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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Be a Tzaddik!

By Rabbi Sender Haber

Before you were born, you knew everything that you needed to know.

When you were born you had a clear idea of your needs: Food, Oxygen, Love. You knew how to cry when you didn’t have what you needed. Life was very simple but very efficient.

As we grow older and more intelligent, we become more and more confused. Nurture competes with nature and by the time we grow up, we have no idea what we really want. Even if we are in touch with our needs, we have trouble asking - we forget how to cry.

The Talmud tells us that before we are born, we are taught the entire Torah. And then an angel comes, taps us on the lip, and makes us forget Torah. He takes the Torah out of our conscious mind and puts it into the fiber of our being. He doesn’t take the Torah away from us; he puts it into us. At that point our mission and our purpose in life are clear.

Right before we are born the angel speaks to us:
“Be a Tzaddik”, he says. “And don’t be a Rasha. Even if the entire world tells you that you are a Tzaddik, you still need to be able to look at yourself and say: I am a Rasha”.

The angel is telling us retain our purity and our connection to Hashem even as we enter the big and confusing world. We need to remain Tzadikim.

What is a Tzaddik? The Talmud tells us that if, on his wedding day the groom says “I will marry you on the condition that I am a total Tzaddik - the marriage is valid” Even if the groom was a serial killer ten minutes earlier - we assume that he has repented.

A tzaddik is not about what we do or have done, it is about who we are now and where we are headed. A Tzaddik knows the needs of his soul.

Someone once called the Kollel for a Chavrusa. He wanted to study Torah because he was a fan of Kirk Douglas. Kirk Douglas, in his old age, had begun studying Torah. I did some research into Kirk Douglas, read his book, and even met the rabbi who studies with Kirk.

As you may know, Kirk Douglas was born as Issur Danielovich to an Orthodox family. He writes that as he grew older, suffered losses, and almost died, he realized that there was more to him than Kirk Douglas. He realized that deep inside of him there still was a little frum kid named Issur Danielovitch. That little kid was more focused, more driven and less superficial than he was. Kirk found himself a Rabbi and began to learn Torah again. He put on Tefillin, davened and learned how to connect to Hashem, again.

“Hayom Haras Olam”. Rosh Hashana marks the Herayon - the birthing of the world. Hashem created us pure. Once a year we shed the superficiality that grows up around us and become that smart little baby boy or girl that we used to be. We can return to the Torah and internalize its’ message. We speak to Hashem and we know what to ask for.

Rosh Hashana is the day that we press Reset. We take the knowledge that we have gathered over the past twelve months and we start again. (It’s like installing a new program). We find the focus of our lives and connect to Hashem. Hashem looks deep into our souls and gives us our assignment for the year.

The Rosh Hashana liturgy makes no mention of forgiveness and there are almost no prayers asking Hashem for a good year. The exercise of Rosh Hashana is to refocus and reconnect.

The angel makes us promise to remain Tzadikim before we enter the world. Each Rosh Hashanah we renew that promise.

There is an exercise from Rabbi Leib Chasman that one of my teachers taught me and that I do with all of my students: Take a moment over Rosh Hashana to look at yourself honestly and choose five small things that you can change. You can stop wasting a certain hour every week. You can start calling someone every month. You can stop watching a certain program or reading a certain magazine. You can add an extra Tefila or mitzvah to your daily routine.

Take your list of five small items and select the four hardest ones. Cross those out. Choose the smallest, simplest, easiest promise that you can - and keep it. That Mitzvah will be your yearlong reminder of the purity and focus that you achieved on Rosh Hashana.

One realistic promise is worth more than hundreds of dramatic ones. Stand in front of Hashem next Rosh Hashana and say “I have changed” - at least this small and tiny way”. You will look back at who you’ve become and realize that the change was not so small after all.

May we merit to find ourselves this Rosh Hashana and to carry the inspiration with us for an entire year.

May we all be written in the Book of Tzadikim Gemurim - truly righteous people. May Hashem hear our personal and communal words to Him and fulfill all of our desires in the best possible way. May we learn to appreciate one another and appreciate ourselves. May we be written and sealed immediately in the book of good, long and peaceful lives.

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