By Shimmy Blum
On Sunday evening, alef selichos, Congregation Bais Torah U’Tefilla in Passaic hosted an overflow crowd of men and women, eager to hear the words of the leading gedolim and inspirational speakers who were present.
This was the 25th annual pre-Rosh Hashana “Yom Iyun,” an evening of inspiration arranged by the Commission of Torah Projects of Agudath Israel of America, in conjunction with Congregation Bais Torah U’Tefilla and the Passaic-Clifton Community Kollel. The event was broadcast live in dozens of community locations across the US, Canada and Mexico.
Rabbi Labish Becker, executive director of Agudath Israel of America, and Rabbi Avrohom Nisan Perl, director the Commission of Torah Projects of Agudath Israel of America, chaired the event. “During the last few years, world events gave us a ‘tzitter’ before the yomim nora’im,” said Rabbi Becker, “but Hashem gave us what to do in response: teshuva, tefillah and tzedaka.”
Harav Menachem Zupnik, shlit”a, Rav of Congregation Bais Torah U’Tefilla elaborated on the particular travails in the run-up to 5775: the constant danger and loss of life in Eretz Yisroel, global anti-Semitism, and the stunning lack of justice world leaders show towards yidden under siege.
Rav Zupnik explained that in light of our historical suffering in galus, klal Yisroel is blessed with a unique ability to find emunah and miracles in even the darkest events. At root of this phenomenon is Chazal’s insertion of the beracha “Hatov V’hameitiv” in birchas hamazon, commemorating the miracle burial of the victims of the historic Beitar massacre. “Holocaust survivors saw everyone around them perish, but they saw nissim (in their survival),” Rav Zupnik exclaimed. “That is what Rosh Hashana is all about: bringing the ribbono shel olam into our lives.”
Hearing the Shofar
The presence of the venerated Lakewood Mashgiach, Harav Matisyahu Salamon, shlit”a, made an immense impression upon all as the entire assemblage rose to their feet as one in his honor. Rav Zupnik noted the uniqueness of having such a renowned gadol take pains to personally address the event.
The Mashgiach stressed the importance of not only crowning Hashem’s kingdom on Rosh Hashana, but also utilizing the holy opportunity to pray for a great year for oneself and family. Rav Yisroel Salanter zt”l termed a yid who doesn’t focus on his own needs a “rotze’ach.”
The meaning behind the primary mitzvah of Rosh Hashana then came into focus. Rav Matisyahu explained that the Shofar during matan Torah gave yidden the power to utilize their desire to do good to conquer their inclination to commit aveiros. With the Shofar of Rosh Hashana, we beseech Hashem to give us the freedom to conquer the challenges the yetzer hora places before us, and we can thus merit hearing the Shofar of Moshiach. “This Rosh Hashana, let us make the whole world tremble and separate good from evil,” the Mashgiach implored. “We want to see the yemos hamoshiach; we won’t settle for less.”
Going the Extra Mile
The final speaker of the night was Harav Yisroel Reisman, shlit”a, Rav of Agudas Yisroel of Madison – Zichron Chaim Zvi and Rosh Yeshiva of Mesivta Torah Vodaath, who offered practical perspective and advice on the Yom Tov.
Rav Reisman explained that there is a fundamental difference between the praise we offer Hashem in pesukei d’zimra for providing our material needs, and the praise we offer in Hallel, which speaks to our spiritual servitude to Him. There are inevitably some gaps and disappointments in our material lives, but our praise for being avdei Hashem must be complete.
As we approach the Yomim Noraim, the pervasive challenge is that people feel like they live through an identical cycle at this time of year, every year, but do not progress. Rav Reisman explained that our mission is to constantly strive for excellence in our spiritual lives, while being content with mediocrity only in our material lives. He related several personal anecdotes of simple kabalos that he has undertaken over the years, bli neder, and was constantly able to follow up with additional easy-to-keep kabalos. He encouraged all the attendees to seize the opportunity of the upcoming new year to do the same.
Rav Reisman summed up that constant improvement, even on a very incremental basis, shows that an individual’s strive for excellence is on spiritual matters, and each year brings one closer to the goal. “Do you feel like you’re the same year after year?” Rav Reisman asked. “Then do something!”
Rabbi Perl says “after 25 years, the zchus and privilege of being the catalyst for the tremendous inspiration before the Yom haDin grows each year. We invite everyone to call in to the Aseres Yemei Teshuva Live Teleconferences next week.”