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Eradicating the Bitter Root

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Vayelech - Rosh Hashana
Eradicating the Bitter Root

This week's parsha is always read close to Rosh Hashana, which indicates it has a connection to this great and awesome day. How does this week's portion help prepare us for the Day of Judgment?

I find that many of us are filled with trepidation as Rosh Hashana approaches. We know that we are about to enter the courtroom where our fates for the year - regarding health, finances, spouse, children, etc. - will be written and sealed. The seriousness of this time of year often causes us to scramble for "tricks" that will guarantee a sweet future for ourselves. I would like to share one fundamental idea that, although simple to put into practice, can have far-reaching results in our lives.

In order to positively impact our future, it is crucial that we learn how to be "defense attorneys" on behalf of the Jewish people. The Talmud (Sotah 8b) teaches that the way we measure other people is the way that we are measured by God. In other words, if we refrain from criticism and accusations, and instead are careful to say only positive things about our fellow Jews, God will reciprocate in kind. We must learn to emphasize the good we see in Jewish individuals, communities, and in the nation as a whole, if we are to create a positive impression in the upper worlds.

We demonstrate this idea on Rosh Hashana by blowing the shofar. The holiness and purity of the shofar blast causes many of us to feel chills up and down our spines, or even to be moved to tears. This reaction is no coincidence. Our mystical tradition teaches that the sound of a shofar is, in fact, the collective voice of the Jewish people. No matter who we are or what we do, quivering deep inside of us is a pure and holy voice that is calling out to God and wanting to fulfill His will.

Keeping this thought in mind can add a new dimension to the way we listen to the shofar this year. The sound of the shofar testifies that every Jew is a beautiful person, who, deep down, wants to do the right thing. If we can cultivate this awareness, and lovingly excuse other people's mistakes, then we will succeed in defending the Jewish people - whereupon God will reciprocate by accentuating our own positive behavior and finding justifications for our own mistakes.

One hint to this idea can be seen in Deut. 29:17, "Lest there be among you a root that produces haughtiness and wormwood" (Pen yaish bachem shoresh poreh rosh v'la'anah). The Mayana Shel Torah points out that the initial letters of the last four words of this verse (SH-oresh, P-oreh, R-osh, V-la'anah) form an acronym of the word SHOFAR. In his view, this teaches us that the shofar blasts can remove any bad "root" that may be found within us.

We could also suggest an additional understanding of this verse. Even if our actions, speech, and thoughts have been negative, we still contain within us the holy and pure sound of a shofar that is calling out to be close to God.

It is important to defend the Jewish people by speaking positively about others instead of articulating their shortcomings. Involving ourselves in this exercise is the ideal preparation for Rosh Hashana, since the primary mitzvah of the day is the blowing of the shofar, which reminds us of our inner purity and holiness. May we be blessed this year to see only the positive and to recognize the shofar's voice hidden inside each and every one of us, so that we all receive an overabundant downpour of happiness, health, and wealth.

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