Origin Story: The Rosh HaShana Greeting

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By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com

It is the one greeting that has found its way into the codified minhagim of Klal Yisroel. The Ramah tells us (OC 582:9) that it is the custom, after Maariv of Rosh Hashana, for everyone to say to each other, “leshana Tova tikasaiv – For a good year, you should be written.” The reader should forgive the awkward translation – it is for a reason. The parenthesis in Shulchan Aruch shows that the source of the Ramah is the Tur.

DO WE ADD THE WORD “SEALED”

This wording, of course, is not the only version, however. The Mogain Avrohom writes that one should add usechasaim – and sealed right after tikasaiv, giving us the famous wording “written and sealed.” The Vilna Gaon, however, writes that it should not be added.

GREETING HAS CHANGED

The wording of the greeting, however, has changed significantly over the years. The Tur’s version is “Tekasaiv b’shana Tova – Be written to a good year.” The Ramah and Vilna Gaon have “l’shana tova tikasaiv.” The Mogain Avrohom, Chayei Odom and Mateh Ephraim all have “l’shana tova tikasaiv usechasaim.”

THE SLABODKA VERSION

In the Yeshiva of Slabodka the wording was much more extensive: leshana tova tekasaiv usechasaim l’alter ul’chaim tovim u’l’shalom – You should be written and sealed for a good year, immediately, and for a good life and for peace.”

So where did the words “l’alter l’chaim” come from? The wording of course comes from the Gemorah in Rosh hashana 16b where it discusses the three seforim that are opened and that complete tsaddikim are inscribed for life immediately.

REASON FOR THE VARIOUS VERSIONS

The dispute, of course, is not random. It is based upon how to understand the various Gemorahs that discuss the three books of Rosh Hashana. The three Gemorahs are Rosh HaShana 16b, the Talmud Yerushalmi (Rosh Hashana page 7), and Rosh hashana 17b. The disputes revolve around whether a particular Gemorah is referring to life in this world or life in the world-to-come and also whether it refers to an individual or a tzibbur, a community. There is a debate between Tosfos and the Ran regarding these matters. According to the Vilna Gaon’s understanding of Tosfos, all three groups (tsaddikim, rasha’im and bainonim, spiritual middlings) are written on Rosh haShana and sealed on Yom Kippur. According to the Ran, it is only the middlings who are sealed on Yom Kippur. Rav Aharon Kotler (Mishnas Rav Aharon Vol. II) has a lengthy explanation of it.

DO WE NEED TESHUVAH OR JUST MORE MERITS?

There may also be another fundamental debate between the Ran and the Rambam as to whether a Bainoni, a spiritual middling, requires to do repentance or whether it is sufficient just to have more Mitzvos. The Ran states that it is enough to have more Mitzvos, while the Rambam holds that repentance is actually required. This debate may also depend upon whether we follow the Yerushalmi’s understanding of the books or the Babylonian Talmud’s understanding, or at least the simple reading of it.

THE END DEADLINE

There is an end deadline (no pun intended) to the greeting as well. The Lvush writes that one may only say this greeting until three hours. The reason is that the righteous are judged in the first three hours of the day, according to the Gemorah. We do not want to make the tragic mistake of assuming that our friend is not a Tzaddik. The idea that we should consider ourselves a bainoni, a spiritual middling, is only for ourselves – but decidedly not in regard to others.

The Mogain Avrohom extends the time until chatzos – until half the day.

The Aishel Avrohom allows tekasaiv to be said until chatzos and allows techasaim after chatzos.

The Eliyahu Rabbah allows it to be said until the end of the first day of Rosh HaShana.

This debate as well is predicated upon how the aforementioned Gemorahs are understood.

RAV HUTNER’S EXPLANATION

Rav Hutner zatzal has a maamar (Pachad Yitzchok RH #14) explaining why the Vilna Gaon did not say “and be inscribed.” In a nutshell, he explains that the sealed refers to the great Yom haDin that is to occur in the future.

CONCLUSION

So which one should we do? The answer of course is to follow our Mesorah, our traditions, as to exactly what to say. When we follow our family traditions, we fulfill another Mitzvah of following Mesorah.

May everyone have a ksiva vachima tova – l’alter ulchaim tovim ul’shalom.

The author can be reached at [email protected]


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