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Foreword by Rabbi Simcha Bunim Berger Shlit’a Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivah Gedolah of Bridgeport

Rosh Hashana

The Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva chapter 3 writes: “Just as an individual’s merits and sins are weighed at the time of his death, so too, the sins of every inhabitant of the world together with his merits are weighed on the festival of Rosh Hashanah. If one is found righteous, his [verdict] is sealed for life. If one is found wicked, his [verdict] is sealed for death. A Beinoni’s verdict remains tentative until Yom Kippur. If he repents, his [verdict] is sealed for life. If not, his [verdict] is sealed for death.”

The Talmud in Rosh Hashanah presents the concept of the Book of Life, in which righteous people are inscribed. The Talmud actually tells of three books – one of life, one of death (for the wicked), and one for those who are in the middle – between righteous and wicked. The Talmud states that the first two groups are inscribed and sealed immediately on Rosh Hashanah in their respective books, while those in the middle group are not written in until ten days later, on Yom Kippur. Now, it would seem obvious that the delay in inscribing those in the middle is due to the fact that they must decide to which group they belong. However, once that happens, they should be inscribed either in the book of life or the book of death. Why are they inscribed in a separate book?

The Struggle of Man

From the moment that Adam listened to the serpent and ate of the Eitz Hadaas, the Tree of Knowledge, man has struggled in choosing between good and evil. In every decision, we find ourselves weighing different options of right and wrong. Sometimes, these choices are clear, and often, they are clouded by doubt and uncertainty. The repeated decisions that we make ultimately mold us into what we become. Those who make positive choices again and again will be positive and good people, while those who make the wrong decisions will find themselves in a negative spiral, until they become negative and bad people.

There is a third category, however – the middle group. These people make both good and bad decisions. This group is neither exclusively righteous nor definitively wicked. Rather, they have both the good and the bad inside. This group continuously struggles.

The Three Books

The Three Books represent the essence of people, which can be divided into three groups; Righteous, Wicked and Beinoni. We live in a world where no one is perfect. As the saying goes: “Everyone makes mistakes.”

Yet for the righteous, their essence is pure and holy, their mistakes are their sins, and their sins are seen as “mistakes.” On the other side is the wicked. Their core is rotten. Although they might perform random acts of goodness, that too, is considered a mistake. For the middle group – known as the “Beinoni” – there are no mistakes! When they do good, they are good and fulfilling their true inner essence. However, when they choose to do the wrong thing, they are actually being evil. These are the three books that are opened every year on Rosh Hashanah. The righteous and the wicked are immediately inscribed in their books for their previous choices in life have molded them into whom and what they’ve become. These two groups are clearly defined.


The middle group is really a category in itself. Even when they make the right choice and are inscribed, they are not like the righteous and therefore don’t enter into their group. Rather, they clarify who they really are and as such purify themselves. They have to stop their endless struggle and take a stand. It is a process that the righteous have no need to experience. This process begins on Rosh Hashanah, continues over the ten days of repentance, and culminates on Yom Kipper. They are a group unto themselves, and they are inscribed as “Beinonim” who have reached their clarity and ultimately achieved their essence. Their book opens on Rosh Hashanah, but they are not written in and sealed until Yom Kipper. The question is: How does this happen?


The Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva provides us with an explanation. He writes that the shofar contains a special message. “Even though the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanahh is a decree, it contains an allusion. It is as if [the shofar’s call] is saying: Wake up you sleepy ones from your sleep, and you who slumber, arise. Inspect your deeds, repent, remember your Creator. Those who forget the truth in the vanities of time and throughout the entire year, devote their energies to vanity and emptiness which will not benefit or save them. Look to your souls. Improve your ways and your deeds and let every one of you abandon his evil path and thoughts.”

The Rambam explains that for those who have forgotten what is real and what is truly important, the shofar has the power to awaken them. The shofar does that by touching their core. It is, as chazal refer to it, as: “Devorim hayotzim min halev nichnasim el halev”-  things that come from the heart, pierce the heart. The shofar reminds us of Akeidas Yitzchok, when Avraham sacrificed his son Yitzchok. It was then that Avraham gave his entire heart to Hashem and Yitzchok gave his soul.

The “voice” of the shofar comes from the heart and soul of our Avos (forefathers). It is a call from their soul to our soul. It comes from the innermost part of a Jew, his Neshama, and as such can arouse his true essence. With this, the Beinoni begins the separation process.

“Aseres Yemi Teshuva” – The Ten days of Repentance

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Teshuva literally means “Return.” For those people who, “forget the truth and devote their energies to vanity and emptiness” (Rambam), in other words, they have gone astray from their own sense of righteousness, the awakening of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, will begin their Teshuva process. Their Neshamos have been touched and are now “wide awake.” Indeed, they are ready and primed to move on to the next step – when they are “Modeh al Haemes” – “Admitting the Truth” of their wayward actions. The ten days of Repentance is a period of introspection when the Beinoni can take a “step back” and reexamine all that he has done in the past year. The Torah allows a person these days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, to reflect on who he really is and what is important in his life. This time of reflection and repentance is what allows this actual separation of the man from his misdeeds, to take effect on Yom Kipper.

Yom Kippur: The Two Goats

The Torah portion that we read on Yom Kippur describes the “Avodah” the service that was performed by the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur. An integral part of the Avodah involved the two identical goats brought to the Temple. One goat was designated to Hashem and brought as a Korban (sacrifice). The other goat was sent to a barren wasteland called Azazel. Before sending away this second goat, the Kohen Gadol leaned his hands on the head of the goat, and confessed upon it all the sins of the children of Israel.

Let’s see how this Avodah is connected to the Beinoni.  The Torah requires that these goats must be identical. Why? The two goats represent the Beinoni, who, as we’ve mentioned, has both good and bad inside of him. He identifies equally to both parts of the internal struggle between good and evil. The animals look exactly the same, and so does the Beinoni. Although one goat represents the good of the nation and its blood will be brought before Hashem while the other carries the sins of the entire people to Azazel, the animals look exactly alike. This truly exemplifies the Beinoni. However, Yom Kippur is the day that the process that began on Rosh Hashanah is completed.

The Baal Teshuva

Let us say, that the Kohen Gadol who separates the two identical goats, bad from the good, represents the division that clarifies the status of the Beinoni; thus bringing the first goat to Hashem actually allows the second goat to go to Azazel, and separates the Beinoni from his other self. The ultimate separation of self happens when the blood, or Nefesh – which is considered to be the lower level of the Soul – of the first goat is sprayed on the Mizbeach (Alter), and the second goat is sent away.

This teaches us a valuable lesson. It is the soul that was awakened on Rosh Hashanah, and has spent the last week struggling to distance itself from all that it shouldn’t have done, that is now  brought up upon the altar. It is a process directly connected to the goat-separation process. The bringing of the first goat to Hashem actually allows the second goat to go to Azazel, and separates the Beinoni from his other self. The closeness of our nefesh now completes the process. What is the end result?

This is the book of the Beinoni – and in reality it is the book of the Baal Teshuva, the one who repents his evil deeds. Our sages tell us: “The place where the Baal Teshuva stands, even the complete righteous cannot stand.”

Now we can better understand why the Baalei Teshuva have their own book. While this book is harder to write, and definitely takes a lot longer than the book of the righteous, it is written and sealed on the holiest day of the year – Yom Kippur. For this reason, no one – not even the completely righteous – can stand near them.

It is our bracha and tefila that this Sefer Torah Tavlin on Yomin Naroyim written by my dear friend and chavrusa Reb Dovid Hoffman will inspire many to reveal their pintele yid  As the shofar has the koach (strength) to awaken because it comes from the heart, so should the words of this sefer arouse those Jews who thirst for the Dvar Hashem – the word of G-d.

Bezras Hashem, may we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.

Simcha Bunim Berger

Erev Shabbos

11 Sivan 5772


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