the Decree on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
By Avi Lazerson
congregations, the following phrase from the liturgy is one of
the repeated themes for both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur:
|“Repentance, Prayer and Charity
change the evil of the decree” (“T’shuva, Tephilah, and
Tzedakah maverin et Roeh HaGezerah”).
ostensibly that if a difficult decree has been declared upon a person he
may change it through one of these three avenues:
Prayer, or Charity.
interesting that the study of Torah is not mentioned in this statement.
Why not? The study of Torah is considered by the sages to be equal to all
the other mitzvoth. Indeed if Torah is considered equal or greater than
all other mitzvoth, shouldn’t it be included in the formula for
annulling an evil decree?
A further question
is that the Hebrew words Roeh HaGezerah do not really mean “evil decree”
but the “evil of the decree”. What we are capable of changing is not
the decree, but the evil which is within the decree.
As an example,
a decree may be that a person is to be rich or poor. But this is not of
itself good or bad. A person may be poor but enjoy good health and have no
expenses, so being poor is not necessarily bad for him. Another may become
wealthy and have health problems coupled with financial worries and tax
problems from the government. Therefore, when we say, “Roeh HaGezerah”,
we refer not to an evil decree, but the evil that is within the decree.
We cannot change the decree, but we can change the manner in which the
decree becomes manifest.
these three things, Repentance, Prayer and Charity, effect a change?
If a king
were to issue a harsh decree upon a servant who behaved improperly, the
servant could do three things to avert this punishment.
First, the servant could try to speak to the king directly in order to try
to change the king’s attitude towards him. This is like prayer.
Through our prayer we can reach directly to G-d and request that He
change His decree.
The second mode
is through repentance. The errant servant can apologize and express his
regret to the king and vow never to repeat his folly. Repentance should
not be understood as merely feeling regret for a misdeed. Rather it
encompasses a change of the person’s direction in life. In this manner,
the person is saying in effect, “Look at me, I am not the same person. I
am different now so the punishment is unnecessary.”
The third method
is that of giving charity. If the first two methods of changing the bad
decree were by changing the principals involved, charity is like the
servant taking from his own time and money and doing the kings work. This
is in effect similar to saying, “Look at me, I am trying to help you do
your job, I am with you, not against you.” It is G-d’s “job” to
help the creature that He brought forth into the world. By giving charity,
you are giving a “loan” to G-d. (see Talmud Baba Batra 10a). We are
in effect becoming a partner in His work. We are “with Him, not against
The study of Torah,
great as it may be, cannot effect these changes. Torah is our guide book
that tells us how to properly repent, how to pray, and what the laws of
charity are. If we merely learn Torah but do not increase our prayers,
change our direction, and involve ourselves in charity, then our learning
becomes a prosecuting agent against us. If we learn Torah and do not
perform the instructions that are within it, then we are not performing as
we are taught. We are worse than someone who does not learn and sins! To
learn Torah and not perform its instructions is tantamount to considering
the Torah as not relevant to our lives!
insure that a new year is a pleasant year, we must arm ourselves with
these three weapons which can destroy the evil in G-d’s decrees and turn
them into pleasant decrees. We must change our direction in life to be one
which leads to G-d, we must petition Him in our prayers that He may change
any evil in His decrees, and we must involve ourselves in doing G-d’s
work – the helping of unfortunates.
Shanah Tovah U’Mitukah, may the coming
year be a good and sweet one for you!
Lazerson is a staff writer for the Jewish Magazine, http://www.jewishmag.com