Don’t Let the High Holidays Go Over Your Head
By R’ Dovid Shamsi
As the high holidays were approaching, a certain yeshivah student asked the dean of the Ponivizh Yeshivah and one of the most revered rabbis of the 20th century, Rabbi Elazar Shach, what he could do to improve himself in order to be sealed in the Book of Life for the upcoming year. Rabbi Shach responded: “I don’t know what to tell you. But the truth is I really don’t need to tell you anything.”
Noticing the puzzled look on the boy’s face, R’ Shach continued: “The Talmud says that when the Beit Hamikdash was about to be destroyed, everyone asked the prophets, the wise men, the rabbis: ‘Why is this happening to us? Why is the Beit Hamikdash going to be destroyed? What did we do wrong?” But no one knew the answer, not the prophets, not the wise men, not the rabbis. Finally, Hasham cried out from heaven: ‘The Beit HaMikdash is going to be destroyed because you were not saying the blessing for learning Torah properly’.” But I have a question”, R’ Shach said: “How could Hasham punish the people so harshly for a sin they didn’t even realize they were committing?”
After thinking about it for a little bit, the student shrugged his shoulders. “I’ll tell you the answer,” said R’ Schach: “Although, the prophets, the wise men, the rabbis, all the leaders could not tell the people what their sin was, deep down, the people really knew what it was. No one knows what’s going on inside of you more than you do. I can’t tell you what you need to do to improve yourself,” concluded R’ Shach, “but if you make an honest self-assessment, you’ll find your answer.”
As the high holidays approach, may we all merit remembering that the great classes we hear from esteemed rabbis are not excuses from performing an honest self analysis of what our most crucial needs for improvement really are.