relief from Anger

The Orchos Tzadikim in the Gate of Anger unequivocally declare, “Anger is an evil trait. Just as scurvy (or in today’s age COVID-19) is a disease of the body, so anger is a disease of the soul… Anger blots out one’s concentration in prayer, and the Shechina (The Holy Presence) does not repose itself in the midst of anger. The angry person will not be very wise, for anger drives wisdom from one’s heart, so that he will not be able to answer correctly, and none of his words will be reasonable… Anger breeds arrogance in a person, and because of it he will not submit and will not acknowledge the truth… And one who is given to anger his life is no life (Pesachim 113b), and he is never happy. And since one is never happy, one does not accept what transpires with love and joy, one does not acknowledge the rightness of G-D’s justice with him and he cannot serve the Blessed One with joy. When a person is fasting or when he is beset by some affliction, he is more susceptible to anger. Therefore, he must be especially careful at such times nt to become angry.” 
Yet, the haftorah for the first day of Rosh Hashana which discusses the birth of Shmuel HaNavi is read because on Rosh Hashana, God remembered [for childbirth] Sarah, Rachel, and Chana. (Rosh Hashana 11a). Chaza”l say that Peninah, Chana’s cowife, tzara,, taunted her by saying such things as, “Have you bought something new for your baby?” She meant to provoke Chana to pray but was punished for doing so in a cruel manner. And the Pesukim relate, “And her rival would frequently anger her, in order to make her complain, for  Hashem had shut  her womb. And so he [Elkanah] would do year by year, as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, so she would anger her, and she wept and would not eat… And Chana arose after eating and after drinking, and Eli the priest was sitting on the chair beside the doorpost of the Temple of the Hashem. And she was bitter in spirit, and she prayed to the Hashem, and wept. And she vowed a vow, and said: to Lord of Hosts, if You will look upon the affliction of Your bondswoman, and You will remember me, and You will not forget Your bondswoman and You will give Your bondswoman a man-child, and I shall give him to the Hashem all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head. And it was, as she prayed long before the Hashem, that Eli watched her mouth. But Chana, she was speaking in her heart, only her lips were moving, and her voice was not heard, and Eli thought her to be a drunken woman. And Eli said to her: Until when will you be drunk? Throw off your wine from upon yourself. And Chana answered and said: No, my lord, I am a woman of sorrowful spirit, and neither new wine nor old wine have I drunk, and I poured out my soul before the Lord. Deliver not your bondswoman before the unscrupulous woman, for out of the abundance of my complaint and my vexation have I spoken until now. And Eli answered and said: Go in peace, and the God of Israel will grant your request which you have asked of Him. And she said: May your bondswoman find favor in your eyes; and the woman went on her way and ate, and her face was not (sad) anymore” (Shmuel Alef 1:6-18).

The Ralbag relates that Chana was [seemingly understandably] angry because her  Peninah angered her for she glorified herself with the fact that she had so many children and would degrade Chana for not having  any children. It got to the point that Hannah was truly depressed and would not eat or drink and she poured out her prayers with heartfelt tears opposite the Holy of Holies. Eli the Kohen Gadol saw her moving her lips, but no voice was heard and so Eli thought that she was drunk. He even reprimanded her on being a drunkard and Chana responded, ‘No my master, the matter is not like what you think, rather I am very much mean spirited from so much fasting and anger over my bad mazel… I do not speak like this out of drunkenness but because of a need to pray to Hashem and because of the anger that my tzara has angered me so I speak in this way to cause my will to reach Hashem and to quiet the noise of my heart from the anger, for the anger has quieted down a tiny bit through speaking and relating about it,’ just as Chazal say, “Worry in one’s heart, one should talk about it to others” and in this fashion she calmed down from her rage and depression. Eli prophetically told her that her prayers would be answered, and she went on her way satisfied that her prayers would  be answered and in fact they were. The rest is history. Shmuel HaNavi, one of the greatest prophets in Jewish History was born to her and her husband Elkanah. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
This episode seems to be in contradiction with Orchos Tzadikim which says , anger blots out one’s concentration in prayer, and the Shechina (The Holy Presence) does not repose itself in the midst of anger,” however Chana seemed to have had so much focus and intensity  in her prayers, while pouring out her tears towards the Heavenly Gate of Tears that her prayers were in fact answered. Yet she admitted that she was still in the throes of her anger which is why she looked like a drunkard while praying to Hashem. How could it be that her prayers were so focused with all that anger to the point that she was answered with such a tremendous gift as the merit to give birth to Shmuel HaNavi?

However, the Ralbag was in fact bothered by this issue and carefully acknowledged the problem. The Ralbag observed that when she first began to pray to Hashem she made an oath that if she would have a son he would be dedicated holy to Hashem, as a Nazirite for his entire life. That was her way of venting, of speaking out her troubles, and in this way she was able to take control of her anger instead of her anger and depression controlling her, and she was even able to use that anger to direct all her kavana, authentic intent, into beseeching Hashem  to finally grant her a child; which He did.

There is an incredible lesson here in anger management, that it’s very healthy to vent and speak out to someone what is troubling you as apposed to holding in the anger and letting it take over your life. However on a much deeper level we also see the immense power we have over our emotions, for the emotion of anger, as we saw in the Orchos Tzadikim can completely control a person and utterly ruin his or her life but even with one small piece of speech one can change the tides and take control of his or her emotions to the point that they don’t just dissipate but they can be used for your own good.

Chaza”l say that the manner in which Chana prayed is the source of the silent devotion, the Amidah, that we say quietly to Hashem every day, multiple times a day, as well as many other Jewish laws that apply to prayer, (see Berachos 31a). We are coming upon the season of prayer with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, are we prepared to focus all our energy into our prayers and take control of any anger and frustration (if any) built up over the year? Chana, even in her throes of anger made such an impact on history by just taking control of the situation; may she be an inspiration for our prayers this coming year.

May we all have a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year!

Torah Riddles Test #138

1.       Question: Why don’t we discontinue reading from the Torah or Megilas Koheles or Shir Hashirim on Shabbos just as we don’t blow shofar or read Megilas Esther on Shabbos?


A.      The reason why we don’t blow shofar or read megillah on Shabbos is because of a rabbinic enactment that if there is no eruv one might carry his shofar or megila four amos or more in the public domain in order to practice in front of a sage, who is an expert in the field.

B.      The obligation of reading the Torah on every Shabbos, as well as reading the Megilla of Koheles on the Shabbos of Sukkos and Shir Hashirim on the Shabbos of Pesach is an obligation on the tzibur, the entire community.

C.      Reading Megillas Esther and blowing shofar is an obligation on the individual.

Answer: If the obligation is incumbent on the congregation then there was no decree to discontinue the mitzva on Shabbos since the person doing it is probably and expert or trained enough to be sure not to carry the items in the public domain to practice. But an obligation on an individual, even if most of the time is done for them in a group, might still have various individuals try to fulfill the mitzvah themselves and therefore might practice in front of a rabbi beforehand to be sure they know what they are doing and so might come o care in the public domain on Shabbos (See Dirshu Mishna Berura 588:5:13:17).

Torah Riddles Test #134

1.    Question: Why can a child technically read from the Torah for everyone else but cannot blow shofar for everyone on Rosh HaShana?


 A. A person who has a rabbinic (lesser) obligation can’t help perform a mitzvah for someone else who has a Torah (higher) obligation.

B. Shofar is a Torah obligation for an adult. Torah reading is a rabbinic obligation from the prophets which is treated like a Torah level obligation according to the Turei Zahav in Megillah 5b. A child only has a rabbinic obligation in all mitzvos to teach them how to fulfill the mitzvah.

C. A maasah mitzvah, an action of an obligatory mitzvah must be accomplished to fulfill and to help others fulfill the mitzvah of shofar.

 D. The mitzvah of reading from the Torah is for people to hear words of Torah.

Answer: By shofar, since the child isn’t obligated on a Torah level then his action of blowing isn’t considered an obligatory mitzvah action therefore he cannot help others fulfill the mitzvah, since his action isn’t a maasah mitzvah, an action of an obligatory mitzvah. But all that is needed by reading the Torah is for words of Torah to be heard and that is being done whether the child has the same level of obligation as the adult or not, therefore he can read from the Torah and others can fulfill their obligation by listening to him.

Ki Savo – Judgement Day: Cursed or Blessed

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In this week’s Torah portion of Ki Savo we read of the blessings for observing the Torah and curses if the Torah is not kept. Towards the end of the curses, the Torah writes: “And your life will hang in suspense before you. You will be in fear night and day, and you will not believe in your life” (Devarim 28:66).

The Maharam of Rottenberg observes that there are only two times in all of Tanach that the word teluim or תלואים (hanging in suspense) is used. They are in this pasuk, as well in a pasuk in Hoshea 11:7, וְעַמִּ֥י תְלוּאִ֖ים לִמְשֽׁוּבָתִ֑י “And My people waver whether to return to Me, and to the matter concerning which they call them, together they do not uphold [it].” In Hoshea the context being to waver in wanting to repent or not, instead of hanging in suspense.

The Maharam continues by saying that this concept of hanging is also mentioned in a gemara in Rosh Hashana 16b: “That the fully righteous are judged for life on Rosh Hashana and the completely wicked are judged for death but those in the middle are hanging in suspense by teshuva (repentance) until Yom Kippur. If they do repent they are deserving  life and if they do not repent they are deserving death.” This, the Maharam says, is what “your life will hang in suspense” means; that your life will hang on repentance, just like a hanging scale teetering from one side to the other. (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)
The Maharam connects the pasuk with the curses of this week’s Torah portion to Rosh Hashana; but it seems not to make sense that everyone who is in this middle state every year, which is probably most of us, are in an accursed state waiting in limbo, to see what will become of us.

Rather, it would seem that the Maharam is sending a different message. There are two types of people in this world. (Really 3, the third one being one who doesn’t really fully focus or doesn’t focus at all on the incoming Day of Judgement). The other 2 understand full well that there is an incoming judgement, but there are two possible ways one can handle it.

If you look closely at the gemara in Rosh Hashana, it says that the in-between person’s judgement holds in limbo not his own life or death, granted that is the result of his judgement, but this is a different perspective. Namely that  a person with calmness and equanimity who realizing his life is on the line for the coming year and will take orderly and decisive strides to work on himself to make sure he learns enough mussar and instills in himself the proper fear of Heaven to accurately repent and be signed into the Book of Life by the time Yom Kippur ends.

Then there are other people, which the Maharam says the pasuk in the curses is describing, who take the upcoming day of judgement as a time of immense anxiety, where their focus is on their lives which is literally hanging in the balance. Imagine the scale hanging on each side, going up and down; will I do accurate teshuva, will I not; the nausea and dizziness of swinging up and down in doubt; wouldn’t that cause such stress and anxiety! It might thrust a person into action and they will in the end take the correct steps to repent appropriately and deserve to be signed into the Book of Life. But the means of getting to that point will be psychologically much more horrifying. It’s an accursed state of being.

There are clear times in Jewish History when all the curses described in the Torah portion came true and people literally felt their life were on the line and were unsure if they were going to  live to see the next day. But there were other times in history where the blessings of Hashem were clearly seen and there was much calm and peace, while still being deeply rooted in our G-D fearing ways.

But it would seem that even on an individual level there are two possible ways one can approach Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgement, (1) in a blessed serene manner or (2) in an accursed anxious manner. What steps will be taken at this awe-inspiring time to do teshuva? Will they be anxious and accursed or calm and orderly?

Torah Riddles Test #64

  1. Question: Why can a half slave half free man get married misafek (at least in doubt, see Avnei Miluim 44:3) but he definitely can’t blow shofar for himself or anyone on Rosh HaShana (See Gemara Rosh HaShana 29a)


A. The Avnei Miluim gives a difference between a half maid servant half free woman and a half slave half free man in that she can definitely accept marriage  because she’s doing nothing, just nullifying her will and knowledge to her would be husband and he is doing the act of marriage. Whereas a half slave half free man since he is doing the action and his half slave side isn’t able to perform a Halachic marriage for his free man side therefore it is questionable whether he can get married.

B. By blowing a shofar since the half slave side isn’t obligated in blowing shofar it can’t help it’s free side blow shofar but if he heard someone else blow shofar then his free side can accept the blow he heard and fulfill the mitzvah.

C. A half slave half free man is one body with two sides or parts to him (or more like two men.)

Answer: Blowing the shofar is dependent on the body since the body is blowing. So since he is one body then both sides are blowing. But marriage doesn’t happen through the body but by the person with his knowledge to get married so now that we are saying they are like two guys inside one body and granted they are both doing the marriage but the slave side doesn’t take away from the free man’s side so the free man’s side might possibly work to create a marriage.