Talmud Tips

For the week ending 6 November 2021 / 2 Kislev 5782

Rosh Hashana 16 - 22

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Signed and Sealed for Life

We have learned in a beraita, “Rabbi Meir says: Everything is judged on Rosh Hashana and their judgment is sealed on Yom Kippur. Rabbi Yehuda says: All are judged on Rosh Hashana and the judgment for each category is sealed at the suitable time — on Pesach for grain produce, on Shavuot for tree fruits and on Succot for water. And a person is judged on Rosh Hashana and his judgment is sealed on Yom Kippur; Rabbi Yossi says that a person is judged every day, as the verse Iyov 7:18 states: “That You should visit him every morning.” Rabbi Natan says that a person is judged every second, as the same verse in Iyov states, “and try him every moment.’”

Later in the sugya we learn a different opinion on this matter from another Tana. Rabbi Kruspedei writes that the righteous (whose merits outweigh their demerits in Divine judgment) are written and sealed for life on Rosh Hashana. The wicked (whose demerits outweigh their merits) are written and sealed for death on Rosh Hashana. Those whose merits and demerits are equal (called beinonim) are written on Yom Kippur in the appropriate Book (of Life or Death), depending on their final balance of merits and demerits.

The commentaries ask numerous questions regarding the nature of the procedure of this Divine judgment on these specific days for the various categories of people. One question concerns our prayers between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. We pray to Hashem during these days that He “write us in the Book of Life.” According to Rabbi Yehuda it appears that the result of judgment on Rosh Hashana was already written for everyone on Rosh Hashana and all that remains is for a sealing of the judgment to occur on Yom Kippur. So what “writing” are we praying for during these days? And even according to Rabbi Kruspedai the prayer for writing seems unclear. The judgment for both the righteous and the wicked was already written and even sealed on Yom Kippur, and the beinonim are actually awaiting the sealing of their judgment on Yom Kippur — and should be praying for sealing and not for writing.

The key to understanding an answer to this question is in contemplating the nature of the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. These days are known as the Aseret Y’mei Teshuva — “The Ten Days of Repentance” — an auspicious period of time in the calendar year for introspection, improvement and repentance, which we pray will increase our merits and draw us as close to Hashem as possible.

Therefore, according to Rabbi Yehuda, we pray to be written in the Book of Life in case we were not judged on Rosh Hashana to be in the Book of Life, and that Hashem will now write us in the Book of Life as a result of our new merits of giving charity, prayer, repentance and more. And according to Rabbi Kruspedai, the prayer is on behalf of the beinonim — whose judgment had not been sealed on Rosh Hashana — to now at least be written in the Book of Life, and then sealed there on Yom Kippur. Some commentaries explain that the prayer is even for the wicked, whose judgment for death was both written and sealed on Rosh Hashana. However, Hashem in His great mercy continues to consider their prayers and merits and may decide to now write them in the Book of Life. (Obviously, the topic of this sugya is of such vital importance and complexity that it is the topic of countless teachings from Chazal and great Rabbis throughout history — to this very day. For example, I suggest learning the Zohar Hakadosh on this topic for Vayechi, and the writings of the Gaon from Vilna in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 582.)

I would be remiss in not noting how Tosefot understands the significance of the judgments taught in our gemara. From a “simple reading” of our gemara, it would perhaps seem that the concept of judgment on Rosh Hashana refers to the worthiness of the person to continue to live in this world. However, Tosefot notes that we can witness incongruities to this premise. Many righteous people suffer in this world and live relatively short lives, while many wicked seem to happily thrive in this world and live long lives. Therefore, explains Tosefot, the judgment on Rosh Hashana is for the World to Come. (The need to judge a person’s status for the World to Come on Rosh Hashana — while the person is still living in this world — is elaborated upon by many commentaries, including Rabbeinu Asher.)

  • Rosh Hashana 16a

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