Friday, October 3, 2008

Gilu Bi're'ada on Yamim Nora'im

On the Yamim Nora'im, there is a pronounced ambivalence, a balance between celebration and anxiety, between confidence and trepidation, a polyphony of gilah and r'ada. As I mentioned earlier, there are those that encourage fasting on Rosh Hashana, and there are those that prohibit fasting. Obviously, Yom Kippur is a fast day, but even then, song and faith permeate precisely those tefillos that express our eimas hadin, our fear of judgment. What follows is a two-part discussion of those two themes, and an approach to synthesizing these disparate motifs in creating the great tapestry of devotion that is our avodah during the Yamim Nora'im.

The Mikra’ei Kodesh on Yamim Nora’im Rosh Hashana #8 brings that the Brisker Rov quoted his father, Reb Chaim, as asking the following:
If the reason we don’t say Hallel on the Yamim Nora’im is because, as the Gemara in Erchin 10b and Rosh Hashana 32b says, the Malachim ask Hashem why we Jews don’t say Hallel on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and Hashem answers "Efsher Melech yosheiv ahl kisei din v’sifrei chaim v’sifrei meisim psuchim lefanav v’yisrael omrim shira?" then why did the Leviim say the Shir shel Yom on the Yamim Nora’im, as the Mishneh in Rosh Hashana (earlier in the perek) says? Reb Chaim answered that Hallel is when there is simcha shleima, and that kind of shira is not appropriate for the Yamim Nora’im, but other shiros are said even when there is not simcha shleimah.

In a sefer called Kuntres Hamoadim, (an anonymous sefer printed in nun gimmel, which has Torah from the big Briskers,) brings the kashe, and says the answer is that there is Shira which is an expression of ‘simchaa shleima,’ joy, which is inappropriate for the yom hadin, and there is shira which is a din of how to say something, but which is not necessarily an expression of joy, which is muttar on the yom hadin. The magi’ah there brings the Ramban in Sefer Hamitzvos Shoresh I who says that the simcha of regalim is derived in Erchin 11 from the pasuk of "tachas asher lo avadita es Hashem Elokecha be’simcha uv’tuv leivav." He uses this to show that Hallel of Yomtov is an expression of simcha which is incompatible with Y’mei Hadin. I would say it slightly differently: that other shir expresses a lower degree of simcha which does exist on the Yamim Nora’im.. All shir is simcha, but there is a difference between simcha and simcha be’tuv leivav, and the proscription of shir on Rosh Hashana is because Hallel needs a shir of simcha be’tuv leivav.

R Dovid Soloveichik’s sefer on Moadim, (Me’orei Hamo’adim) asks the same question about Hallel, but he asks it as a stirah from the Gemara in Erchin/Rosh Hashana to the Medrash the Tur brings in 581 about being cool and clean on Rosh Hashana because we trust that Hashem will do a neis. So what’s the story? Are we shivering or are we rejoicing?

So he brings a very interesting expression found in a piyut of Rosh Hashana that says "Mimcha evrach eilecha," "from You I flee to You." He says that the Brisker Rov notes that this expression is also found in the Rambam in Pirush Hamishnayos Rosh Hashana 32b, on the Mishneh about "ha’oveir lifnei hateivah... hasheini maski’a... u’be’shaas hahallel horishon makreh es hahallel." The Rambam notes that ‘u’be’shaas hahallel’ indicates that one does not say hallel on the Yamim Nora’im, and explains that this is because it is a time of pachad "ve’yir’ah mimenu, umivrach umanos eilav." There too you see the idea of running from/to Him. Pshat is that one feels the fear, and in his fear, one runs to the only refuge we know and trust, and that is Hashem. The point is that Hallel expresses joy over our safe passage through a threat, our salvation from a danger. The Yamim Nora’im are a danger, and we feel pachad and yir’ah, so it is not the time for the Hallel of having passed through the danger. All the same, we trust in Hashem, we turn to Him for refuge, and we trust that a neis will happen, because Hashem is our manos and mivrach.

This is stated better in the Kuntres Hamoadim. He brings that the piyut is Ibn Gabirol's "Keser Malchus." It says "im tikt’leini lecho ayacheil, v’im t’vakeish l’avoni evrach mimcho eilecho, v’eskase meichamoscho b’tzilcho." (For the Hebrew text, see the next post, at ) He says that he heard this from R’ Shach quoting the Brisker Rav, who said pshat that a person who is fully aware of his din in front of Hashem, and who is frightened because of this awareness, can also use this awareness of Hashem’s presence as a reminder of his bitachon, his ultimate fate in Hashem's desire to do what is best for us.

The Piyut is not an adaptation of the Rambam. The Rambam is an adaptation of the piyut. Ibn Gabirol died around 1058, before the Rambam was born.

And here is a proof that the Briskers are Ma’avir Sedra with Targum Onkelos:
The year after writing this, I saw the expression in a Rashi in Chumash. In Shemos 4:23, the passuk says "Send out my children, and if you refuse, behold I kill your firstborn son." Rashi says that a man who wishes to do harm doesn’t broadcast his plans, because his target will immediately seek to thwart his plans. But Hashem is sagiv ko’ach, and there is not escape from Him "V’ein yecholes le’himoleit mi’yado ki im be’shuvo eilav...." You can’t escape Him except by returning to Him.

So this is a recurring rhetorical device which we have traced back from the Rambam, to Rashi and back to Ibn Gabirol (Rashi was 18 years old when Ibn Gabirol died.)  I wonder where we'll find it next!

I don't want someone coming to me with this piyut, so I'll mention it myself.  R Eliya bar Shmaya (אליה בן שמעיה, Bari, Italy, late tenth century, the generation preceding ibn Gabirol,) wrote many piyutim and selichos. One of them, אקרא בשמך, numbered 17 for Aseres yemei teshuva has the following paragraph:
יאמרו בגוים הגדיל ה' לעשות הנשמה היתה לעדן ולבצרון הנהרסות בוטחיך הצל נסו בצלך לחסות רדיפתם בקש ועליך הדבר לעשות 
The words נסו בצלך לחסות sound something like the Rambam's Mivrach umanos eilav. But I don't think that's what he means- I think it means they run from the enemy and rest in the protection of Hashem's shadow.

In any case, it seems to me that if the Briskers remembered the Rashi, they would have mentioned it along with the Rambam in Pirush Hamishnayos. They didn’t, so it appears that they’re not ma’avir sedra with Rashi. Obviously, then, if they are not ma'avir sedra with Rashi, they must be ma’avir sedra with Onkelos. QED.

Rav Shimshon Pinkas said in a shiur that he once experienced exactly this phenomenon. One Purim, he got dressed in a costume, which was a realistic, furry Bear suit. He had the whole suit on, and his son, Yankel, came in and saw him. He started crying, Mommy, Mommy, there’s a bear in the house!!! His mother said, Yankaleh, don’t be afraid! That’s just Daddy in a costume! And Yankaleh ran over to Rav Pinkas, hugged his leg, and cried, Daddy, Daddy, save me from the bear!!! Rav Pinkas said that this is an exact model for our tefillos. All the suffering we experience stems from Hashem’s hester panim, from the 'Mask' He puts on when we are not zocheh to gilui panav. We are terrified of the mask that hides Hashem’s love. And all we know to do, all we can do, all we must do, is run to the Ribono shel Olam and cry, Hashem, please save us from the terrifying mask that hides Your love!

(Rav Frank brings a question a certain Rav Solomon asked on Reb Chaim from Tosfos in Erechin 10b D’H Omru. Tosfos says that since the Malachim asked the question on us, mashma that they do say shirah, so we can say "v’hachayos yeshoreiru." (I have no idea why the kashe means anything, because Reb Chaim is talking about the Levi’im, not the malachim,) Rav Frank says a very nice thing about the difference between the malachim, whose simcha is always shleima, and human beings, whose simcha can have gradations, and shtells tzu that this is why Klal Yisrael could say Oz Yashir, while the Malachim could not, while here, the Malachim do say Shira, and we do not. I think this is a very valuable observation– the essential difference between the malachim and us sometimes enables only us to say shira, and sometimes davka the Malachim and not us.)

So, in short: The Yamim Nora'im are days during which Chazal tell us that we should rejoice that we have the opportunity, the wisdom, and the means to effect a change in what might have been our fate. It is a portentous time, a time for anxiety and fear, but all the same it is a time for gratitude that we stand in the shade of Hashem's hand and His constant hashgacha, and His we know that it is only to Him that we run in times of danger.
This is a timei for Shira, and a time for vidui, a time for fleeing, and a time to do all we can to run to precisely what it is that we fear, because we know that only by doing so, only by trying to deserve the love Hashem has for us, can we be zocheh badin. It is a day made more fearsome and more beautiful for being dappled, in a manner of speaking, with swift, slow; sweet, sour; and adazzle, dim.



  1. good piece also one of my favorite Reb Pinckus Stories.

  2. He was really extraordinary, Rav Pinkas, wasn't he? What a beautiful soul he was, and what a ko'ach hadibur, along with being a great talmid chacham and ba'al hashkafa. I'm told that at his levaya, Reb Michel Feinstein said that that they had a seder to learn every week, and they used to learn the Gilyonos Chazon Ish on Reb Chaim, and answer the Chazon Ish's questions. Everybody loved him, from Frei to Chareidi, and I can't think of anyone in our time that had that kind of universal respect.

  3. and his Zohar chavrusah Thursday nights Reb Hillel is intresting too