By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel -
With the High Holidays upon us, it is appropriate to discuss the significance of these days and how we can make the most out of them.
Let us discuss the repentance and judgment aspect of these days. We are told that God takes an accounting of the past year, our good deeds and our bad deeds, and gives us a New Year commensurate with them. The better we were in the past year, the better the new year will be.
We have all done at least some bad. Nobody is perfect. But the good news is that there is a way to have all bad deeds erased.
In the haunting and moving “Unetaneh Tokef” prayer that is recited on both Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we are given the secret to repentance and having our transgressions wiped from the slate. As the prayer tells us, the secret to forgiveness is: “Kol”, “Tzom”, and “Mammon.” Let’s explore what each of these represents.
Kol, meaning “voice,” refers to prayer and study, two important mitzvot (Torah commandments) where voice plays an important role. By praying for forgiveness, combined with extra Torah study at this time of year (we are told that Torah study is the greatest of all mitzvot), we have the potential to help influence the coming year for the good.
The word “tzom” means to “fast,” and this, of course, refers to the Yom Kippur fast, which, among other things, is intended to arouse repentance and atonement. Fasting is also symbolic of offering sacrifices in the Temple, something people would do to earn atonement for their sins in those days. Just like we would offer an animal, meat, as part of our sacrifice, our fasting also “sacrifices” some of our own meat.
The third key to repentance and atonement is “mamom,” meaning “money.” This refers to the giving of charity, something that we should increase at this time of year. Charity is explicitly mentioned as a mitzvah that can save one from any harsh decrees at any time, in general, and during the High Holidays in particular.
It is noted that the three words “kol,” “tzom” and “mammon” all have the same numeric value: 136. This teaches us that each one is vitally important and indispensable. Prayer is not enough. Fasting is not enough. Writing a check is not enough. We need all three in a cooperative, wholesome, and sincere manner in order to merit a better year.
We need to make a firm commitment to all three measures – Torah learning, fasting and charity – as part of our effort to invoke God’s compassion as we stand judgment.
Kol, mammon, and tzom are the secrets given to us by our sages on how to improve God’s judgment of us. Let us utilize this ancient secret properly, and may we merit a truly blessed and prosperous new year.