The Awesome Days

By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)

 


I. Introduction. 1

II. In the Talmud. 1

III. The Midrash. 5

IV. The Ten Days. 5

V. Customs. 5

VI. The Fast of Gedaliah. 6

VII. Shabbat Shuva. 7

VIII. Yom HaKippurim.. 7

IX. Psalm for the Awesome Days. 7

 

 

I. Introduction

 

The Yamim Noraim (the Awesome Days) are the days of teshuva (returning or repenting). These ten days are also known as "Ten Days of Repentance”. These are the ten days, of repentance, between Yom Teruah (Rosh HaShanah – Feast of Trumpets) and Yom HaKippurim (Yom Kippur – Day of Atonement). These are days of introspection, and hopefully, growth and change. These days are also known as bein keseh L'asor, between concealments [Yom Teruah] and the tenth [Yom HaKippurim]. These names serve to remind us that we are suspended between two days of judgement: Yom Teruah, when our verdict is inscribed, and Yom HaKippurim when our judgement is sealed.

 

Yeshayah (Isaiah) 55:6 Seek HaShem when He is to be found, call out to Him when He is near.

 

Our Sages have commented:

 

Rosh HaShana 18a When can an individual [find God]? — Rabbah b. Abbuha said: These are the ten days between Rosh HaShanah and the Day of Atonement.

 

The awesome days have as their goal: arriving at rest on Succoth (Feast of Tabernacles). What distinguishes the Days of Awe from all other festivals is that here, and only here, do HaShem's people kneel. They do not kneel to confess a fault or to pray for forgiveness of sins, acts to which this festival is primarily dedicated. They kneel only in beholding the immediate nearness of HaShem, hence on an occasion which transcends the earthly needs of today. The congregation now rises to the feeling of HaShem's nearness as it sees in memory the Temple service of old, and visualizes especially the moment when the High Priest, on Yom HaKippurim (the Day of the Atonements) this once in all the year, pronounced the ineffable Name of HaShem, and the assembled people fell on their knees.

 

Yeshayah (Isaiah) 45:22-25 "Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am HaShem, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, 'In HaShem alone are righteousness and strength.'" All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame. But in HaShem all the descendants of Israel will be found righteous and will exult.

 

II. In the Talmud

 

The Talmud tells us about the significance of these days:

 

Rosh Hashana 16b R. Kruspedai said in the name of R. Johanan: Three books are opened [in heaven] on New Year, one for the thoroughly wicked,[1] one for the thoroughly righteous, and one for the intermediate. The thoroughly righteous are forthwith inscribed definitively in the book of life; the thoroughly wicked are forthwith inscribed definitively in the book of death;[2] the doom of the intermediate is suspended from New Year till the Day of Atonement; if they deserve well, they are inscribed in the book of life; if they do not deserve well, they are inscribed in the book of death. Said R. Abin, What text tells us this? — Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.[3] ‘Let them be blotted out from the book — this refers to the book of the wicked. ‘Of life — this is the book of the righteous. ‘And not be written with the righteous’ — this is the book of the intermediate. R. Nahman b. Isaac derives it from here: And if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written,[4] ‘Blot me, I pray thee’ — this is the book of the wicked. ‘Out of thy book’ — this is the book of the righteous. ‘Which thou has written’ — this is the book of the intermediate.

 

Those who have not accustomed themselves to practice righteousness have ten days to do teshuvah, to repent. It is also the custom to give tzedaka, charity, during this time so that our mitzvot, good deeds, may increase. The Rambam writes:

 

"We must be more careful in regards to tzedaka, more than all other positive commandments. For tzedaka is [the] sign of righteous progeny of Avraham our Forefather... And the "chair of Israel" is established and the true belief is based only on tzedaka. And Israel will be only be redeemed via tzedaka.[5] 

 

During the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we must separate ourselves from evil, but doing good is also necessary; not because it affects the scale (only Teshuva, repentance, can do that), but because tzedaka is connected with the new redeemed personality. The penitent has left his evil actions behind, and the void in his personality is now filled with good deeds.

 

Berachoth 12b Raba b. Hinena the elder also said in the name of Rab: Throughout the year one says in the Tefillah (prayer), ‘The holy God’, and ‘King who lovest righteousness and judgment’,[6] except during the ten days between New Year and the Day of Atonement, when he says, ‘The holy King’ and ‘The King of judgment’. R. Eleazar says: Even during these days, if he said, ‘The holy God’, he has performed his obligation, since it says, But the Lord of Hosts is exalted through justice, and the holy God is sanctified through righteousness:[7] When is the Lord of Hosts exalted through justice? In these ten days from New Year to the Day of Atonement; and none-the-less it says, ‘the holy God’. What do we decide?[8] — R. Joseph said: ‘The holy God’ and ‘The King who loves righteousness and judgment’; Rabbah said: ‘The holy King’ and ‘The King of judgment’. The law is as laid down by Rabbah.

 

Rosh HaShana 8b AND FOR JUBILEE YEARS. [is the New Year for] Jubilees on the first of Tishri? Surely [the New Year for] Jubilees is on the tenth of Tishri, as it is written, on the day of atonement shall ye make proclamation with the horn?[9] — What authority is here followed? R. Ishmael the son of R. Johanan b. Beroka, as it has been taught: And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year.[10] What is the point of these words? [It is this]. Since it says, On the day of atonement [ye shall make proclamation ], I might think that the year is sanctified only from the Day of Atonement onwards. Therefore it says, And ye shall sanctify the fiftieth year. This teaches that it is sanctified from its inception. On this ground R. Ishmael the son of R. Johanan b. Beroka laid down that from New Year to the Day of Atonement slaves were neither dismissed to their homes nor subjected to their masters, but they ate and drank and made merry, wearing garlands on their heads.[11] When the Day of Atonement came, the Beth din sounded the horn; slaves were dismissed to their homes and fields returned to their original owners. And the Rabbis [ — what do they make of this verse]? — [They say it teaches that] you are to sanctify years but not months.[12]

 

Rosh HaShana 18a R. Shmuel (Samuel) b. Inia said in the name of Rab: Whence do we know that the final sentence on a community is never sealed? — Never sealed , [you say]? Is it not written, Thine iniquity is marked before me?[13] What he should say is, [How do we know that] although it is sealed it can yet be rescinded? Because it says, as the Lord our God is whenever we call upon him.[14] But it is written, Seek ye the Lord while he may be found?[15] — This verse speaks of an individual, the other of community. When can an individual [find God]? — Rabbah b. Abbuha said: These are the ten days between New Year and the Day of Atonement.

A Yom Teruah event:

 

I Shmuel (Samuel) 25:1-37 Now Shmuel (Samuel) died, and all Israel assembled and mourned for him; and they buried him at his home in Ramah. Then David moved down into the Desert of Maon. A certain man in Maon, who had property there at Carmel, was very wealthy. He had a thousand goats and three thousand sheep, which he was shearing in Carmel. His name was Nabal and his wife's name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband, a Calebite, was surly and mean in his dealings. While David was in the desert, he heard that Nabal was shearing sheep. So he sent ten young men and said to them, "Go up to Nabal at Carmel and greet him in my name. Say to him: 'Long life to you! Good health to you and your household! And good health to all that is yours! "'Now I hear that it is sheep-shearing time. When your shepherds were with us, we did not mistreat them, and the whole time they were at Carmel nothing of theirs was missing. Ask your own servants and they will tell you. Therefore be favorable toward my young men, since we come at a festive time. Please give your servants and your son David whatever you can find for them.'" When David's men arrived, they gave Nabal this message in David's name. Then they waited. Nabal answered David's servants, "Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?" David's men turned around and went back. When they arrived, they reported every word. David said to his men, "Put on your swords!" So they put on their swords, and David put on his. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies. One of the servants told Nabal's wife Abigail: "David sent messengers from the desert to give our master his greetings, but he hurled insults at them. Yet these men were very good to us. They did not mistreat us, and the whole time we were out in the fields near them nothing was missing. Night and day they were a wall around us all the time we were herding our sheep near them. Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him." Abigail lost no time. She took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five seahs of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs, and loaded them on donkeys. Then she told her servants, "Go on ahead; I'll follow you." But she did not tell her husband Nabal. As she came riding her donkey into a mountain ravine, there were David and his men descending toward her, and she met them. David had just said, "It's been useless--all my watching over this fellow's property in the desert so that nothing of his was missing. He has paid me back evil for good. May G-d deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!" When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed down before David with her face to the ground. She fell at his feet and said: "My lord, let the blame be on me alone. Please let your servant speak to you; hear what your servant has to say. May my lord pay no attention to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name--his name is Fool, and folly goes with him. But as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my master sent. "Now since HaShem has kept you, my master, from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands, as surely as HaShem lives and as you live, may your enemies and all who intend to harm my master be like Nabal. And let this gift, which your servant has brought to my master, be given to the men who follow you. Please forgive your servant's offense, for HaShem will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my master, because he fights HaShem'S battles. Let no wrongdoing be found in you as long as you live. Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my master will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by HaShem your G-d. But the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling. When HaShem has done for my master every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him leader over Israel, My master will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when HaShem has brought my master success, remember your servant." David said to Abigail, "Praise be to HaShem, the G-d of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. Otherwise, as surely as HaShem, the G-d of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak." Then David accepted from her hand what she had brought him and said, "Go home in peace. I have heard your words and granted your request." When Abigail went to Nabal, he was in the house holding a banquet like that of a king. He was in high spirits and very drunk. So she told him nothing until daybreak. Then in the morning, when Nabal was sober, his wife told him all these things, and his heart failed him and he became like a stone.

 

 A Yom HaKippurim event:

 

I Shmuel (Samuel) 25:38-42 About ten days later, HaShem struck Nabal and he died. When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, "Praise be to HaShem, who has upheld my cause against Nabal for treating me with contempt. He has kept his servant from doing wrong and has brought Nabal's wrongdoing down on his own head." Then David sent word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife. His servants went to Carmel and said to Abigail, "David has sent us to you to take you to become his wife." She bowed down with her face to the ground and said, "Here is your maidservant, ready to serve you and wash the feet of my master's servants." Abigail quickly got on a donkey and, attended by her five maids, went with David's messengers and became his wife.

 

It has been expounded (in the Talmud): The ten days are the ten days of Teshuvah during which the judgement of Nabal was with held by heaven, with the hope that he might do Teshuvah:

 

Rosh HaShana 18a And it came to pass after the ten days that the Lord smote Nabal.[16] How come these ten days here? — Rab Judah said in the name of Rab: They correspond to the ten dishes which Nabal gave to the servants of David.[17] R. Nahman said in the name of Rabbah b. Abbuha: These are the ten days between New Year and the Day of Atonement.

 

III. The Midrash

 

Midrash Rabbah - Vayikra (Leviticus) XXI:4 Our Rabbis expounded the text in reference to New Year and the Day of Atonement. He is ’my light’[18] on New Year, and ’my salvation’[19] on the Day of Atonement. ’ Whom shall I fear?’, since The Lord is my strength and song (Ex. XV, 2). ’When evil-doers came upon me’ alludes to the Princes[20] of the nations of the world. ’To eat up my flesh,’ for the Princes of the nations of the world come and bring charges against Israel before the Holy One, blessed be He, saying to Him: ' Sovereign of the Universe! These[21] are idol worshippers and those[22] are idol-worshippers; these commit sexual immorality and those commit sexual immorality; these are shedders of blood and those are shedders of blood. For what reason do those descend into Gehenna and these do not descend into Gehenna? ' ’Mine adversaries and my foes are mine.’ There are three hundred and sixty-five days in the solar year. The numerical value of haSatan (Satan)[23] is three hundred and sixty-four.[24] This alludes to the fact that during all the days of the year Satan brings accusations,[25] but he does not bring any accusations on the Day of Atonement. So Israel say to the Holy One, blessed be He: ’Though a host’ of Sammael,[26] ’Should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear,’ because Thou hast promised me, WITH THIS[27] SHALL AARON COME INTO THE HOLY PLACE (XVI, 3)[28]

 

IV. The Ten Days

 

Plague

Yamim Noraim

 

Water into blood

Yom Kippurim

 

Frogs

Tishri 9

 

Lice

"Thirteen Qualities"

 

Wild beasts

Tishri 7

 

Pestilence

Tishri 6

 

Boils

Tishri 5

 

Hail mixed with fire

Tishri 4

 

Locusts

Fast of Gedalia

 

Darkness

Rosh HaShana

 

Death of the first born

Rosh HaShana

 

 

V. Customs

 

During the awesome days we recite Selichot, penitential prayers, are said before dawn. We are also are especially careful in fulfilling mitzvot.

 

It is fitting for a person to decrease his involvement with worldly occupations and increase his study of Torah during these days.

 

The pious and God-fearing take care of their debts and obligations before Yom HaKippurim.

 

Scrupulous people who are eager to perform mitzvot, make a point of buying an especially beautiful etrog during these days.

 

The wording of Kaddish is changed during these days, in order to accept Divine Sovereignty. The Amidah is also changed to reflect the remembrance for life and His Kingship.

 

We recite Avinu Malkenu during shacharit and mincha. Psalm 27 is recited after Shacharit and Mincha.

 

In the Talmud we have this custom recorded:

 

Shabbat 1a R. Chiya ha-Gadole instructed Rav: If you can eat all year in a state of ritual purity, do so; and if not, then at least eat [in a state of purity] for seven days during the year.

 

These seven days are the days between Yom Teruah and Yom HaKippurim.

 

VI. The Fast of Gedaliah

 

On Tishrei 3, we celebrate the fast of Gedaliah. This minor fast begins at dawn and ends at dusk.

 

What is the meaning of this fast, and why does it occur during the awesome days?

 

THE STORY OF GEDALIAH

(Based on: Aish HaTorah's High Holiday Series)

 

After the destruction of the First Temple 2500 years ago, the majority of the Jewish People were exiled to Babylon. The conqueror, Nebuchadnezzar, eventually eased some of his harsh restrictions and allowed some Jews to remain in the Land of Israel. He even appointed a righteous Jew named Gedaliah to administrate the territory. Gradually, more Jews who'd escaped from the horrors of the war into neighboring countries began to return to their homes in Israel.

 

Gedaliah was realistic about the limitations of Jewish sovereignty. He understood that for their own self-preservation, the Jews in Israel needed to fully cooperate with the nation who'd conquered their Land. But this political subservience was intolerable to some of the Jews. A man named Yishmael ben Netaniah, spurred on by jealousy and foreign influence, arose and ignored the King of Babylon. On the 3rd of Tishrei, Yishmael treacherously killed Gedaliah as well as many other Jews and Babylonians.

 

In the aftermath of Gedaliah's murder, the Jews dreaded reprisal from the King of Babylon. They thought to flee to Egypt to save themselves. But since Egypt was a morally corrupt society, the Jews were in a quandary, weighing the physical threat against the spiritual danger. So they turned to the Prophet Yirimiyahu (Jeremiah), who was secluded in mourning, to ask for advice.

 

For an entire week, Yirimiyah (Jeremiah) pleaded with HaShem for an answer. Finally, on Yom Kippur, the Jewish People were answered. Yirimiyahu called the Jews and told them to stay in Israel and everything would be alright. HaShem was planning to make the Babylonians act mercifully toward the Jews, and before long, all the exiled Jews would be permitted to return to their own soil. But, Yirimiyahu told them, if the Jews decided to go to Egypt, the sword from which they were running would kill them there.

 

Unfortunately, the prophet's words did not penetrate and the people refused to believe. All the Jews remaining in Israel packed their bags and went down to Egypt. They even kidnapped Yirimiyahu and took him with them! Now the destruction was complete; the Land of Israel was completely barren. You can guess what happened next. A few years later, Babylon conquered Egypt and tens of thousands of Jewish exiles were completely wiped out. The lone survivor of this massacre was Yirimiyahu. His prophecy had become painfully true.

 

The initial event, the murder of Gedaliah, has been likened to the destruction of the Holy Temple, because it cost Jewish lives and brought the end of Jewish settlement in Israel for many years. The prophets therefore declared that the anniversary of the tragedy should be a day of fasting. This day is the third of Tishri, the day immediately after Yom Teruah.

 

VII. Shabbat Shuva

 

The Sabbath between Yom Teruah and Yom HaKippurim is called Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath of Return. This name is derived from this Sabbath's special haftorah reading which begins with the words Shuvah Israel, Return O Israel. It is also called Shabbat Shuvah because it falls during the ten days of teshuva, repentance.

 

The annual Torah readings on this Sabbath are:

 

            Devarim (Deuteronomy) 31:1-30

 

Ashkenazim read:

Hoshea 14:2-10 and Yoel 2:15-27.

 

Sephardim read:

Hoshea 14:2-10 and Micah 7:18-20.

 

The Triennial cycle Torah readings are:

 

            Regular Torah portion

 

Ashkenazim read:

Hoshea 14:2-10 and Yoel 2:15-27.

 

Sephardim read:

Hoshea 14:2-10 and Micah 7:18-20.

 

It is customary to expound on teshuva, and the severity of our sins, during this Sabbath.

 

VIII. Yom HaKippurim

 

The Ten Days of Repentance are concluded on the tenth of Tishri, Yom HaKippurim. The Viddui (Confession of Sins) begins with an immersion (mikveh - baptism) of repentance, and is recited ten times on the Day of the Atonements to coincide with the tradition that the High Priest pronounced the name of HaShem ten times when he invoked divine pardon on Yom HaKippurim. Yeshua validated the immersion of repentance in another Yom HaKippurim event:

 

Luqas (Luke) 3:21-23a When all the people were being baptized, Yeshua was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened And the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." Now Yeshua himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry.

 

Yom HaKippurim is the only day that the scriptures call for a fast. Fasting was one of the ways to deny yourself.

 

Vayikra (Leviticus) 16:29 "This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work--whether native-born or an alien living among you.

 

The "Great" shofar is blown to mark the end of Yom HaKippurim. It is customary to begin your sukkah (booth or tabernacle) right after Yom HaKippurim. The sukkah is a reminder of the temporary endurance of material buildings as opposed to the permanent and abiding strength of our G-d and the heavenly shelter He promises. In another sense, unless HaShem be for us, no dwelling can save us! If HaShem is for us, any dwelling can save us!

 

As we celebrate the Yamim Noraim (Awesome Days), let us begin, and complete, our teshuva (returning or repenting). Lets use these ten days of repentance between Yom Teruah and Yom HaKippurim to draw near to HaShem. Lets have as our goal, to be ready to rest on Succoth (Feast of Booths).

 

IX. Psalm for the Awesome Days

 

From Rosh Chodesh Elul till Yom Teruah or Yom HaKippurim

 

Tehillim (Psalms) 27:1-15 {Of David.} HaShem is my light and my salvation--whom shall I fear? HaShem is the stronghold of my life--of whom shall I be afraid? When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident. One thing I ask of HaShem, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of HaShem all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of HaShem and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to HaShem. Hear my voice when I call, O HaShem; be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, "Seek his face!" Your face, HaShem, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, O HaShem my Savior. Though my father and mother forsake me, HaShem will receive me. Teach me your way, O HaShem; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, breathing out violence. I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of HaShem in the land of the living. Wait for HaShem; be strong and take heart and wait for HaShem.

 

* * *

 

This study was written by

Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David

(Greg Killian).

Comments may be submitted to:

 

Rabbi Dr. Greg Killian

4544 Highline Drive SE

Olympia, WA 98501

 

Internet address: gkilli@aol.com

Web page: http://www.betemunah.org/

 

(360) 918-2905

 

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Send comments to Greg Killian at his email address: gkilli@aol.com

 

 



[1] I.e. , those whose bad deeds definitely outweigh their good.

[2] The life and death in the future world (i.e., of the soul) is meant. V. Tosaf. s.v. ihn,jbu .

[3] Ps. LXIX, 29.

[4] Ex. XXXII, 32.

[5] Rambam 'Gifts to the poor': 10:1

[6] In the third and twelfth benedictions respectively, v. P.B. pp. 45 and 48.

[7] Isa. V, 16.

[8] What should be said on the ten days of penitence.

[9] Lev. XXV, 9. referring to the Jubilee.

[10] Ibid 10. These words are apparently superfluous, it having already been said, and thou shalt number forty-nine years.

[11] In sign of their approaching freedom.

[12] Cf. infra 24a.

[13] Jer. II, 22.

[14] Deut. IV, 7.

[15] Isa. LV, 6. This implies that God cannot always be found.

[16] I Sam. XXV, 38. The question is suggested by the use of the definite article with the word ‘ten’.

[17] David sent to Nabal ten young men (I Sam. XXV, 5), and Nabal according to tradition gave them each one meal. This hospitable act secured for him some respite.

[18] Showing the way to repentence.

[19] In the spiritual sense.

[20] The guardian angels.

[21] I.e. the heathens.

[22] I.e. Israel.

[23] The arch-enemy of all goodness and morality.

[24] iyav == 5 + 300 + 9 + 50 = 364. This is one short of the number of days in the year, representing the Day of Atonement.

[25] To God, against Israel.

[26] Satan or the Angel of Death.

[27] A reference to the expression: ’In this will I be confident.’ E.V. ’herewith

[28] On the Day of Atonement.