“Halleluyah! I praise the Lord with all my heart in the assembled congregation of the upright.” (Tehilim 111:1)
I thank God for giving me the privilege of learning and teaching Torah. In His great kindness, He has helped me to write about the laws of the Yamim Nora’im, the Days of Awe.
As in my previous books, first I discuss generalities and only then go into detail. Within each topic, I first emphasize the underlying principles to which all agree. Thus, the laws are explained clearly and logically from both the halakhic and the philosophical perspectives. (For an illustration of this, see chapter 4, where the laws of teru’a and their significance are discussed.) This methodology makes it clear that often disagreements are not as serious as they may seem at first glance. Examples of such disagreements include the discussion of the time of judgment (1:3-4), the question of what Yom Kippur alone atones for, and what requires repentance as well (chapter 6), the laws pertaining to confession (7:6-7), and the parameters of the mitzva to fast (9:1).
The idea of Jewish collectivity is a major theme in the halakhot of the Days of Awe. God chose us from among all peoples to be His special people, designated to manifest His presence and repair the world. The idea of Jewish chosenness is the foundation for repentance and atonement. True, many learned people emphasize the private, individual aspects of repentance. As a result, despite all their intellectual and emotional endeavors, their perspectives remain limited. They ignore the passages of the Seliḥot (penitential prayers), which speak of the redemption of the Jewish people from exile and destruction (below, 2:2-3), as well as the prayers of the Days of Awe, in which the honor of God and Israel are a central theme (3:6). The repentance that we are meant to engage in during the Days of Awe is the repentance of the Jewish people collectively. Just as the Kohen Gadol would confess on behalf of the entire Jewish people, so too, each individual confesses for the entire community, in the plural (7:4). Similarly, in my explanation of the Thirteen Divine Attributes of Mercy, I show that the basis for atonement is embodying and connecting to the attributes through which God is manifested in this world (2:8). I also address the significance of Israel’s unique ability to repent and sustain the world (1:9); the certainty of ultimate repentance (3:4-5); the broader meaning of Yom Kippur (chapter 6); the avoda of the Kohen Gadol (chapter 10); and the special place of the Kodesh Ha-kodashim, which corresponds to the highest level of divine unification (10:2).
It is apparent that the dispersal of the Jewish people across the globe often caused many to neglect the collective basis of repentance and the Days of Awe. However, by studying Torah sources without preconceptions we can see that the roots and foundations of repentance and the Days of Awe lie within the principles of faith in God, the election of Israel, and the promise of redemption, as Rav Kook explains with great elaboration and depth. May it be God’s will that by studying the laws of the Days of Awe and their meaning, we will understand all these fundamental and profound concepts.
I still remember walking with my father and teacher, R. Zalman Baruch Melamed, from our home in the Givat Mordechai neighborhood to Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav in Kiryat Moshe on the Days of Awe. Though I was a child, the glorious, awe-inspiring prayers made an indelible impression on me. As long as I could, I prayed there. As the years go by, it becomes clearer to me how deeply its exalted atmosphere continues to influence me. The beit midrash was permeated by the spirit of the yeshiva’s founder, the great luminary of recent generations, our master, Rav Kook, and that of my master and teacher R. Zvi Yehuda Kook. True, R. Zvi Yehuda prayed in the yeshiva’s old building in central Jerusalem, because how could he not pray where his father prayed? Nevertheless, his influence upon those praying in Kiryat Moshe was enormous. I have a vague memory of the prayers of the tzadik, R. Aryeh Levin. On the first day of Rosh Ha-Shana, he led the Musaf service, and on Yom Kippur he led Ma’ariv, Musaf, and Ne’ila. Musaf on the second day of Rosh Ha-Shana was led by R. Mordechai Fromm, a rebbi at the yeshiva and Rav Kook’s grandson-in-law. According to R. Levin, he was recreating the prayers as he heard them in the Volozhin Yeshiva, which trace back to Maharil. After R. Levin passed away, R. Zvi Yehuda asked my father to serve as ḥazan in his place. I heard from our relative, R. Mordechai Sternberg, that the prayers of my father were so similar to the prayers of R. Levin, both in voice and style, that if R. Steinberg closed his eyes it seemed like R. Levin was leading the prayers. My father intoned his prayers in a humble and beseeching manner, like a son trying to appease his father.
In the front, to the right of the ḥazan, sat R. Avraham Shapira, R. Shaul Yisraeli, R. Fromm, and then my father. To the left, facing the ḥazan, was R. Kook’s grandson, R. Shlomo Raanan, may God avenge his blood. I will never forget how he encouraged me to recite together with him the description of the Kohen Gadol’s counting: “One, one and one, etc.” As a child, I wondered about this counting, as it seemed to be very important in light of its prominence in the avoda. As an adult, I continued to wonder about it and its significance. The explanation I offer for it (10:11 below) is dedicated to his memory.
I still remember R. Shabtai Shmueli, the yeshiva’s administrator and one of its first students, chanting “Ha-Melekh” in a trembling voice from his seat, and then walking up to the front to lead Shaḥarit. Later he would also blow the shofar. When he became too weak, my uncle, R. Eitan Eiseman (who walked with us from Givat Mordechai), took his place, becoming the regular shofar blower. My uncle also taught me how to blow the shofar. This provided him with the opportunity to fulfill the words of the Sages: “We do not prevent children from blowing [the shofar on Rosh Ha-shana]. Rather, they may be helped until they learn how to blow” (Rosh Ha-shana 33a; Rema 596:1). I remember the kiddush that the rebbe’im made before Musaf in a classroom with R. Fromm, and the tension in the air in anticipation of the upcoming Musaf prayer.
After Rav Levin passed away, my teacher and master, Rav Shapira, served as the ḥazan for Ne’ila. Following the death of R. Fromm, R. Shapira led Musaf on one of the days of Rosh Ha-Shana as well. When my father moved to Beit El, R. Shapira served as ḥazan for every Musaf. His heartfelt, emotional prayers inspired awe and touched everyone’s heart.
Generally, we prayed Kol Nidrei and Ne’ila in Givat Mordechai. There I had the privilege of praying with laymen, some of whom were Holocaust survivors, and of hearing R. Yehuda Amital zt”l lead the services. His melodies, full of warmth and longing for closeness to God, had an impact on me. Eventually, after R. Amital began to pray at Yeshivat Har Etzion, my father would lead the Ne’ila prayer, which he was doing when the Yom Kippur War broke out and people were called out of synagogue and sent to the front.
When I try to unpack the special atmosphere of Mercaz HaRav, I think that in addition to the enthusiasm found in all yeshivas, there was a unique spirit of earnestness, simple fear of God, tremendous love for all Jews, and idealism. The Torah scholars and students there had a heartfelt connection with soldiers in the army, with settlers making the wastelands of our land flourish, with all the residents of Israel, and with the Jews of the diaspora. Above all, they longed for the dissemination of the Torah of Eretz Yisrael, which would bring redemption to the world. My teacher R. Zvi Yehuda emphasized this in his classes, which I had the privilege of attending during my years in yeshiva.
With this book, I hope to convey some of the inspiration that I was privileged to experience in Rav Kook’s yeshiva during the Days of Awe.
Here I wish to thank R. Maor Cayam, who teaches at Yeshivat Har Bracha and who studied with me and supported me throughout. With his talents and diligence, he brought to my attention many sources which helped clarify issues and served as the basis for key explanations and interpretations. He also worked hard preparing the volume of Harḥavot, which provides additional sources and explanations. I also would like to thank R. Bar’el Shevach, who helped clarify various topics, and R. Yonadav Zar, who helped edit the entire book. I thank R. Maor Horowitz for his help in editing the language and content of the book and preparing it for publication. I would also like to thank R. Netanel Rosenstein for writing the index. Thanks to R. Ze’ev Sultanovitch for his advice and enlightening comments. R. Azarya Ariel’s input regarding the avoda of the Kohen Gadol was very helpful, as were R. Yisrael Ariel’s Maḥzor Ha-Mikdash and R. Moshe Odess’s Ve-hashev et Ha-avoda.
It is not easy to translate halakha with precision and clarity. I am thankful to the translator, Dr. Yocheved Cohen, to the primary editor, R. Elli Fischer, to the copy editor, Nechama Unterman, and to R. Maor Cayam for reviewing the halakhic contents in translation.
The students of Yeshivat Har Bracha (current and former) and the members of the Har Bracha community are full partners in this book. Experiencing the Days of Awe with them year after year provided me with the opportunity to develop my thinking about the holidays and to put the pertinent laws into practice. While writing this book, the input of yeshiva students and community members helped me clarify many issues. I presented a first draft of this book in a series of lectures whose audience provided important feedback and insightful comments about its content and formulations. The audience was comprised of Sephardim, Ashkenazim, and Yemenites, enabling me to incorporate a wide range of customs. “I learned much from my teachers, even more from my friends, and most of all from my students” (Ta’anit 7a).
I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation to my father and teacher, Rav Zalman Baruch Melamed, Rosh Yeshiva of the Beit El Yeshiva, and to my mother and teacher. They have provided me with the foundations of my Torah and my worldview. Special thanks to my dear wife Inbal, who dedicates all her energy to amplifying and glorifying the Torah and encourages my learning and the publication of my books for the public good. May it be God’s will that we have the privilege to see all our sons and daughters, our grandsons and granddaughters, advance in Torah and mitzvot, establish wonderful families, and increase truth, ḥesed, and peace forever.
Finally, I would like to thank all those who dedicate themselves to the holy task of developing the yeshiva and publishing its books: R. Yaakov Weinberger, the yeshiva’s director; Yoni Buzaglo, responsible for printing and distributing; Avishai Greenstein, responsible for marketing; Nechama Rosenstein, who typesets the volumes (including the one before you) and prepares it for print; Yonaton Behar, who actively maintains the strong English social media presence of Peninei Halakha; and R. Elli Fischer, who manages the relationships with our distributors in the English-speaking world and with Sefaria, the latest channel for accessing Peninei Halakha alongside so many other Torah works. May God grant all who help and facilitate the project the necessary wisdom and strength to succeed in their work. May they be privileged to establish fine families. May God fulfill all their hearts’ desires in the best possible way.
And so may Your name be sanctified, Lord our God, through Israel Your nation and Jerusalem, Your city, and Zion, the dwelling place of Your honor, and through the royal house of David Your anointed, and Your Sanctuary and Your Temple. And so instill Your awe, Lord our God, upon all Your works, and Your dread upon all You have created, and all your works will stand in fear of You, and all of creation will worship You, and they will be bound all together as one to carry out Your will with an undivided heart…. And so grant honor, Lord, to Your people, praise to those who fear You and hope to those who seek You, the confidence to speak to all who long for You, gladness to Your land and joy to Your city, the flourishing of pride to David Your servant, and a lamp laid out to his descendant, Your anointed, soon, in our days.
(From the Amida of the Days of Awe)