Rosh Hashana: The Three Keys to a Favorable Judgment
When we contemplate the significance of Rosh Hashanah, how everything that will transpire during the coming year will be determined on these days, it could – and should – be very frightening. Fortunately, however, we have been told what we need to do to earn a favorable judgment. Our Rabbis have taught us that the three keys are "Kol," "Som," and "Mammon."
The word "Kol" – "voice" – refers to the sound of Torah study. We cleanse ourselves from the negative effects of sin through Torah learning. There is a Halachic principle that "Ke’bol’o Kach Polto," which means that when a utensil absorbs the taste of forbidden food, it is extracted the same way it was absorbed. And thus if a non-kosher food was cooked over a fire, the utensil must be exposed to fire for the taste of that forbidden food to be extracted so that the utensil may again be used. Sin leaves a "taste" within our souls, and this occurs as a result of "fire," the "flames" of desire. The way we eliminate these effects is through exposure to Torah learning, as Torah is likened to fire.
The word "Som," of course, means fasting. When a person fasts, he loses some of his body fat, and this loss is regarded as though it has been placed upon the altar like a sacrifice. In past generations, people would observe many fasts to atone for their wrongdoing. Even the Baba Sali, who lived recently, would often fast from Sunday through Friday, eating only at night. Nowadays, however, this is not recommended, as we are not fit to fast on a frequent basis. But the fasts of Som Gedalya and Yom Kippur, which we observe during this time of year, are vital components of our effort to earn atonement and ensure a favorable judgment.
The third key is "Mammon" (literally, "money") – our charitable donations. Auctions and appeals are made in the synagogue on the Yamim Nora’im not only because synagogues need money (which they certainly do), but also for our benefit, so we can perform this vital Misva of charity and thereby earn a favorable judgment.
These three words – "Kol," "Som" and "Mammon" – all have the same numerical value – 136 – to teach us that they are all vitally important and indispensable. One must not think that he can just make a donation to his synagogue and thereby be worthy of a successful year, nor should we assume that our fasting is independently sufficient. We need to make a firm commitment to all three measures – Torah learning, fasting and charity – as part of our effort to invoke G-d’s compassion as we stand judgment.
The Zohar teaches that the "Nekudot" – the "dots" above and below the Hebrew letters which make the vowel sounds – are laden with profound spiritual significance, and the "Kamatz" vowel represents the highest spiritual level (the level of "Keter"). The word "Kamatz" is an acrostic for the words "Kol," "Mammon" and "Som." These three measures combine to bring us to the highest spiritual levels. For good reason, the two vowel sounds of the word "Adam" ("man") are both a Kamatz. This demonstrates that both during one’s youth and in old age, he must be committed to these pursuits of "Kol," "Mammon" and "Som." These are the keys for arousing G-d’s compassion and earning His mercy and grace, and we must therefore utilize them throughout our lives, at every stage, especially this time of year, as we beseech the Almighty for a year filled with blessing, joy and prosperity for us, our families, our community, and all Am Yisrael.