INSIGHT

5758 - #19

Simcha and Rosh Hashana

T.B. Rosh Hashana 32b states that Hallel is not recited on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur for it would be inappropriate for the Jewish People to say shira, songs of Divine praise, when G-d sits as King in judgement.1 Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Chanukah 3:6 explains that Hallel is not recited since these days are "days of teshuva, awe and fear and not days of simcha yiteira, exceptional joy". The absence of Hallel on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur indicates that a diminishment of simcha is the standard of the day.

This standard, though, does not mean an absence of joy. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 597:1 clearly states that on Rosh Hashana we are to eat, drink and experience simcha. Mishna Brura explains "that although [Rosh Hashana] is the day of judgement in any event the command of v'samachta b'chagecha [being joyous on your holidays] still is applicable to it for it also falls in the category of holiday." As the Shulchan Aruch continues, though, this simcha is tempered in recognition of the significance of the day. It would seem that we are faced with a challenge of balance. Rosh Hashana is a serious day upon which judgement is rendered. Rosh Hashana is also a holiday with a commandment to be joyous. We are thus, it would seem, to be joyful but the joy is to be restrained.2

How are we, though, to understand this concept of restrained joy? We are faced, on Rosh Hashana, with a call for conflicting moods: to be serious and to be joyous. How do we accomplish both? Is the solution be found in simply quantitatively mixing the two and projecting onto the day the atmosphere of the midpoint? A midpoint would actually reflect a third emotional setting that neither marks the seriousness due the day or the simcha due the day. Inherently the emotions of the day must exist within their own realm and cannot be mixed. Judgement demands seriousness. A holiday demands simcha. It would seem the objective must be to create an atmosphere whereby both emotions are able to co-exist in full. How, though, can seriousness and simcha co-exist? The absence of Hallel on this day would seem to indicate that, at most, we can move between the two worlds - sometimes choosing seriousness over simcha, sometimes choosing simcha over seriousness. Restrained joy would thus be the product of the individual continuously fluctuating on this day between two separate realms. Does Rosh Hashana, though, not have a gestalt, a unified realm?

The challenge of understanding the relationship between seriousness and simcha on this day may be further complicated by the realization that the cause of both these moods may in fact be the same: the judgement of the day. While this day as a holiday demands simcha, T.J. Rosh Hashana 1:3 also declares that simcha is an appropriate, in fact praiseworthy, response to the judgement that is occurring on this day.3 The gemara explains that rather than experiencing the normal anxiety that you would expect from one facing judgement, the Jewish People express joy on Rosh Hashana because they are confident of the outcome, knowing that G-d will perform miracles to acquit them.4 We are joyful because we are confident of the outcome. Yet, we are also serious because we do stand in judgement. The challenge is not just attempting to unify the two conflicting emotions of seriousness and simcha. How do we understand these two diametrically opposite approaches to the judgement of this day? How can we approach this judgement seriously if we are confident of its outcome? How can we be confident of the outcome if the judgement is in fact a serious one? Is our only answer, again, to argue that we must divide the minutes of the day - some for one response, some for the other?

Moadim U'Zmanim 1:4, footnote 1 argues that the simcha of Rosh Hashana is, in fact, a unique form of simcha unlike the joy that is to be experienced on other holidays. He defines this unique joy as simcha B'Shem, a joy

in G-d. He then effectively explains, albeit indirectly, that the behaviour and emotional state connected to Rosh Hashana that we have interpreted as restrained joy - i.e. an attempt to balance seriousness and simcha - is, in fact, the natural manifestation of this simcha B'Shem. Essentially, while the Moadim U'Zmanim does not specifically address our dilemma, his approach provides a possible solution to our dilemma. Seriousness and simcha qualitatively merge in a new state that allows and supports the mutual co-existence of the two. This is the state of simcha B'Shem.

There is obviously the need to further define this state and explain how it resolves the inherent conflict between seriousness and joy. Initially, we may also wonder why it is the absence of Hallel that is the most apparent manifestation of the distinction between the regular simcha of the holidays and this simcha B'Shem. It would seem that a concept defined as simcha B'Shem would essentially include Hallel. The answer may be found in Moadim U'Zmanim 6:13 where the author presents a further analysis of the simcha of Rosh Hashana. He explains that unlike the regular simcha of the holidays, the simcha of Rosh Hashana is hidden. Expressed differently, the simcha B'Shem of Rosh Hashana is uniquely private.

The joy of the holidays is a response to the miracles that G-d performed in our benefit. We respond with happiness, dance and shira, the public praise of G-d. We are thankful for G-d's existence and His interest in our welfare. On Rosh Hashana, though, we confront responsibility to G-d. Inherently, we also confront G-d. We do not see Him as simply a Power that can bestow all our wishes; We see Him as King - as One outside of ourselves Who can demand from us. Yet, herein, within His demands of us, lie His greatest gift to us. We can reach Him. We can emulate Him. Within this contemplation exists a quiet, personal simcha - simcha B'Shem.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail

Notes

1 See also T.B. Arachin 10b.

2 See, further, Magen Avraham at the beginning of his commentary on this simun, for examples of how various scholars balanced these two attitudes.

3 See, also Nechemiah 8:10.

4 See, as to an explanation of miracles, Iyun Yaakov, Ein Yaakov, Rosh Hashana 32b.


Return to top

2002 NISHMA