Rabbi Price shlit"a will be undergoing open heart surgery in the near future.
He requests that all daven for his health.

His name is Shlomo Yoel ben Chayah Leah

He is publishing these new sichot to serve as a zechus for him.
May he have a refuah shleimah bimheira.

ROSH HASHANA
AND THE MEANING OF LIFE

By RABBI SHLOMO PRICE

It's been quite a while since I wrote a sicha. My health, as you may know, was not up to its optimum. I had problems with my heart and presently am weak from a lack of iron in my blood.

The Mash asked me recently to make a Rosh Hashana tape, so I decided to wake up from my slumber and make a sicha in writing which eventually I would make into a tape.

There are many important terms that we use and we think we understand their meaning. However, many times our understanding is influenced by our secular society and upbringing and we have a pessimistic and incorrect understanding. Consequently, we plan our lives based on these faulty perceptions and make important decisions based on them.

I'm reminded of a story I read about these truckdrivers who were reading a fancy menu in some famous French restaurant. They came across an entry called "SOUPE DE JOUR". Literally it means soup of the day, whatever soup they have in stock on that particular day. One of the men said that he knew what it meant. "It means chicken soup, I was here last week and ordered it, and that's what they brought me." Obviously, we realize that he doesn't really know what it means, but based on circumstantial evidence, he thinks he knows what it means.

However, when we explore the Torah understanding of these terms, we get a totally different picture, which can make a world of difference in our whole way of living and decision making. It can give us a more optimistic outlook on life.

Let us analyze the vast contrast between the secular understanding and l'havdil the Torah understanding of what "LIFE" really means.

In the secular understanding, "LIFE" is a like a big card game. Everyone is given a hand and there is one big competition among everybody, who is going to win this rat race. There is only going to be one winner (and maybe a few runner-ups). Who is going to be the strongest, wealthiest, etc.? And what do you really win? As I saw in the Readers' Digest, "The trouble with the rat race is, even if you win, you're still a rat." I also heard from Rabbi Leff that there is a tee shirt with the slogan, "Whoever dies with the most toys wins." The winner will be either the one who was dealt the best hand, or the one who knows how to cheat the best. It's too bad if the hand you're dealt is worse than other people's. If you were born into a bad family situation, or financial situation, or with a handicap that you can't change, that's your tough luck. Life is unfair and unjust. (Just listen to all the songs these rock groups make about this point. Better yet, don't listen to them).

The secular goal is to acquire the most amount of pleasure with the least amount of effort. Two people were hired to chop trees for $1000. One guy is very strong and only takes an hour and one is weak and has to work much harder and he takes ten hours. It's just too bad, they will both get the same $1000 despite the fact that for one of them it was much harder. As I once saw a saying, "Don't tell me how hard you worked, tell me what you accomplished."

Lehavdil, in the Torah understanding, everyone is dealt a hand, however your job is not to compete with everybody else. Rather you are only supposed to compete with YOURSELF. Hashem has given each person a situation and potential and He doesn't want you to imitate or compare yourself to others. Rather your job is to use YOUR situation and potential and be the best that YOU can be in the situation you were put. If you can better your situation, fine. But if not, then just be the best you can be in that particular situation.

Consequently, everyone can be a winner, if he reaches his own personal potential regardless if other people seem to be better than he is because they are producing more. In fact, Hashem judges each individual only by the amount that one has used his individual potential. So, even if someone else produces more than you, maybe potential wise you are using your potential more than he is, consequently, you are greater. Only Hashem knows the true value of a person.

Realize your own value and self esteem the way Hashem sees it, not by comparing yourself to others, or the way others may look at it.

In the secular world your value is only determined by your productivity. As Rabbi Twersky writes in his book, Let Us Make Man, p.116, "The secular view is that the productive, healthy person is of value to society, whereas the feeble, old person who lies in a nursing home producing nothing and consuming his assets or public funds is a liability, one whom society keeps alive only because there is a still a majority of the legislature that disapproves of euthanasia. Just visit the institutions that provide care for the chronically ill and see how much self-esteem their residents have. They are victims of a culture which worships productivity and devalues those who can no longer contribute to society."

However, in the Torah world, your value is determined by using YOUR capacities to YOUR maximum at any given moment. As Rabbi Twersky says, (ibid), "Torah gives absolute value to life, and further declares a standard of merit, which is not measured by productivity. Over and above the intrinsic value of life, merit is determined not by productivity, rather by the person's exercising his capacities to their maximum at any given moment.

Just as the feeling of one's life having been futile is profoundly depressing, so is the awareness that one's life is one of achievement extremely elating. This is why a sense of purpose in existence, a conviction that one is achieving one's mission in the universe, provides a true sense of joy as well as a feeling of self -esteem. This is what the Psalmist meant when he affirmed, "The commandments of G-d are just; they bring joy to one's heart" (19:9)

. In fact, Rabbi Twersky relates an interesting story (ibid.p.113), when he had to go visit a woman that was very sick with multiple sclerosis which kept her bedfast. She was blind and couldn't take care of her two young children. From the secular point of view she was considered a parasite whose existence caused considerable distress to all those around her, Consequently, her suffering was amplified many times by her awareness that she was nothing but a burden to everyone.

Rabbi Twersky realized that it would not be easy to visit her and uplift her terribly depressed spirits. Was her life indeed of value? He had no psychological tools that could comfort her, except maybe giving her a medication that would dull her senses so that she would not be aware of the tragedy of her predicament. But she did find a source of comfort with the following piece of Talmud which Rabbi Twersky shared with her.

The Gemoro Sanhedrin, 101a, relates how when Rabbi Eliezer fell sick, his talmidim came to visit him. Each one tried to expound on how Rabbi Eliezer was better than the rain, sun and a father and mother, because they only provided in this world and the Rabbi provided even in the next. However, Rabbi Akiva began to expound, "Suffering can be precious." At this point, Rabbi Eliezer said, "Help me up so that I can listen to what my disciple Akiva has to say about the value of suffering".

Rabbi Akiva then explained that the acceptance of suffering with complete faith and trust in G-d is one of the greatest virtues within the reach of man.

Rabbi Twersky then asks, "How are we to understand Rabbi Eliezer's preference of Rabbi Akiva's comments over the praises of three of his greatest disciples?"

He answers that the Jew is not supposed to rest on his laurels, to be satisfied with what he had done in the past without producing in the future. Our feeling of self-esteem is the awareness of one's capacity to achieve in the future.

Rabbi Eliezer felt that his illness was preventing him from continuing his teaching and active devotion to Hashem. Therefore he could not be consoled with the praise of his talmidim about what he had done, since what he would be able to do seemed meager indeed.

Rabbi Akiva, however, pointed out that even if his illness would prevent him from serving Hashem as he did in the past, he still had the capacity to accept his suffering gracefully. Rabbi Akiva explained that man is held accountable for performing to the maximum of his capacities as they are at any given moment. When a person is in good health and is able to perform actively, then he fulfills his purpose by exercising that ability to the maximum. If he is frail, bedridden, and left with very meager capacities, then he fulfills his function when he exercises these meager capacities to their maximum. Even when one becomes so paralyzed that he can do nothing actively, if he uses his mental process to accept suffering with faith in the perfect judgement of G-d, then he is as much as a devoted servant of G-d as one who performs actively.

There is a beautiful point that I say over from Rav Moshe Feinstien, z.t.l which elucidates this point. It is a very important foundation to learn how to live a happier life.

Rashi on Shmos 6:26 points out that sometimes Aharon's name appears before Moshe's and sometimes the opposite. This is to teach us that they were equal.

Rav Feinstien asks, "How can this be? Moshe was the master of all the prophets. The Torah was given through Moshe. So how can we say that Aharon was equal?"

In one of his answers he explains:

"Since Aharon completely fulfilled all of the Will of Hashem, that he was capable of doing, he is equal to Moshe. Even though, Moshe was greater in capability and that is why Moshe was given more significant tasks to perform, never the less, since they both used their individual capability to its fullest potential, they are considered equal in level."
There is a beautiful story in the sefer, Tuvicha Yabiu, a compilation of the Torah said over from Rav Yitzchok Zilberstien, p.193, that underscores this point.

Rav Dun Segal relates that once the Steipler Gaon, Harav Yaccov Yisroel Kaniefsky, ztl. was riding in a cab and he asked the cab driver if he sets aside time to learn Torah after his hard day at work?

The cab driver responded that truthfully he goes to a Gemoro shiur at night, but he had to admit painfully that his strength fails him after such a hard day's work. He falls asleep right away over the Gemoro and doesn't wake up till the shiur is over. He proceeded to describe to the Steipler how much it hurts him that he can't stay awake and certainly that he can't understand the Gemoro.

The driver may have expected a tongue lashing from the Steipler, but on the contrary, the Steipler praised and encouraged him immensely.

He said to the driver, "You should know that truthfully on this world you don't feel that you're worth much, but I can faithfully guarantee you that in Heaven you are (viewed as) a great general, because you are doing all that you can do (your full potential). More than this you cannot do. Continue and continue to go to the shiur, even if you fall asleep on the Gemoro, because in Heaven they consider you a great tzaddik."

Rav Dun Segal proceeded to explain, "This cab driver truthfully did all that he was able to do. He had many children and was halachically obligated to support them, and his job a cab driver made him very tired. Consequently, all he was obligated to do was to go to the shiur, even if he didn't understand anything and fell asleep."

Further on in the same sefer (p.200-01) he brings from the Steipler's sefer Chayey Olom Vol II Chapter 12 where he writes, "….Hashem doesn't demand from a person more than his capability. Even the student who finds it hard to comprehend, who works and toils as much as he could, has fulfilled his quota and is beloved by Hashem precisely as the great genius who has fulfilled his quota. (In fact,) in one aspect he is even more beloved than the great genius who succeeds greatly in Torah. For to the great genius, his learning is a great pleasure, whereas to the weak student, his learning is a sacrifice and a great burden (and despite this he learns), and we have learned that "According to the pain is the reward."

Of course, one should not underestimate his potential. When it comes to Torah, the yetzer horo tends to persuade us that we have a very limited potential. We have to learn that it's not always the lack of potential, rather it's the lack of will and want. We don't realize how important the thing is. When you want to do something then you can probably do a lot more than you think you can. Just work on the will to do it. Let us learn from the way we run after money. A certain fellow told me that he couldn't get up for Shacharis at 7:00 A.M., because he had a weak nature. I met the same guy in the summer and he's getting up at 6:00A.M. to be a truck driver.

Hashem takes into consideration the effort and toil you expended, more than the actual productivity. As it says in the end of the fifth chapter of Pirkey Avos, "Lfum tzaara agra.-According to the pain is the reward."

In the secular world, people expect the world to go the way they want, and if not they are just losers and they need a psychologist.

The Torah teaches us that this world is a world of tests and challenges, and not to have unrealistic expectations that everything has to be the way we want it.

Rabbi Twersky drives this point across with an interesting story about Harry Houdini the famous escape artist. He writes in his book, "Getting Up When You're Down," p. 115-116, that people expect their car to start every morning, their bosses to be appreciative of them, their children to be totally obedient, etc. . When it doesn't happen the way they want it they are depressed and want some therapy or magic pill that will alleviate their situation.

The trouble is that there is none. This can be compared to the challenge that a certain warden gave Houdini. He said that he had a jail cell that Houdini would not be able to escape from. Naturally Houdini took up the challenge. When he was inside the jail cell he began working on opening the lock. To his astonishment, no matter how hard he worked, he couldn't throw open the bolt. Finally in his exhaustion, he leaned against the door, which swung right open. It was never locked. Even the great Houdini cannot open a door that was never locked.

Rabbi Twersky points out, that we can learn from this story that treatment can only be effective when there is an abnormality to be fixed. If a person just has an unrealistic expectation of the world and expects it to always conform to his wishes, he is beyond the ken of any psychologist or psychiatrist to help him. Perhaps a Rabbi whose authority he trusts can spell reality out to him, so that he can make the necessary, if sometimes inconvenient adjustments to the real world.

Finally, I want to touch upon another major difference between the secular and Torah way of Life.

In the secular world, if one wants to do something good but doesn't succeed, or makes some small gesture of respect for somebody, he may get a nice thank you or a small reward for his good intentions but not more.

In the Torah world, however, we see a totally different outlook.

In the sefer Tuvicha Yabiu p.240 he brings a beautiful story. There was a certain Mashgiach in a hotel that used to make an early minyan for Mincha. One day he was short a "tzenter"-a tenth man, so he went outside to look for one. When he got there he saw the gardener, a simple Jew, dressed in his shorts, and invited him to join the minyan for Mincha. The gardener did not know what a minyan was. So the rabbi explained to him the importance of the mitzvah of being part of the minyan, and the gardener consented to join. He entered the shul, and before the minyan even started, a religious boy came in. Since the gardener was no longer needed he left the shul and went home.

Around ten years after this episode, this Mashgiach, who already left the hotel and lived in Bney Brak, had a strange dream. He saw that very same gardener who consented to join the minyan (ten years ago), and his face was beaming. The gardener said that he just passed away a month ago "and you have no idea what reward I'm getting in Heaven because I consented to join the minyan." He added that in merit of this mitzvah they allowed him to appear to this Mashgiach to beseech the gardener's ireligious son, who lives in Yerushalaim, to say kaddish for him. The gardener gave the exact address and the Mashgiach succeeded in persuading the son to say kaddish.

Rabbi Zilberstien concludes, "Just think, what did this gardener do? All he did was to consent to join the minyan. That's all, not more than this. And what reward did he get for it! Up to the extent that they let him appear after his death!

A tremendous lesson can be learned from this story about the value of any small gesture that we do for a mitzvah."

I will close with another story that teaches us the value of any small gesture that one does for a mitzvah.

Rabbi Paysach Krohn, in his book, "In the Footsteps of the Maggid", p. 160 brings a beautiful story about the Rosh Hayeshiva of Rabbi Chaim Berlin, Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner, ztl. (1904-1980)

A taxi was arranged to take the Rosh Hayeshiva and one of his students to a bris-circumcision. When they saw the taxi driver's identity plate with his Jewish sounding name on it, they realized that he must be Jewish. Meanwhile, in the front seat, the cab driver realized that one of his passengers was a prominent rabbi. He reached over to his right and put on his cap over his bare head as an act of respect for the Rosh Hayeshiva.

Rav Hutner turned to his student and said in Hebrew, so the driver shouldn't understand, "Mi yodea kama olom habo yesh lo al tenua zu-Who knows how much merit in the World to Come he will get for this act?"

The talmid didn't think that this small sign of respect was so significant so he asked Rav Hutner, "Does it merit Olom Habo-the World to Come?" Thereupon Rav Hutner related the following story.

The Chidushei Harim, Rabbi Yitzchak Mayer Alter (1789-1866), one of the previous Rebbes of Gur, had a custom to go to the mikvah-ritual bath every day. His attendant noticed that he always took the longer route to the mikvah rather than the shorter one, but he never asked why. Finally, one day his curiosity overcame him and he asked the Rebbe why he purposely seemed to go the long way to get to the mikvah.

The Chidushei Harim answered, "When we go this way, we pass the station where Jewish porters unload the heavy packages for travelers. These porters are very simple non-religious people. They do not pray, nor do they learn Torah. However, when they see me, they stop what they are doing, straighten up and call to each other, 'Reb Itcha Myer is coming! The Rebbe, Reb Itcha Myer, is coming!'

As I pass by they nod their heads respectfully and acknowledge my presence. For this (display of kavod HaTorah-honor for the Torah) they will get Olom Habo. I know they have no other way of earning it, so I walk this way every day to give them that opportunity."

Of course we learn from this the great ahavas Yisroel -love and sensitivity for fellow Jews (even non-observant ones) that the Rebbe had, but we can also see another important point. We must not underestimate the small acts that we do, nor the seemingly simple acts that others do.

In conclusion, now that we have seen the vast differences between the secular and Torah way of viewing LIFE, this will help us to decide what kind of life to live. We can live the secular way and most probably (unless we always get what we want) be depressed and despise this unfair world. Or we can live the Torah way and enjoy a happy and purposeful life, with the knowledge that there is a more enduring and enjoyable life in the World to Come.

It will also help us answer an important question about Rosh Hashana.

On Rosh Hashana we ask Hashem to give us LIFE. Do we really mean it? Do we really want it?

If our understanding of LIFE is the secular one, then why should I ask for a LIFE that is unfair and unjust and is depressing? Who needs it? As one bochur told me years ago when he left the Yeshivah. "If this is education, I'd rather remain ignorant." If this is LIFE, then…..

However, when this myth of LIFE is exploded, and we incorporate the Torah value, then we sincerely want to be able to live such a life, and maybe this will help us have more heartfelt intentions on Rosh Hashana to ask for it.

I will close with a thought that I saw in the book, "The New Rosh Hashana Anthology," by Rabbi Aaron Levine, p. 203. He brings from the "Birkas Chaim", p.23, the following observation. We dip the apple and challah in honey and pray for a "shana tova u'mesuka- a good and sweet year." Why do add the word "sweet", why isn't "good" sufficient?

He said that the Sages have answered with the following. The Mishna Berachos 9:5, teaches us that one make a blessing when evil befalls him just as he has to when good befalls him. We are also taught that one must respond to seemingly bad occurrences with "Gam Zu L'tovah - this too is for the best." That is that even what seems to us as bad is really good, because Hashem only does good.

What we pray, therefore, in light of the above, is that we should have a good and "sweet" year. Not a year with good things happening that really appear to us to be bad, but rather, good things that are really sweet and good even to our understanding.

May we truly merit this year to a kesivah vechasimah tova and a shono tova umesuka.

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