In his present state

Friday, 7 September, 2018 - 5:28 am

 It’s the morning of Rosh Hashana. The Rabbi is walking to Shul and on the way he sees old Isaac sitting in a coffee shop with a newspaper. “Isaac!” says the Rabbi, almost shouting. “Isaac! Today is Rosh Hashana; today Hashem is judging everyone for the coming year, and you are sitting in a coffee shop?”

Isaac smiles and answers: “Rabbi, I am 95 years old already. All my friends have gone to Heaven a long time ago. I have a feeling that the Master of the World has simply forgotten about me. Believe me, Rabbi, the last thing I want to do now is to come to Shul and remind him that I exist.”

Now, seriously: someone once asked me a simple question:

“Hashem knows me, after all. He knows what I’ve done in the past and knows how I will behave in the future. Do you really think that if I do a one-day teshuva, on Rosh Hashana, this will help? Can teshuva for one day affect an entire year?”

I told him the story about Yishmael, the story that we will read in the Torah on the first day of Rosh Hashana. Yishmael and his mother Hagar were sent away from Avraham and Sarah’s house. They were in the dry desert, and their water ran out. Yishmael cried and asked for water, but his mother couldn’t help him. She had no water in the desert and she left him in a shady spot and went to cry out her heart far away. “And she went and sat herself down at a distance, some bowshots away, for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat at a distance, lifted her voice, and wept.”

A shocking scene – the worst thing that can happen to a mother.

But then there is a turnaround: “An angel of G-d called Hagar from heaven and said to her, What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for G-d has heeded the cry of the youth in his present state.” The angel called out to Hagar and said, “Calm yourself, Hashem wants to help him. He won’t die.”

In the Midrash it says that at that moment angels appeared before Hashem and said, “Master of the World, you know that his descendants are going to put your children to death by thirst, and now you’re giving him water in the desert?”

And that’s what happened, as we know. The Babylonians who destroyed the Temple and exiled the Jews from the land allowed many of them to die of thirst. To this day, we suffer quite a bit at the hands of Yishmael’s descendants.

So why? Asked the angels. What are you helping him and giving him water?

I judge a person only according to his situation at the time of the trial – “in his present state,” replied Hashem. “I don’t judge his future or his descendants. I judge him at this moment, as he is now. “In his present state.”!

This is said in the Gemara in masechet Rosh Hashana as well: Rabbi Yitzchak said, a person is judged only according his deeds at that moment. In other words, a person who did Teshuva, regretted his past actions and resolved to do good deeds in the future, Hashem relates in his judgment to his actions today.

How does this work?

In the Chassidic teachings it is explained thus: It says in the Gemara in masechet Kiddushin, “A good thought is added on to a deed.” In other words, when we make a good resolution, Hashem gives us a chance and already takes into account the thought and the resolution we have made in our heart as if we have already done these deeds, as if we are already like that, and even gives us an advance salary, as it were. And so, there is definitely power and meaning to my acts and thoughts on this one day, especially if it is Rosh Hashana, because when he judges me, he is judging me according to who I am after I have done teshuva, even if this is so far confined to the heart alone.

That is the reason that we read the story about Hagar and Yishmael on Tosh Hashana. We must know one very clear thing: as with Yishmael, we too are judged according to our situation today.

And Isaac, if he would have known this, certainly would not have remained in the coffee shop on Rosh Hashana.

Wishing everyone a k’tiva v’chatima tova – to be written and sealed for the good, a good, sweet year, a year of happiness and joy, good health and wealth,


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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