1. R’ Abahu tells us that the malachim in shamayim ask why it is that Bnei Yisrael do not say shirah [i.e. hallel] on Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur. Hashem answers that it is impossible for Bnei Yisrael to do so when the books of life and death are open and their fate hangs in the balance.
Don’t the malachim also know that the sifrei chaim v’meisim are open? Don’t we say in nesaneh tokef that even the malachim tremble in fear knowing that these are days of din?
My son quoted one of the Telzer Roshei Yeshiva as explaining that the malachim are afraid as well, but they view that fear as an unwelcome distraction. The motivation for their avodah comes from the pure intellectual knowledge that Hashem’s din is only l’tovah no matter what comes out. That's all that counts.
Hashem’s response is that the avodah he desires is not just avodah of the intellect, but avodah of the lev and emotion as well. Hashem wants to be served by feeling people, not just abstracted minds. Captain Kirk is the hero and Spock is the sidekick, not the other way around. If achieving that goal means sacrificing shirah because we are too consumed by the emotion of fear to give voice to it, it is a worthwhile sacrifice.
I wanted to explain the gemara based on an idea from R’ Yosef Engel we discussed a few months ago. The gemara says that David haMelech was criticized for saying, “Zmiros hayu li chukecha,” for comparing words of Torah to a zemer, a song. Why is that such a bad thing when our parsha tells us “Kisvu lachem es ha’shirah ha’zos” and calls Torah a shirah?
R' Yosef Engel distinguishes between the concept of zemer and the concept of shirah. Zemer is like the word zomer=pruning. It’s a means of clearing away that which is unneeded and that which inhibits growth. Torah of course helps clear away the bad midos, aveiros, and wrong thinking that prevents a person from turning into a ben Torah, but Torah is also much more than that – Torah itself is the energy that creates and inspires growth. Torah is a shirah, not just a zemer.
“Zamru l’Elokim zameiru…” The word “zemer” repeats itself multiple times in the perek of tehillim we recite before tekiyas shofar. R’ Levi Yitzchak m’Berdichev in his Kedushas Levi explains that on R”H and Y”K our avodah is one of zmirah, of pruning. We want to chop off any influence the midas ha’din may have and elevate the midas ha’rachamim.
The malachim were wondering what happened to “kisvu lachem es ha’shirah ha’zos,” our avodah of shirah. Hashem answered that on R”H and Y”K our avodah is “zamru l’Elokim zameiru.” Because the sifrei chaim and meisim are opened, our focus narrows to eliminating the danger of din more than on shirah.
2. On Rosh haShana man was created, and almost immediately he sinned and was expelled from Gan Eden. Why was he kicked out? The Torah explains, “V’atah pen yishlach YADO v’achal mei’eitz hachaim.” The Midrash comments, “Ain v’atah eleh lashon teshuvah.” Adam haRishon had a path back to his former state, a path of get to the eitz chaim through teshuvah. Adds the Sefas Emes, YADO = yud = 10. These are the 10 days of teshuvah which we find ourselves in.
“Vayishlach Avraham es yado va’yikach es ha’ma’acheles.” “Yishlach es yado” is completely extraneous. (I think the Kotzker explained that every muscle of Avraham’s being could not act contrary to ratzon Hashem. Hashem’s will, which Avraham did not know yet, was for Yitzchak to not be offered as a korban. Therefore, Avraham had to make an effort to extend his hand – “vayishlach es yado” – because it didn’t want to obey.) Here too, explains the Sefas Emes, YADO = the 10 days of teshuvah. Avraham had to rise above the natural rachmanus which a father has for a son. He had to escape the world of teva and grab onto the eitz chaim. That is the path of teshuvah, which forces a person to rise above his/her natural inclinations and reach for something which is higher and greater.