What Is The Reason: Shehechiyanu, Mikvah, Tears & Graves
Why does the Shehechiyanu – the blessing we recite over a new fruit – of Rosh Hashana seem more important than any other? While I’m at it, I also wonder why we seem stricter about men going to the Mikvah
before Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur than any other time of the year. N.B.
There are Halachic reasons, based on the two-day holyday being treated as one long day. I would like to share a thought from the Holy Breslaver regarding this blessing:
There is a certain excitement and thrill when someone puts on a new garment. Whether wealthy or poor, people enjoy the feeling of wearing something new. That taste of excitement over something new can be used in all aspects of our lives. (Chayei Moharan #523)
We can certainly apply the Rebbe’s thought to the Shehechiyanu of Rosh Hashana. We can take the thrill of doing something new, even as insignificant as eating a new fruit, and apply it to all we do on Rosh Hashana, when all is new.
I also recall a story I heard about a Rebbe and his chassid. The chassid asked his holy master why the rebbe’s blessings were considered so special. “I also make a blessing before I eat!”
The rebbe replied: “You make a blessing in order to eat. I eat in order to be able to recite a blessing.”
The Shehechiyanu we recite on the second night of Rosh Hashana, is a time when we all eat just to have the opportunity to recite a blessing. The simple act can transform all the blessings of the coming year from the blessing of the chassid into the blessing of his rebbe.
We are very aware of the need for the highest level of forgiveness during this time of year: Taharah – Purity. The sin ceases to exist.
However, we should also keep the Chinuch (Mitzvah/Concept 173) in mind: A person who rises from the Mikvah – Ritual Bath – should look at himself as if he was just created. Just as the world was completely water before Adam was created, this man is rising from the Mikvah as Adam rose into the world, fresh and free of any sin.
Tears of Joy
I always hear you teach the importance of joy on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, yet, I see people cry as they pray. I have been told that the Ari HaKodesh encouraged tears on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Does this not contradict your emphasis on joy? Why do bridegrooms at religious weddings cry? Aren’t they supposed to be happy? C.A.
The Radal, in his commentary to Chapters of Rabbi Eliezer, explains that the rabbis believed that tears lessened someone’s hunger and allowed him to better focus on his prayers.
The Holy Berditchever (Likkutim) taught that a baby cries at birth to express the pain of the soul upon leaving a safe and comfortable world for this one filled with challenges. A bridegroom cries to give voice to the souls of the children that, hopefully, will result from this marriage.
We understand that life comes with challenges. We understand that even when we have moments filled with joy, we will have to confront all sorts of tests and trials, many of them self-created. That is why the Ari teaches we should cry: We rejoice in the moment of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, but we are aware how often we cause ourselves to lose such wonderful feelings. We are identifying the behaviors that limit our joy, and we weep over them.
Why do many have the custom of visiting the cemetery before Rosh Hashana? A.N.
The souls of the deceased derive great pleasure and benefit when people go to their graves and pray for their souls. These prayers also help those souls that are still stuck hovering over the grave to gain their freedom and rise to heaven. The souls that rise and arrive in Gan Eden speak to the souls in the Lower Garden, who then transmit the messages to the souls in the Higher Garden to pray for those who pray for them. This is also why we offer charity in memory of the deceased. (Amud HaAvodah, Chapter 14)