Dealing with Adversity – Facing our Enemies

Lessons From Rosh Hashanah

Rabbi Yosef Gesser

We have already established in the previous two installments that adversity strikes us on both an individual and communal level. We discussed perspectives and strategies for confronting challenges to the individual. There is more to say about that. But in this third column, we will focus on adversity on the communal level in connection with Rosh Hashanah.

As we mentioned, Klal Yisrael over the centuries has endured unspeakable suffering at the hands of our enemies — Churban Beis Hamikdash, Galus, Tach v’Tat (the Cossack Massacres of 1648-49), the Crusades, the Holocaust. The continued existence of the Am Hashem in vibrant enclaves of Jewish life worldwide manifests that Hashem, in spite of all this, continues to watch over us.

Yet, in our times oppression has reared its ugly head again as acts of antisemitism have intensified in the United States, especially in the New York area, and terrorism has increased in recent months in Eretz Yisrael. People ponder how to deal with it. Some communities have opted to upgrade security at shuls and other Jewish institutions. Still, other people have suggested carrying weapons for self-defense. Hishtadlus in the realm of the physical not supplemented with a spiritual response — namely self-betterment and tefillah — is substandard and inadequate since the Ribbono shel Olam is sending us a message through these occurrences and it should behoove us to strive to grasp the message.

In terms of tefillah, the customs of Leil Rosh Hashanah offer direction.

On that evening, as prepare ourselves for judgment before the Beis Din shel Maalah, we bolster our efforts toward earning rachamei Shamayim with the a time-hallowed practice. We place on the table the simanim, literally signs or omens — foods whose names are auspicious intimations that we entering a year of Divine favor and blessing. While an apple and challah dipped in honey (or sugar) are essentially universally used, other foods are often used as well depending on each family’s custom.

In conjunction with each of these foods we recite a short tefillah that begins “Yehi ratzon — May it be Your will, Hashem …” . Three of them interestingly deal with confronting the enemies of Klal Yisrael. We eat (according to some, just gazing at it is sufficient) leeks or cabbage (karsi) with the tefillah that our enemies be decimated (sheyikarsu soneinu); beets, beet leaves or spinach (silka) over which we petition that our adversaries be removed (sheyistalku oveinu); and dates (tamarim) on which we ask that our enemies be consumed (sheyitamu soneinu).

Perhaps a lesson that we can extrapolate from the concept of the simanim is the centrality of tefillah and by extension, ruchniyus-based efforts, to confound those who seek to do us harm.

But we don’t need to go out of our way to accomplish this. A look at our daily supplications shows that we are already davening for this.

One place is Hashkiveinu in Maariv and in the seder of Krias Shema al Hamitah — where we entreat “Shield us and remove from before us enemy, plague, sword, famine and grief.”

Another is in Elokay Netzor, at the conclusion of Shemoneh Esrei, after the words “Open my heart to your Torah and then my soul will pursue Your mitzvos,” after which we ask, “Regarding all who plot evil against me hastily nullify their counsel and spoil their plot.” It is said in the name of the Abudraham who here references sefer Tehillim (119: 86-87) where Dovid Hamelech links his keeping the mitzvos with an entreaty to confound his enemies — “They had almost destroyed me on earth but I did not abandon your mitzvos,” and we do the same.

In Birkas Hamazon we intone “Veharvach lanu Hashem Elokeinu meheirah mikol tzaroseinu — and may Hashem, our G-d,relieve us quickly from all our afflictions,” We can have in mind the various travails that confront us or others, which includes those posed by our foes.

Although it may seem that the nations have a great track record in causing us anguish, the two pesukim of Tehillim 117 suggest otherwise: “Praise Hashem all nations; laud him all the peoples. For His kindness has overwhelmed us and the truth of Hashem is forever, Hallelukah.”

Why are the nations of the world praising Hashem? Surely not because of His chessed to Klal Yisrael. The Bnei Yissaschar offers a mashal of an unsavory person placing an obstacle in the path of a blind man to see him stumble. Somehow, the blind man circumvents the impediment, unaware of the miracle that just occurred. However, the prankster sees it openly. Similarly, the nations plot nefarious schemes to destroy us, but Hashem upends their plans, unbeknownst to the Yidden who are not privy to the evil plans from which Hashem delivered them. Only the nations themselves see these open demonstrations of Hashem’s kindness to His People. Therefore, in this sense, only the nations can properly praise Him!’

May our observance of the simanim and the heartfelt recitation of the accompanying supplications, together with the increased recognition we gain thereby of Hashem’s merciful orchestration of our lives, generate zechuyos that will earn us and Klal Yisrael a kesivah vachasimah tovah, and protection from our enemies.

Rabbi Yosef Gesser is a veteran writer for Hamodia Newspaper and Inyan Magazine as well as an inspirational speaker on various topics, including dealing with adversity. He can be reached at

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