THE JERUSALEM JEWISH VOICE
ROSH HASHANA REFLECTIONS
THIS STUDY IS DEDICATED BY DR. YIGAL YAHAV, IN MEMORY OF HIS BROTHER YAIER
A HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO THE UNIVERSE AND A GOOD YEAR OF GROWTH TO ISRAEL & ALL MANKIND; MAY BOTH JEWS AND ARABS SOON TURN BACK TO THE TORAH, BRINGING PEACE TO ISRAEL
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The transgressions that we remember (and for which we beg forgiveness), the Holy One forgets; The transgressions that we forget, the Holy One remembers;
The good deeds that we remember (and boast about), the Holy One forgets; The good deeds that we forget (and for which we request no reward), the Holy One remembers (Rav S. Riskin, quoting the Karliner Rebbe-- but Rav J. Soloveichik stresses our need to remember our good accomplishments, so that we feel capable of adding to them, and of not dwelling too much upon our sins, lest we view ourselves as sinful beings; as Rav psychologist Chaim Lifshitz, he discouraged public teaching of Luzzato's self-castigating Mesillat Yesharim, which may break those who already possess a highly negative self-image; is this an example of gloomy hasidim and merry misnagdim?).
A. HOLIDAYS & HOLYDAYS
It's 5758-- true, we're one year further away from God's Revelations in Eden and at Sinai, but we're also one year closer to His re-Revelation in Israel in the Messianic Age. In previous years, we played with possible meanings of dates; this year I won't, as its sort of silly and a waste of time!-- e.g. 5756, written "Tashnu", can be read: "you shall change", perhaps a holistic hint of major shifts in Israel and the world in 5756, e.g. Israel's return to a more Jewish government. Change, via individual and communal repentance, is to help re-create God's original very good Creation, to engender a much better world-- the major theme of every Jewish New Year; it's the opposite of wild abandon, masking existential despair, so typical of Sylvester, the non-Jewish New Year's Day-- no Jew should celebrate it, especially in Israel. The Torah proclaims that every Jewish holiday is to be "Mikra Kodesh Lachem", "a sacred occasion, (yet) for you (Judaism is good for Jews!)", like Shabbat ("more than the Jews preserved Shabbat, Shabbat preserved the Jews"-- Bialek, a poetic soul who was, perhaps unfortunately, educated in the cool analytic Volozhin Yeshiva, while his buddy, cool analytic Asher Ginzberg, Ahad Haam, was. perhaps unfortunately, raised to be a passionate Sadagura chassidic scholar)-- so may joyful prayer, with holy song, dance and feasts, soon replace little plastic hammers and profane rock stars on Yom Haatzmaut!
Unfortunately, many Israeli extremists, both CHaredi and CHiloni (all extremes begin with a "chet", an error, a life too much based on fear, CHarada, or empty of meaning and purpose, CHol), agree that there's no connection between Israel's miraculous rebirth and the God of Israel. Eliyahu Kitov prays that both see the balanced religious Zionist light soon!
BACK TO 5757: Can we see any symbolic meaning in "5757", "tashnaz", tof-shin-nun-zayin? Since God made his world such that Heinz and its 57 varieties became famous in our age, 5757 may hint at a year of especially great variety! Was it? Variety is indeed the spice of life in God's so variegated and colorful world (little of His creation is black!). I know of no meaning for the word tashnaz, but check out other parsha sheets, more into the numbers game. Same for this coming year, tashnach. The late Rebbe would have probably tried! Ariel Tzvi Fogelman, who had just gotten his driving license, suggested that Tashnaz could, and should, stand for: "May it be a year of careful driving! (n'higa z'hira)". The Jewish 1/4 Moross Center blended Hebrew and Yiddish: "t'he shana (zo) niflaa (v')zayer git"-- "May this be a wonderful and very good year."-- Was it? Chassidic Carlebachian "Street Rabbi" Dovid Hertzberg was interviewed in Shalom Freedman's "In The Service of God", together with me and 19 other Torah teachers; he interpreted tashnaz as: "May this be a year of female-male (nekava-zachor)", of each gender realizing its leit-motif, while developing its opposite gender sub-motif, that men and women both realize their full potential and relate to each other in harmony and cooperation. Was it such?
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WHAT'S IN A NAME? The Torah itself never calls RH RH, nor other traditional names, which reflect its major themes-- The Birthday of the Universe, The Day of Judgement, The Day of Memory; this "first day of the 7th month" (7 suggests its shabbat-like reflective function) of the holiday calendar (beginning with Nissan) is just called "Yom T'ruah Lachem"-- "a day of impressive sound (Hirsch), of blowing the shofar*, FOR YOU" (Num. 29:1); it's also called "A Sabbath Day FOR YOU", "Yom Zichron T'ruah"-- a day of REMEMBERING blowing the shofar, a sacred occasion (Lev. 23:23f). Only in Ezekial 40:1 is the term RH used in the Bible, apparently, at first glance, simply noting the beginning, the first month, not the first day, of the universal natural year: "In the 25th year of our captivity, at the beginning of the year, in the tenth day of the month (Yom Kippur)..."; but the rabbis say that this was a jubilee year (yovel), whose first day as such, its "Rosh Hashana", is on the 10th of Tishre, Yom Kippur, when slaves are set free and the shofar is blown. But the Jewish holiday calendar year begins in Nissan, Pesach thus being the "first" holiday:
* Lev. 25:9 links "blowing" to the shofar.
What's shofar all about? Why is it the Torah's sole RH mitzva? Perhaps we somehow do experience ALL our traditonal RH themes when we hear shofar, and Yom Kippur's messages when our stomachs and palates fast. God's school of life contains a vast array of audio-visual aids to convey its messages.
Rambam connects Shofar with repentence; he usually just lists laws in his code, Mishna Torah, explaining them only in his much later work, The Guide to the Perplexed. Yet in his Laws of Repentence (rather than in his technical Laws of Shofar), he expounds God's message, innate in His Torah decree of listening to Shofar on RH-- "Wake up, sleepyheads... inspect your deeds, repent, remember your Creator. Those who forget the truth in fleeting time, and devote their energies all year to transient and empty things, which won't benefit or save-- look to your souls! Improve your paths and your deeds and let everyone of you abandon his evil path and thoughts" (Tshuva 3:4; so Pesikta D'Rav Kahana claims that the shofar's call is intended to startle its listeners and motivate them to sincere repentence; Vayikra Raba (29:6) relates Shofar to the word "shaper", to improve-- wake up and shape up!).
Isaac Arama also claims that the principal task of the shofar is to arouse spiritual awe in the heart of those who respond to it, as Amos proclaims: "Shall the shofar be blown in the city and the people not tremble?" (3:6). The joyful tekia sounds reflect the righteous and their future rewards; the teruah notes of awe and fear parallel the quaking and trembling of the wicked on the day of judgment, whilst the average man is filled with a mixture of joy, sadness and hope, like the shevarim sounds, intermixed with the tekiot and teruot. YF: God, author of the entire holistic universe, designed it in such fashion that a sheep's horn, developed and used by man, should be so resonate in the human soul that it can bring man back to God and himself; the passive gentle nature of sheep, together with human ingenuity, skill and initiative, exhibited in the fashioning and blowing of the shofar, are likely a necessary combo of passivity and activity-- to present a model of, and engender, Man's proper relationship to Divinity, as found in both God and his own Divine soul.
So we see the connection between "a day of blowing" and RH's major themes-- Divine Kingship, Judgement, and Repentence (malchuyot). " A day of blowing" may also allude to the other 2 focuses of our awesome musaf liturgy-- Providential world history, from Eden on (zichronot), and God's Revelation to man, past and future (shofarot), both connected to shofar. In his high level discussion of Shofar for Milah, Rav Daniel Landes, director of Pardes, presented views that we have to blow shofar during the standing amida, even tho we may have already fulfilled our duty in the previous blowing, as these prayers were intended to be said amidst, and accompanied by, shofar blasts. He also equated Satanic impulses with our tendency to see things only from our own viewpoint and vantage point-- hopefully the Shofar blasts help us get out of this trap, "trick Satan!".
But these themes are more likely linked to Lev. 23:23, which calls Rosh Hashana "a day of REMEMBERING (via?) blowing..." (besides its allusion to the later rabbinic prohibition of blowing the shofar on Shabbat). Saadya Gaon explains-- shofar also reminds us of that great day, when God revealed Himself to the Jewish People and proclaimed the Decalogue, amidst sounding of trumpets and shofars (Ex. 19:19; in the temple too, trumpets accompany the shofar); that day He gave Israel its unique mission-- to become His "kingdom of Priests AND Holy Nation" for the rest of mankind from the State of Israel (Ex. 19:6). A "Kingdom of priests" denotes our holy activity-- studying, praying and performing mitzvos. But a model nation must also do everything which a normal nation does, e.g. army, schools, social security, medical research, farming, police, etc.; we must then apply what we've learnt and experienced as a "kingdom of priests" to raise each realm of national life to its holy potential, a model for all mankind's return to Eden via Jerusalem-- to be "A holy nation"; see Isaiah 2.
The shofar of RH also awakens us to "remember", to keep alive in our mind and heart, another shofar, proclaiming our true dream and hope for 4000 years-- to be a HOLY, not only a free, people in our land (even Ovadia Yosef can sing such an improved Hatikva-- see, buy and display our bumper sticker with this message-- $1 from TOP): "It shall be on that day, a great shofar shall be blown-- the lost (assimilated) ones, in the land of `Ashur' (i.e. prosperity and happiness, e.g. USA Today) and the downtrodden ones, in the land of `Mitzrayim' (i.e. narrow places of physical and spiritual oppression, e.g. the USSR, Syria and Iran), shall come and bow down to God on the holy mountain, in Jerusalem" (Is. 27:13, which comes alive in a niggun of Shlomo Carlebach, who taught all, Jew and non-Jew, to experience the ultimate ideal world of Shabbos, even in the horrible here-and-now). Shofar also accompanies resurrection of the dead (Is. 18:3) and proclamation of God's Kingship over all His Creation (Ps. 98:6). It alludes to the ram caught by its horns, after Yitzchak's Akada, another major RH theme. May the shofar of Rosh Hashana, the shofar at Sinai and the great shofar of Meshiach all constantly and deeply reverberate within us, that we be wide awake thruout 5758.
A DAY OF CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING AND ITS AFTERMATH: We don't fast or even confess sins on RH-- we must first return to a deep, yet vibrant, living contact with God, our King and our Creator, Who cares so much about what we do, and about what happens to us as a result. But God's designed his world so that a simple, but powerful physical experience-- e.g. hearing the shofar or fasting on Yom Kippur-- can transform our thoughts and feeling more than many holy words, tho they help raise one's consciousness of that experience and its messages. Once we attain this mindset and soulset, we try to rectify the many inconsistancies between our Divine essence and our profane lifestyle, during the 10 days of Repentence. As Bar and Bat Mitzva, a meaningful Rosh Hashana must begin a long upward process, not end one's preceding spiritual growth.
B. CREATION & RE-CREATION
On RH we commemorate Creation-- ABSOLUTE PHYSICAL NOTHINGNESS became the wonder-full universe we know. Heschel's "Radical Amazement", the basic religious sense of the incredible wonder of everything in God's universe, is simply a paraphrasing of the writings of his chassidic predecessors on "hispalalut" (Rav M. Gafni). Before man rocked the boat, God proclaimed that everything He made was "extremely good" (1:31). Our infinitely intricate, yet beautifully simple, world is also the audio-visual division of God's perpetual university. Man's shaped by all that meets his eye; his inner ear can be tuned to pick up countless notes, themes, and movements from the grand symphony of the universe, its Song of Songs. A tune, rhythm, emanates from every star, starfruit and starfish (R. Nachman of Bratslav). Beethoven, Rembrandt, and the best Sound & Light Show pale in comparison-- they may, however, reflect their authors' own contagious sensitive perceptions of the Real Show. Even more inspiring and transforming is direct contact with the Author of Nature, whose Essence it only reflects.
Man's dispatched by God from world to world, all for ascent, regardless of his assent-- from the Divine Throne into a constricted womb, from the security of the womb to a frightening world, and finally back to Eden (hopefully). God grants every human being a complete Yeshiva University education-- an angel teaches Mr. or Ms. Foetus the whole Torah; this may lead to subsequent dissatisfaction with later teachers, who don't resemble "angels of the Lord of Hosts"! If you want kids to like Torah, pick their teachers carefully (vs. an organized school system?). Torah study, however, lacks beauty w/o "the way of the earth"; w/o work, it ends in failure and itself causes sin (Avot 2:2)**; so Foetusel's also given a tour of the universe (even Eden and Hell!), a model for our educational systems-- they must teach science too, but from an angelic perspective of awe and wonder; Rav Hirsch, Rambam, Vilna Gaon, Rav J. B. Soloveichik, Rav Yechia Kapach, Rav Eliyahu Benamozegh, etc. may be far better educational models for today's Jew than those Torah giants, present and past, especially concentrated in Eastern Europe, who eschewed worldly knowledge, and distanced themselves as far as they could from the vicious and primitive non-Jews among whom they lived, and from whom they suffered so much (see Nida 30b, expanded in Tan. Pkudei; reincarnation, likely taken from non-Jews, per Saadya, Albo, etc., isn't even mentioned in Bible, Talmud or Midrashim, despite their extensive discussion of fetal formation)
Finally Foetusel's shown his sites of death and burial; he's reminded that his spiritual future's in his own hands, tho so much of his physical situation is predestined. Thus every human being's endowed with a sense of good and evil; she's programed with a receptive preset for all Torah and universal knowledge, activated when searching for herself. Yet, just when a good Vermont farmer stands in awe of the Lord of nature's sunrise, the Jew closes his eyes and his heart and tongue reach out in prayer to His higher aspect-- the concerned God of Torah and Infinity (Rav S. Aviner).
** Even those who are lenient, supporting themselves by Torah study, should at least teach others-- be a giver, not just a taker. Genial relaxed Rabbi Micha Odenheimer, director of The Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews (if you'd like to speak to him, dial 02-6242463) , notes how far the haredi world has drifted from the ideals of its great mentor, the Vilna Gaon (Seventy Holy Tongues, JR, 9/5/96). Tho likely the greatest talmudist of his day, the Gaon also stressed the need to blend talmud with secular, especially scientific, knowledge, and for many Jews to live the Jewish experience as a community, in the holy land-- both are part of the natural process of redemption. As soon as Israel entered Israel, the 70 translations of Torah were to be engraved on the stones. The integrating of outside knowledge intensifies as the Jewish people returns home, per the Gaon. To fully encounter and integrate "the wisdom of the nations of the world", we ourselves must have a place in the world.
Translation of the Torah upon 12 stones, into the 70 tongues or basic civilization paradigms of mankind, is not only to edify other nations, but to lend clarity to the Torah itself, per Odenheimer (see Deut. 27:8, per Sota). Translation into 70 languages is one way that the 70 faces or facets or Torah are expressed-- in translation, the text must be born again, with a totally new constellation of associations, colors and contexts. A language is the condensation of the consciousness and history of those who speak it (When Peter Peterson, in English is Gematria, assigned numerical values to the alphabet, e.g. A = 1, B = 2, etc., the "kabbalistic" messages that emerged from English were Christological!).
To say that the Torah, to be fully understood, must be translated into 70 languages, means that for the Torah's light to shine, it must be refracted thru a lens that corresponds to the entirety of human knwoledge and experience. So Rav Nachman of Breslav regards one spiritual task of the Jewish people as filtering, interpreting, and clarifying the full range of human knowledge and experience, so that the language of holiness can be extended into all dimensions of life-- Torah and life must interface for their mutual enrichment. We must be both very proudly and very knowledgeably Jewish, yet never over-Jew it, ignoring the rest of the world, our flock!-- N-N-No-No Nonsense! Micha sadly notes that most of Israel's secular majority lacks the necessary knowledge of, and engagement with, our tradition; on the other hand, much of the religious minority seems determined to confine the Torah by understanding it primarily as ritual, removed from, and even opposed to, "outside" culture and wisdom. Yet only by beginnig to take on Joseph's task, by interpreting humanity's dream, will we be able to understand our own Torah. Only then will the prophet's words be fulfilled: "Then I will make the peoples pure of speech, so all will invoke the Lord by name, to serve him with one accord" (Zephania 3:9).
May Micha's edifying words serve as an atonement for all the anti-Torah articles in the Jerusalem Report, e.g. Who Wrote The Bible?, by the Torah Tmimah's descendant, Calev Ben David, now also editor of the fine JP Magazine, Eliot Dorff's distortion of Parshat Shoftim, to give equal traditional status to non-traditional Conservative rabbis, and Anne Roiphe's negation of God's word, in favor of her "liberal" toleration of homosexuality, turning a biological perversion into an alternative life style. Roiphe does not differenitate between the perverse homosexual act, banned by the Torah, and our natural sympathy with the person affected, as any person physically or emotionally ill; she also ignores the danger of borderline homosexuals crossing the red line, if our society doesn't actively condemn homosexuality, without persecuting homosexuals; this theme is developed in George Gilder's classic work, exposing the dangers of non-feminine feminism, Sexual Suicide (NY Times Quadrangle Press, 1971-- read it!). As usual, the Report does not report the other side, that of truly traditional Judaism; if we're lucky, they'll print a short letter, of far less impact than a well-illustrated and designed article favoring the "other side", giving a bit of our view. For those who want a balanced, but truly traditional, view of homosexuality, listen to David Luchin's Aish-TOP tape.
Our universe does NOT self-perpetuate or run automatically on a preset timer; it's continually renewed by God's Active Will, which responds to Man's development of his Divine image, in response to God's offer of partnership-- "Let US (you, man, and I, God) make man akin to Our Image, in keeping with Our form (Gen. 1:26, per Rav J. Soloveichik)"; man reshapes the world toward its ideal state of "extremely good", as written: "and he shall exercise dominion over... all the earth" (ibid-- via his Divine development; cf. Daniel in the lion's den). Rambam sees repentance as a subcatagory of Messianism-- getting back on the right track toward universal redemption (Rav C. Brovander). Ultimate perception, understanding God Himself, may be more a product of moral, than intellectual or ritual, development. God doesn't appear to Moshe and Dovid until they've proven themselves kind shepherds-- then they can tend His flock. When relgious society lacks basic human development, God may send Israel back to "GO", Galut, exile, to recover it before becoming "religious" again, blending Torah and the world. On each anniversary of Creation, God reviews The State of the Universe under Man's influence-- THE DAY OF REMEMBRANCE or the DAY OF JUDGMENT; God "remembers" all acts and determines human destiny. Yemenites, following Rambam, interpret THE DAY OF REMEMBRANCE as that day when JEWS REMEMBER their role as God's Chosen kingdom of priests, to inspire all mankind.
L.A. Law: Rav Jack Simcha Cohen of L.A. notes that we ignore our individual selves, issues and problems in RH prayers, all written in the collective plural. Indeed, contemplation, seemingly the theme of RH, would be far better alone in a candelit room, or in the midst of a quiet forest, rather than in a crowded noisy synagogue, with fixed communal prayers! He suggests that a key element of RH, one of many days of judgment (see RH 16a), is the sins we've committed against our people, our nation, our community and our holy city. Every sin I may have committed, every immoral or irreligious act, has ramifications on the status of religion, the posture of Jewish communal life, and the kavod (honor) of our people. No one can, therefore, pray alone in private; our prayers are in the plural. The Vilna Gaon (Ber. V) even suggests that such prayers shouldn't be chanted with personal intentions-- only communal thoughts. We can add our personal petitions separately. (The Jewish Heart). So Rav J. Soloveichik opposed leaving one's community to go to a hotel, no matter how pious, for the high holidays; when I went anyway, to Bethlehem (New Hampshire, site of Gross' quaint old haredi hotel), my beloved elegant 1956 Packard died on the way; I made it back to the Rov's minyan at Maimonides School just in time for services!
In an interesting therapeutic analogy, Robin Norwood posits the need for a spiritual force, transcending the self and its limited perspective, to free oneself of addictive behavior (= tshuva), via the various Anonymous Groups, praised and Judaized by Dr. Avraham Twersky; but, in a pinch, e.g. a rabidly alcoholic atheist, the self-help peer group itself can become that spiritual force, in whose strength and commitment the individual relies, leaving his self-centeredness; a major life message, especially on the high holidays, is that I ultimately cannot solve all my problems by myself, tho I must not expect others to do it for me, when I can; I need the aid of others and God-- as Hillel put it: "If I'm not for myself, who will (or should) be for me? And if I remain alone, what am I?" (Avot 1:14). Norwood claims that developing spirituality means letting go of SELF-WILL, of the determination to make things happen the way you think they should. Instead, you must accept the fact that you may not know what is best in a given situation, either for yourself, or for another person. There may be outcomes and solutions that you never considered, or, perhaps, the ones you've most feared , and tried hardest to forestall, may be exacty what is necessary, in order for things to begin to improve. Self-will means believing that you have all the answers. Letting go of self-will means becoming willing to hold still, be open, and wait for guidance for yourself. It means learning to let go of fear (all of the "what if"s) and despair (all of the "if onlys"), and replacing them with positive thoughts and statements about your life-- cf. the terse talmudic thesis: "The more advice (from others), the more wisdom" (Avot 2:8).
WHY READ LIFE EPISODES OF AVRAHAM AND YITZCHAK ON RH? WHY NOT GREAT UNIVERSAL PASSAGES ABOUT CREATION AND JUDGMENT? Traditions that Yitzchak's birth prediction, birth, and sacrifice (akada) all were on RH imply universal thematic connections between the Patriarchs and Creation.
RAV J. B. SOLOVEICHIK'S OVERVIEW: God doesn't start His world with Jews-- until Avraham, there's only universal man; his Torah has only 7 Laws of Sons of Noach, not Israel's 613 commandments. But Man ran further and further from God and His Noachide Code; the pleasure-mad flood generation, Adam and Eve gone public, is succeeded by the power-mad tower generation, Cain's proteges. God then tries another approach-- He seeks a model man to guide humanity back to its natural state of blessing. Avraham, who ardently practices and preaches human kindness and Divine Intimacy, Adam's mission, is God's choice; his RE-CREATION OF CREATION is our RH theme. The birth of the blues leads to, and is redeemed by, the birth of the Jews. Avraham's success only takes on permanent value when Yitzchak's born, fit and willing to continue dad's great work, unlike Yishmael. He adds depth, profound introspection and discipline (gevurah), to Avraham's expansive outreach personality (chesed); eventually Yitzchak's son, Yaakov, will synthesize both to create ideal model man, Yisroel, "truth and glory" (emes and tiferes).
We don't close the Book of Natural Creation, Genesis, until Yaakov produces a model family, who finally, more or less, get their act together; his 12 sons represent basic personality configurations. In Exodus, this family gradually develops into a social entity, the NATION of Israel, comprised of 12 tribes, each likely a model for a particular societal focus or stress; Israel's progress toward becoming a model "kingdom of priests and holy nation" (Ex. 19:6), God's firstborn (Ex. 4:22), is the theme of the rest of the Bible. The world follows firstborn Israel back to Eden, just as the firstborn child clears and eases the path for subsequent births-- Hirsch.
But some view Torah and Israel as the PURPOSE of Creation; Genesis Raba (1:6) renders Gen. 1:1-- FOR THE FIRST, THE LORD CREATED HEAVEN AND EARTH. Israel and Torah are called "firsts" in Jeremia 2:3 and Proverbs 8:22. "ISRAEL" is a concept of human development attainable by any people, but only Yaakov's descendants actually chose this demanding role (Rav G. Fleer). Torah's a blueprint of ideal reality; the Jewish people brings Creation back to its design when it heeds it. Other nations will learn from the Jews, once the Jews are back in spiritual shape, after 1900 years' exile.
If RH's hot or cold, the rest of the year will be likewise (R. Zavid, B.B. 147a); this weather forcast may be a metaphor for one's soul state during passionate RH prayers! If symbols are a real force, one should eat foods symbolic of blessing on RH (Abaye, Hor. 12a). Red apples were eaten in France, white grapes and figs and sheep heads in Provence-- such new, light, and good food is a good sign to all Israel (Machzor Vitre 302). Mahril mentions dipping apples in honey, a sign of a good sweet year (is a Carvel hot fudge sundae or an H & L Bagel more meaningful today?-- probably not, as it's not God's direct sweet gift to man, tho we do stress Divine-human cooperation; see Neh. 8:10). Some recommend celery stuffed with raisins, symbolizing a raise-in-salary! But, like the Hebrew letters for the dates, e.g. 5757, tashnaz, we could just as well interpret traditional symbolic foods negatively, the half empty glass-- apples and figs will go rotten soon, the sheep head represents the cruel end of the sheep's life, etc.; so much on RH depends upon how we and God view things.
C. A SYNOPSIS OF THE TORAH READING FOR THE 1st DAY OF RH (Genesis 21:1-34):
God REMEMBERS Sara and His promise that she'd give birth, tho 90 (a RH theme-- God of infinity is concerned with each human and her infinite potential). Her son, Yitzchak, is the first Jew to be circumcised at 8 days. His miraculous birth to aged parents forecasts rebirth of the old Jewish people today; contemporary skeptics (e.g. the Vatican, Marxists, secular Yiddishists) saw Judaism as an anachronistic relic of the past, beyond reproduction, incapable of seriously influencing today's world; they're confounded by the post-Holocaust "birth of Yitzchak", in Avraham's folk's old age, the widening impact of Jewry and Judaism. Its focus, the beginning of the Messianic process, is the State of Israel-- God may be dead in human hearts elsewhere, but He and His Folk are alive and flourishing in Jerusalem!
Avraham prepares a great feast for Yitzchak's weaning (age 2-3), when he can begin teaching him (is this the source of haredi 3 year old MALE haircut parties?). A great rabbi travelled, leaving his little boy with a friend; he returned, horrified-- his child now read the holy alef-bet! How could another initiate his son into Torah? He calmed down only when his friend promised to make the lad forget it! (S. Carlebach Z"l-- but how much should one cleave to his child, make him in his own image? Mother love can become smother love). God orders Avraham to heed his wife Sara (apparantly not the norm), and send away his Egyptian mistress Hagar and her upstart son Yishmael-- a bad influence, who mocks Yitzchak's mission. So Israel must develop alone to finally redeem mankind. There's a limit to how much a priest can hang around with his flock and still be a priest. Distorted offshoots of Judaism meanwhile bring pagans closer to monotheism and morality-- Israel's priestly kingdom might be tainted by too intimate contact with them at that stage; in the 2nd stage, the nations become more civilized, and Jewry, via Israel, returns to a healthy blend of Torah and Worldliness. Then (stage 3) Israel brings all humanity back to God's Torah, and they become true Sons of Noach (M.T. Kings).
Avraham feels terrible about transferring Yishmael; God assures him that Yishmael will also found a great people (they'll also help build Israel, fix its cars, and work in its kibbutzim-- worthy works are created by worthy folks); tho Avraham gave them ample food and water, it ran out early-- Hagar got lost and Yishmael got sick (Rashi); perhaps Islam runs out of water, Avraham's Torah, because it lost his way (cf. Rushdie); Yishmael's illness may indeed be a psychosomatic reaction to his moment of truth, realizing that he's unfit to carry on his father's mission, and doesn't share his highest values. God rescued Hagar and Yishmael, who prospered; but he was engrossed with sensuality, influenced by his Egyptian wife and mother. How were Middle Eastern Jews influenced by their neighbors? Did European Jews unconsciously adopt morose medieval Christian other-worldliness?-- see Shaalot Yavetz 2:15 for a provocative responsum by Rav Yaakov Emden (his Hebrew diary, Megilat Sefer, is $20 from TOP).
Avimelech and his chief-of-staff acknowledge that God is with Avraham; they seek a 3 generation peace treaty. Some deduce that one's (secular man's?) concern for his progeny is limited to his grandchildren, where he still retains a 25% limited (voting?) interest; Avraham may have delayed Jewish conquest of Israel by agreeing to the treaty (cf. Oslo). The king claimed that he treated Avraham well, enabling him to prosper during his sojourn; Avraham protests-- his well was stolen by Avimelech's servants. Tho the king denies involvement, or even knowledge, of the infraction (cf. PLO), Avraham ratifies his ownership of the well in a 7 sheep ceremony.
The pluralistic JR's 1996 RH sermon was written by Conservative Rabbi Einat Ramon, who teaches at the kibbutz teachers' college in Tel Aviv. Tho, like Dorff, she represents a movement which, on the whole, denies the Divine Dictation and authority of the Torah, as well as the authenticity of the Oral Torah, she, unlike Dorff, does not use the Report's religious page for political purposes, to somehow justify her movement, highly questionable from a truly traditional viewpoint. She simply analyzes the above Biblical incident and its contemporary relevance in "Agreement, after Years of Fear-- A Biblical interlude provides a model for peacemaking" (JR 9/19/96). Ramon claims that, despite today's fashionable talk of diversity and multiculturalism, people find it unpleasant to live with those different from them-- as, indeed, they always have (cf. Jews and Arabs living together); maybe we read about this covenant between 2 significantly different leaders on the first day of Rosh Hashana to address that reality, a seeming interlude in the story of Yitzchak. After their clashes over Sara and Avraham's well, Avraham and Avimelech now meet again, Avimelech still in political power, but countered by Avraham's Divine protektzia. Each, now older and wiser, may have felt vulnerable. Their future, and that of their children's children, was at stake. Potentially consuming hostility and violence was the alternative to a covenant, a brit, of peace. Perhaps the dialogue should have taken place years earlier, but the two men had had to mature before they were ready to address conflicting interests and old injuries (but Avraham never threatened Avimelech, only v.v.-- cf. the PLO).
Ramon cites Me'am Lo'ez: "When 2 people... wish to make peace, it is absolutely necessary that they fundamentally clarify everything that stands between them, so that they can purify their hearts. For, unless each of them unburdens himself of whatever complaint he has of the other in his heart, even tho you may see them hugging and kissing, this peace is not durable, and, with the first complaint, their hatred will easily return." Every RH and YK, we carry bitter memories concerning people and events that occurred long or not so long ago. Ramon asks: "What does it take to create a covenant with those who share our physical space-- be it our home or our land-- when differences are real and threatening? Avraham and Avimelech remind us that a true covenant requires as its basis direct and honest communication, a mutual recognition of rights, and a true respect for differences". Her highly articulate and engrossing remarks are quite thought-provoking, but may be irrelevant to disputes with murderous bloodthirsty people, e.g. Arab terrorists. But Rav Mordecai Gafni notes that "struggle" and "hugging" are related words in Hebrew-- the opposite of a relationship of either friendship or enmity is indifference.
Avraham sees Peyton Place decadence under the glitter of pagan civilization (cf. USA Today). He earlier told Avimelech he expected them to kill him and take his wife-- for THERE'S NO GOD AWARENESS IN THIS PLACE (20:11). Ultimately, there's neither humanism nor morality in a Godless society, where man's but a mammal, an accident of Evolution, without the dignity of a Divine Image-- cf. Channel 2; after the covenant at "well-swearing", Beersheva, they returned to their chosen worlds-- Avimelech and Pichol to mercantile Philistia, and Avraham to planting an "eshel" in Beersheva, where he proclaimed the identity of God, Lord of eternity; "eshel" denotes fruit trees or an inn. Avraham brought his guests to God thru hospitality (cf. farbrangen and The Salvation Army, l'havdil squared-- everyone likes to return to infancy, where he/she is fed for nothing; lower level cultish groups often stress free food in their lecture ads, attracting many "miskanim", unfortunate souls; while high-level confabs wouldn't dream of doing this, in fact what such conferences on every subject, e.g. psychology, dance, talmud, philosophy, kabala and biology, have in common is the enthusiasm displayed for the buffets); Avraham only asked his guests to acknowledge God as The Ultimate Provider (Rashi, 21:33). Avraham stayed there a long time.
D. FOR MAFTIR, we read NUMBERS 29:1-6
RH is called "a day of blowing" (the shofar). So Ps. 81:4-5 proclaims: "Blow the horn at the new moon, at the full moon (lit. at the "hidden day"-- see J), for our feast day; for it's a statute (or portion) to Israel, a law (or judgement) to the Lord of Yaakov". Deut. 11:12 hints at God's RH judgement-- "A land which God your Lord seeks after; God your Lord's eyes are upon it (Israeli behavior-- Rashi), from the beginning of the year (determining its destiny) until the end of the year". God cares for all lands via Israel (Rashi, see Ex. 23:16, RH 8b); the Vilna Gaon renders the blessing over bread: "... Who brings forth bread (for the world) from the land (of Israel)". While the usual holiday ram and 7 sheep are sacrificed, there's only 1 bull, as on Yom Kippur and Shmini Atzeret, rather than 2, as on Pesach and New Moon, or 7-13, as on Sukkot, when bulls are sacrificed on behalf of all 70 basic civilizations. This may symbolize extra disengagement from the world of work and aggression, from the "bull" in man, on the High Holydays and Shmini Atzeret, when Israel just "grooves" with God, after 7 joyous days with representatives of all mankind.
E. THE HAFTARA FOR THE FIRST DAY is I SAMUEL 1-2:10
It features childless Chana's successful impassioned plea for a child, and is the source of many Jewish laws of prayer. Females excel in this realm of emotional depth and intensity; structured public prayer and minyan may crimp their intimate soul flow. The children of Chana's rival-wife do not achieve Chana's son Shmuel's greatness-- cf. Sara and Hagar; Chana really celebrates, as Avraham, only after her son is weaned-- helpless infantile natural man may then begin his formal education as Divine Image man. Chana proclaims a RH theme: THERE'S NONE HOLY AS GOD. FOR NOTHING ELSE EXISTS BESIDES YOU. DON'T SPEAK MANY HIGH-FALUTIN WORDS... GOD KILLS AND MAKES LIVE (life after death-- cf. Deut. 32:39)... RENDERS POOR AND RICH, CASTS DOWN, YET RAISES UP (after the lesson's learnt-- cf. Job)... HE GIVES STRENGTH TO HIS KING AND RAISES THE HORN (shofar) OF HIS ANOINTED (Israel and Messiah, a great, but human, teacher who brings peace to mankind; when Jesus, never anointed, died without achieving this, he realized that he wasn't Messiah, that had God abandoned him-- Rav S. Riskin; cf., l'havdil squared, Chabad today).
F. THE TORAH READING FOR THE 2nd DAY (Genesis 22:1-24):
IT WAS AFTER THESE MATTERS (or words) AND THE LORD (of laws of nature and judgment) TESTED Avraham AND SAID TO HIM: "AVRAHAM, AVRAHAM" (repeating His beloved's name). HE SAID: "WOW-- ME!! (or YES! I [am at Your service])". HE SAID: "TAKE YOUR SON, YOUR TRUE AND ONLY ONE, WHOM YOU LOVE-- YITZCHAK--- AND GET GOING TO MORIAH COUNTRY. OFFER HIM UP THERE AS A BURNT OFFERING, ON ONE OF THE MOUNTAINS, OF WHICH I'LL INFORM YOU (so the temple site's not revealed to Israel until David's days)". AVRAHAM GOT UP EARLY IN THE MORNING... TOOK HIS 2 LADS WITH HIM, AND HIS SON YITZCHAK. HE CUT WOOD FOR THE BURNT OFFERING... AND WENT TOWARD THE PLACE... ON THE THIRD DAY, AVRAHAM EAGERLY LOOKED ABOUT AND SAW THE PLACE FROM AFAR (it's a long road back to Eden, where Yosef's brothers will understand him, not just see him from afar-- 37:18). AVRAHAM SAID TO HIS LADS: "REMAIN HERE WITH THE DONKEY, WHILE I AND THE LAD GO OVER THERE (AD KO). WE'LL BOW DOWN AND RETURN TO YOU". AVRAHAM TOOK THE WOOD FOR THE BURNT OFFERING, PLACING IT ON HIS SON YITZCHAK. HE TOOK IN HIS HAND THE FIRE AND THE KNIFE-- THE 2 WALKED TOGETHER. YITZCHAK SPOKE TO HIS FATHER AVRAHAM AND SAID: "DADDY"! HE SAID: "YES, I (am at your service), MY SON". HE SAID: "BEHOLD THE FIRE AND THE WOOD-- WHERE'S THE SHEEP FOR THE BURNT OFFERING?". AVRAHAM SAID: "THE LORD WILL SHOW FOR HIMSELF THE SHEEP FOR THE BURNT OFFERING, MY SON"-- THE 2 WALKED TOGETHER.
THEY ARRIVED AT THE PLACE... AVRAHAM BUILT THE ALTAR THERE, ARRANGED THE WOOD, BOUND HIS SON YITZCHAK, AND PLACED HIM ON THE ALTAR ON TOP OF THE WOOD. AVRAHAM PUT FORTH HIS HAND AND TOOK THE DEVOURING KNIFE TO SLAUGHTER HIS SON. AN ANGEL OF GOD CALLED HIM FROM HEAVEN AND SAID: " AVRAHAM, AVRAHAM". HE SAID: "YES, I (am ready)". HE SAID: "DONT SEND FORTH YOUR HAND TO THE LAD, AND DON'T (EVEN) DO ANYTHING TO HIM-- FOR I NOW INTIMATELY KNOW YOU HAVE AWE OF THE LORD AND HAVEN'T WITHHELD YOUR SON, YOUR UNIQUE ONE, FROM ME". AVRAHAM EAGERLY LOOKED ABOUT AND SAW-- BEHOLD A RAM, AFTER (achar)*** IT WAS CAUGHT IN A THICKET BY ITS HORNS (shofars). AVRAHAM WENT, TOOK THE RAM (he presumed it was ownerless, sent by God to replace Yitzchak, as he hadn't seen it there before-- Sporno), AND RAISED IT AS A BURNT OFFERING IN PLACE OF HIS SON. AVRAHAM CALLED THE NAME OF THAT PLACE: "GOD WILL SEE", AS IT'S SAID TO THIS DAY-- ON GOD'S MOUNTAIN, HE'LL BE SEEN. Man's hidden potential spiritual heights become revealed in Israel, especially in Jerusalem; so God told Avraham that He'd display him (and the true nature of the Jews) only from Israel-- WHERE I'LL DISPLAY YOU (12:1, or APPEAR TO YOU).
***or: "HE SAW AYAL ACHAR"-- "another ram". But there's no prior ram (does "ram" refers to Yitzchak?)! In ancient semitic languages, a ram with wide horizontal horns, easily caught in brush, is an "achar", a term sometimes used for any ram (cf. "frigidare")-- so Tzvi Wallach renders: HE SAW AN ACHAR RAM. God then promises Avraham blessings for this great act of obedience-- that he and his progeny will themselves be the source of blessings to humanity. This reward fulfills Avraham's dream-- to bring mankind back to blessed Eden; this yearning and striving to "make souls" (12:5) engendered his selection by God. But most of us are not Avraham,; we must be careful that our desire for good deeds to others is not just a way of covering up our own intrinsic guilt and sense of worthlessness, as well as fulfilling a perceived need to control others, often stemming from childhood traumas (see Women Who Love Too Much, Norwood; one might distinguish between her descriptions of pathological attempts of women to "repair" broken men, who won't help themselves, and the inspiration of a truly holy woman of valor with great God-awareness, e.g. Dina Bas Yaakov, who can permeate the soul of a man who is himself strong and self-confidant, but crass and down-to-earth, e.g. Esav)-- was Terach a terrible father? Avraham returned, together with his lads, to Beersheva. AFTER THESE THINGS, Avraham was told of many children born to his idolatrous brother Nachor-- the world takes little note of the Jew's great physical and spiritual sacrifice, being more interested in new potential political and military leaders (Rav J. Soloveichik-- or sports and cinema heroes). The Holocaust quickly yields headlines to the Dodgers or the latest Hollywood romance. An airline hostess greets all to Boston, home of the Braves and Bruins, rather than of the Rov, the Rebbe, Children's Hospital, and MIT. We close with Rivka's birth, heralding the next stage in the long road back to Eden.
Rambam concludes-- (1) surrender to God's Will surpasses all imaginable human limits (must human morality bow before God's command?-- cf. M.T. Isurei Biah 12:10). (2) Avraham never questioned the validity of his Divine prophetic vision (Guide 3:24)-- but Really Relevant Rav Mordecai Gafni cites the Zohar, which claims that Avraham indeed had his doubts about God's true intent, but zealously marched to the Akada anyway; Rav Gafni stressed that true greatness is the ability to make decisions and act upon them, DESPITE one's doubts, analyzing cases where the Torah's heroes express "ulai", "maybe"; so our second set of s'lichos before RH feature the prayer-poem "ulai y'racham", "PERHAPS He'll have mercy (perhaps its first line should be omitted, as it is a prayer to angels, not to God, as "Burchuni L'Shalom"). So both Rav J. Soloveichik and Rav C. Sonnenfeld analyzed Rav Yochanan ben Zakai's crying and despair at his death-- he was tormented by his decision to ask Vespesian only for Yavneh and its sages; perhaps he could have saved more; but, in trying to do so, he might have angered the Emperor and obtained nothing; even he, the greatest sage, had his doubts, didn't know for sure the outcome and merit of his deeds.
In a memorial evening for great British Rov Yitzchak Bernstein, his son claimed that Reb Yochanan reviewed his life and all its possible reprecussions after his death, pro and con, and wasn't sure of his bottom line; his pupils, in asking for his blessing, were trying to assure him that the net long-term effects of his life, thru their own teaching and practice of God's Torah, which he taught them, will insure his merit, aided by his blessing. We should all bless each other with productive lives, which will have positive impact on many future generations.
G. AKADA RESPONSA
Rav J. Soloveichik (in THE RAV SPEAKS) asks: If Avraham wants his two lads to come along, why tell them to wait with the donkey? If not, why bring them at all? His answer-- the two lads, Eliezar and Yishmael, represent the non-observant Jew and the non-Jew. Avraham needs the help and company of both in his long journey to Moriah. Yet he sometimes tells them to wait with the "chamor", literally "donkey"-- the world of "chomer", physicality; they're to preserve this realm, while the Jew slowly works his way to becoming a model "kingdom of priests and holy nation"-- Ex. 19:6. Then WE'LL RETURN TO YOU-- Moriah's holiness mustn't lead to abandoning universal mankind and the physical world; Israel will return to infuse both with their latent Divinity (cf. Micha Odenheim's remarks above). So the State of Israel, the beginning of world redemption, only arose via the predominately non-observant Zionist movement; it needs and receives massive aid from the U.S., itself built on Torah ideals, insofar as Pilgrims understood them. The religious Zionist today walks Avraham's tightrope-- he's fully part of the State and the world, sharing their trials and tribulations, their joy and celebrations; yet he must sometimes painfully tell those so close to him that he must part from them, due to his Divine perspective, e.g. re "Who's A Jew?". It's much easier, yet much less Jewish, to avoid Avraham's delicate balance-- by being either secular, feeling almost completely part and parcel of all mankind, or a pietist, almost completely detached from the outside world.
THE CONSTANT SACRIFICE OF YITZCHAK: Rav Soloveichik quotes Kierkegard-- Avraham sacrifices Yitzchak, in his heart, every step of the way. Kabbalist M. Cordavero sees all creation as reaching its maximum potential when absorbed into a higher form, which it helps create. God is everywhere, but most concealed or contracted in the inanimate world. Sunlight, earth, water, and minerals produce living grass, even carrots; they, in turn, are destined to be eaten by a higher, even more alive and mobile, entity-- a cow or Bugs Bunny, reflecting more of the Divine. Then the animals themselves are elevated, when consumed by a still higher entity, a holy human being, the only physical creation invested with the Divine Image, IF he/she's developed his/her unique Divine potential-- an "am haeretz", an undeveloped guy, may not eat meat (Pes. 49b). The Bostoner rebbe only eats meat on Shabbat, when he possesses an "extra" soul! Tho they were not allowed to kill animals, Adam and Eve could eat them after they died otherwise, per Tosafot; rabbinic traditions also tell us that angels brought them meat in Eden, just as God later sent meat to wandering holy Eliyahu. Thus THE LORD OF NATURE (elokim, = 86 = hateva, nature) is that aspect of Divinity Who commands Avraham to sacrifice, to draw near to Him, Yitzchak-- man too should die and merge with that above him, the LORD. But GOD, the intimate and loving, yet transcendant, aspect of divinity, tells Avraham not to sacrifice Yitzchak via this momentary grand gesture; the essence of man is not his body, but his Divine Image soul; his soul indeed must be "sacrificed", brought near, merged with non-physical God, by LIVING a sacrifical life of continual search and discipline-- the "binding" of Yitzchak (acquiring the crown of Torah necessitates minimalization, not elimination, of business and pleasure-- Avot 6:6). Vicarious sacrifice, e.g. a sheep, usually suffices for the body.
DIVINE "TESTING" manifests great forces in Avraham, a Patriarchal model for all mankind. When God says: NOW I KNOW (that you have God-awareness-- 22:12), He refers to intimate experience of Avraham's soul, not just informative knowledge-- cf. AND ADAM KNEW HIS WIFE CHAVA... (Gen. 4:1).
FATHERHOOD: AFTER THESE THINGS... (22:1) connects the Akadah with the previous events, e.g. the banishment of Yishmael. Avraham and Avimelech were both concerned with their descendants in entering their covenant. God's promises of Avraham's future growth required prior pruning of Yishmael-- only still unmarried Yitzchak will continue Avraham's special mission. Avraham's not called OUR TEACHER, as Moshe, but OUR FATHER, a kindly patient founder of the Jewish people. Ideally, our devoted father should also be our main teacher; but some fathers are only "fathers", affectionate and kind, but not intellectually developed or communicative, not teachers; others are the opposite, e.g. some cold Lithuanian Maimonidean talmudists, who'd never hug their sons. One whose male progenitor is neither a father nor a teacher has to turn to his mother for both; if she too fails him, there's always the 3rd Partner, one's only eternal parent-- "Tho my father and mother will forsake me (they eventually must do so, due to illness, poverty, death, etc.), God (Who's always there) will gather me in" (From Psalm 27, "For Dovid-- God is my light and my salvation...", recited during this holiday season)-- cf. our version of the profound, tho misdirected, ditty: "You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I'm telling you why... He sees you when you're sleeping, He knows when you're awake, he's knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness' sake".
Both the Akedah and the explusion of Yishmael involve the most difficult of Avraham's 10 developmental tests-- to act against his natural trait of love and kindness, especially re his 2 sons; he's to expel one, so the other can properly develop; God then tells him to kill Yitzchak, for whose sake Yishmael was exiled! (see Hirsch)
H. MODERNISTS FACE THE AKEDA
Every age and culture ponders the Akada. For some, the main lesson is opposition to child sacrifice. Wellisch (Isaac & Oedipus) compares Freud's father-son conflict and its successful resolution; but the Biblical text speaks only of Avraham's love for Yitzchak. Silveno Arieti (ABRAHAM AND THE CONTEMPORARY MIND) accepts Jewish tradition-- the akada demonstrates and inaugurates the commitment, the willingness, and the readiness to sacrifice everything for the love of God, if that be His desire, traits the Jewish people had to possess thruout the ages. 1/3 of Yitzchak was indeed sacrificed in the Holocaust, the Nazi opposite of love of God. This greatest of all loves, of which all other loves are but subdivisions or reflections, will finally prevail over the Amalekian greatest of all hates (Amalek = "doubt" numerically). "The Jewish people must invite all the other peoples of the earth to nourish the greater love that is required to undo the existing evil" (p. 164, cf. Deut 6:5, Lev. 19:17). Avraham first had to reject the values and beliefs of his own father, to relate to His Father in Heaven; he's the spiritual father of modern man, torn between body and soul, physicality and spirituality.
Avraham (unlike Spinoza!) indeed recognizes the distinction between spirit and matter, between that aspect of God called Eternal God and that aspect called the Lord of Nature; he also realizes the need to join the two (compare 16th century kabbalists' view of mitzvos as joining the Holy One, Blessed Be He, and His Imminant Presence, a dualism condemned by Noda Biyehuda, Y.D. 93-- see Hasidic Prayer, L. Jacobs, Ch. 12)-- Avraham teaches us to sanctify life, but not to replace it, with Torah. Thus God stresses physical circumcision, a curbing and sensitizing of man's reproduction and conquest of the earth, as a NECESSARY PRECONDITION for spiritual circumcision of the heart, lips, and tongue (Jer. 6:10, 9:10; Ex. 6:30). Avraham opposes Paul's contempt for the flesh-- Paul rejects Avraham's circumcision, but claims to be his true descendant! (Romans 11:1, 2:25; but Rav Y. Emden writes that Paul, who taught Noachides, only rejected it for non-Jews-- he indeed urged that the son of a Jewish servant girl be circumcized). Avraham's descendants end their massive annual period of return, after Yom Kippur, with this insight-- GOD (of transcendance), HE'S (also) THE LORD (of nature); HEAR ISRAEL: GOD'S OUR LORD, GOD'S ONE.
I. THE HAFTARA FOR THE SECOND DAY, JER. 31:1-19, speaks of God's ultimate redemption and restoration of the people and land of Israel; He'll again reveal Himself to the Jews, before all mankind.
THE FOLK WHO SURVIVED THE SWORD (Holocaust?) HAS FOUND (God's) FAVOR... "RISE LET'S GO UP TO ZION, TO GOD, OUR LORD...". BEHOLD I BRING THEM FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY (USSR?) AND GATHER THEM FROM THE UTTERMOST ENDS OF THE EARTH (Australia, L.A.?)... I'LL TURN THEIR MOURNING TO JOY AND COMFORT THEM... RACHEL WEEPS FOR HER CHILDREN... SO SAYS THE LORD: "HOLD BACK YOUR CRYING VOICE AND YOUR TEAR FILLED EYES, FOR... CHILDREN SHALL RETURN TO THEIR BORDERS..." IS EFRAYIM A FINE SON TO ME? IS HE AN ADORABLE CHILD? (NO!-- Rashi). YET WHENEVER MY SPEECH IS WITHIN HIM (God's Torah-- Lev. Raba 2:3), I'LL REALLY REMEMBER HIM AGAIN (a RH theme). THEREFORE MY VERY INNARDS ARE UPSET FOR HIM; I'LL SURELY HAVE MERCY UPON HIM-- THE WORD OF GOD.
A rebellious child often retains the deepest connection with her parents, who constantly pray and yearn for his return; so violently anti-religious Jews may have a deeper connection to Torah than those lackadaisically observant, per Rav J. Soloveichik; he claims that one most loves his most difficult children; so God placed angels with fiery swords to PROTECT the way back to the Tree of Life, The Torah; He wants to ensure that it will still be there when His children, descendants of Adam and Eve, are ready to come back home to themselves and Eden. So when our difficult children, products and proclamations of our own difficult selves, threaten to leave home and never come back, we're tempted to ask: "Is that a promise?" Yet we're far more likely to keep their rooms ready for them, tho tearing down the more obnoxious pictures, e.g. those of rock and film stars, hoping and praying for our kids' "tshuva", for their speedy and peaceful return from "doing their own thing".
So Rav Shlomo Carlebach views hate and anger of children toward parents, pupils toward teachers, secular towards religious, and the nations toward Israel. They don't just reject them with indifference-- at some level, they sense that their parents, teachers, and leaders are those who can indeed inspire and elevate them by personal example, but they've let them down; if they shape up, their children and proteges might really love them-- may Eliyahu soon turn hearts of parents to children, so that their children's hearts can respond in kind. May God's closeness and blessing encompass His entire universe thruout this year.
THE FAST OF GEDALIA, the day after RH, Tishre 3 (see RH 18B), commemorates the political assassination of Gedalia b. Achikam, Judea's Jewish puppet Governor-- it's called THE FAST OF THE 7TH MONTH (Zech. 7:5, 8:19). Gedalia, an obedient vassel of Assyria, was murdered by right wing zealous patriot, Ishmael b. Netanya. Yochanan b. Korach (cf. naming your kid "Nimrod") warned Gedalia of Ishmael. The rabbis blamed Gedalia for his followers' death, when he ignored the warning (Nid. 41a). Sometimes you sin by NOT heeding lashon hara (evil talk), letting evil run rampant! Even a great Tzaddik, e.g. Moshe or Gedalia, has weak points-- both Torah and Talmud point them out; be specially critical of your rebbe, whose faults and lacks (everybody has some) you're most likely to copy (Rav A. Kook). Also, by knowing setbacks on the tortuous road toward perfection, travelled by those who eventually became great, I'm less inclined to give up when I too fail or slip. Rav J. Soloveichik, as Hirsch, was a great believer in the progressive progress of man, but noted that we often take a step backwards for every two steps forward, e.g. draining the Chulda swamps.
Gedalia's family supported good Jewish government-- his father and grandfather, Shafan, were aides of Josiah, who briefly brought the monarchy back to God and Torah (2K22:3ff,12ff; cf. Bibi's brother, the hero of Entebbe, and their father, biographer of Abarbanel). Gedalia saved Jeremia from a zealous mob, after the prophet urged Israel to accept Assyrian dominion (Jer. 26:24). Military leaders, afraid of being implicated in his murder, took Jeremia with them to Egypt (2K. 25:25, Jer. 41:1; as chassidic rebbes, even prophets are not themselves immune to suffering). This ended Jewish life in Israel; the Assyrians completed their expulsion of the Jews in revenge. We fast and mourn this Zionist tragedy, despite subsequent great Jewish prosperity in Babylon; few Jews returned from Babylon with Ezra (cf. U.S.A. Today). Leaving the Torah led to leaving Israel; conversely, returning to God and Torah, the theme of THE 7th MONTH, is followed, in Dvarim, by return to Israel. This, in turn, is followed by new sensitivity, circumcision of the heart, leading Israel still closer to God and Torah, on a higher and deeper level. HOW CAN I SING GOD'S SONG IN AN ALIEN LAND? (Ps. 137; the constant use of alien background music in secular Israeli institutions lead me to paraphrase: "How can I sing an alien song in the God's land?"-- cf. Pirchei London & Miami. Inspiring Lenny Solomon of Shlock Rock has made aliya to Bet Shemesh, Jerusalem's new suburb!).
The death of the righteous (Gedalia) is as tragic as the destruction of the Temple, commemorated by other fast days (RH 18b)! Yet similar deaths aren't so commemorated by a special fast day-- e.g. that of the 10 martyrs, tho they're remembered on Yom Kippur, and the victims of the Catholic Crusades and Inquisition, and of the Luther-inspired Holocaust! Perhaps Gedalia was that sort of tzadik whose importance must be stressed during the 10 days of repentance-- not the fiery zealot, but the leader of great patience, tolorance, and kindness (cf. Rav Lau, Shlomo). Such leaders help us to hang in and survive when God will NOT grant us our eventual glory and dominion, due to our low state (cf. today). Such a man lacks appeal to the masses. The man in the shuk wants promises of instant satisfaction, based on non-sophisticated analysis and demonization of all who differ. Zealous non-compromising Eliyahu must retire, burnt out and angry, until that glorious end of days; meanwhile, slow, patient Elisha will do what can be done, little by little, yidel by yidel. So Ovadia hid 100 prophets, while ostensibly working hand-in-hand with Achav and Izevel; Esther later did likewise with Achashvarus (cf. Kissinger?).
So Yochanan b. Zakai was sure that God wouldn't help Jerusalem's zealots; he escaped from them during the Roman siege, pretending to be dead; he made the best deal he thought he could with Vespesian (cf. peace with PLO) and preserved Israel's future by saving Yavneh's Yeshiva; without it, we mightn't have survived as a people and returned to our land. Indeed, were it not for the abortive Bar Cochba rebellion (Rebbe Akiva's tragic error?), we might have stayed in Israel, and even regained our independence, when the Roman Empire died out.
Gedalia's message-- compromise with reality-- is very apt for the 10 days of Repentance. We contemplate the heights which individuals SHOULD reach this season; each is a building block for subsequent Jewish Divine Messianic triumph; on that day God and His Name will be One. The Fast of Gedalia reminds us we're still probably FAR REMOVED from that level which precipitates final redemption. Meanwhile, the indispensible Tzadik is he who can carry on in an imperfect world; Jews still have to depend on other nations, e.g. USA, for the welfare and continuation of Israel. They must sometimes even relate to those totally devoid of sanctity (e.g. Arafat). Contemporary Israeli zealotry, not coupled with saintliness, may wreck what we've achieved and can still save-- it tries to achieve the impossible, over-confident of God's support, ignoring the fact that it is only guaranteed us when we fully heed his Torah.
K. THE HIDDEN MONTH
We don't pray for a blessed month of Tishre, unlike all other months. The New Month aspect of RH is kept concealed; even the new month's goat of atonement is not brought. A hint's found in a RH verse (Ps. 81:4-5): BLOW THE SHOFAR ON THE (new) MOON, HIDDEN IN THE DAY OF OUR FESTIVAL; FOR IT'S A STATUTE FOR ISRAEL, AN ORDINANCE FOR THE LORD OF YAAKOV. Perhaps "the 7th" is blessed per se, e.g. Shabbat and the Sabbatical Year; so this 7th month, with so many holy days, may not need a special blessing (A. Waskow). Perhaps Tishre's simply included in all our RH prayers for an entire good year.
RAV M. GAFNI views the RH liturgy as a grand rabbinic drama revolving about great women who know how to cry, e.g. Chana, Rachel, Hagar and Sisra's ma (see his TOP video, Cry of the Shofar).
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