Monday, September 29, 2008

Rosh Hashanah

Much is made of Elul and the Yamim Nora'aim being times of Teshuvah, and rightly so. However, we don't do to Teshuvah for its own sake. Teshuvah is a tool to reconnect with Hashem. On the Yamim Nora'im, the main themes and Zichronot, Malchuyot and Shofarot. Let's explore these themes.

The Artscroll Siddur and Machzor have become ubiquitous in Jewish homes worldwide, and not for no reason. The translations of the text is clear and understandable in colloquial English, and there are plenty of notes and explanations to enlighten those not familiar with the services. Unfortunately, often missed are the fantastic introductions penned by Rabbi Nosson Scherman. I remember how I read the introduction to the Rosh Hashanah Machzor a few years ago, and being genuinely enlightened. A fantastic discourse is given explaining the main theme of Rosh Hashanah, and the month of Tishrei as a whole. Throughout the Aseret Y'mei HaT'shuva, starting tonight, we make repeated reference to Hashem being our Melech, our King. We add in the word "Melech" in our every Shmonah Esrei, and at other points of our Tefillot. What is so special about Hashem being a King? After all, there are many titles we may rightfully call him, what is so special about a Melech?

The Artscroll quotes the Vilna Gaon, who explains that there's more than one kind of leader. There is a מלך, a King, and a מושל, a ruler. The fundamental difference between the two is though, that a Moshel, the ruler, is "a sovereign who reigns against the wishes of his subjects; he is someone we would call a dictator or a tyrant." On the other hand, we have a Melech, who "though he may be an absolute monarch, rules with the consent and recognition of his subjects. His rule may be strict, even harsh. He is not subject to recall or re-election. Nevertheless, he rules wisely and his power is buttressed by the citizenry's acknowledgment that he is worthy of his rank and that a rudderless and leaderless society cannot function."

The Artscroll continues a page later,"Although God lacked no power before the creation of man, He had no one voluntarily to proclaim Him as King. The key word is 'voluntarily.' The angels had been created before man, and God can create infinite numbers of them at will." But angels are so close to Hashem that the exposure to His Kedushah is dazzlingly bright. The angels are fortunate enough to completely understand their purpose in creation and their free will is effectively nullified. Angels do possess free will, but they see the Emet of reality in such obvious terms that there is no room left for doubt or for sinning. They are compelled to do God's will, and have no real choice. Angels do not have debates over whether to do God's will or not; He is right in front of them! Angels do not debate the existence of God in the way that humans do, such a concept is laughable in their eyes!

As the Artscroll continues giving us an inkling of the Jewish perspective on the meaning of life, "To the angels, God is a ruler, a Creator, a Master. - but not a King. But man is different. Man can choose to recognise God and His sovereignty, or deny them. If man accepts Him, God has become man's King."

Humans on the other hand, have been plunged into a world of "אלמא דספיקא - Alma d'Sfaika," A world of doubt. Debate has raged since time immemorial about the existence of God, and man will never be able to absolutely, conclusively prove such a thing. God doesn't want us to. He wants us to live in a world of darkness, a world of doubt. If we are able to declare Hashem as our God, read "our King," in such a world, we will have succeeded in our mission. The assignment Hashem has tasked us with is to see through all the falsehood, and see God's hand orchestrating everything from underneath. We all understand the concept that if money fell from heaven every time we did a Mitzvah or avoided an Aveirah, we could effectively have no free choices. We know that the point of this world is to ignore the temptations around us and not deviate from the true path. But do we take the message on board? Do we think twice before we speak Lashon Harah, or talk while at Shul?

Actually, often enough we do. But then we suppress that though. We think to ourselves, "Yeah, whatever," or "It's not really important," and dismiss the nagging voice in our head and go ahead with the Aveirah. It is obvious outside of any particular situation that we must not do any sins, but when we are caught up in the moment, and we really want to make that joke at somebody else's expense, we perpetually set aside our consciences and continue regardless. We know better, and yet we succumb almost every time. Truly, this is a world of doubt. By the way, it is no coincidence that the nation of Amalek, the nation that historically has tried to destroy us at every opportunity, has the Gematria value of 240, which is the same as that of ספק, doubt. (עמלק = 100+30+40+70, ספק = 100+80+60) Let there be no doubt that when Am Yisrael has let itself come into a state of doubting, we are in deep trouble. If we allow ourselves to be hoodwinked by the pretences of this world, we are in serious difficulties. The answer to this problem, fortunately, is especially accessible on Rosh Hashanah. Malchuyot, Kingship is one theme of Rosh Hashanah. Another is Zichronot, Memory. If we are able to remember accurately the times we are absolutely clear and see Hashem's presence plainly, then we can overcome all doubts. That is what Emunah is about. Emunah is not about blind faith, it is about faithfulness, faithfulness to something that we know deep inside of ourselves. If we can remember our way out of moments of doubt, we can truly accept Hashem's kingship.

R' Akiva Tatz in Living Inspired (which in turn is based on "Michtav M'Eliyahu," by Rav Eliyahu Dessler z''tl,) explains that "Zichronot represents the idea of remembering in true spiritual depth the points of origin of the world and of the Jewish people and its destiny. This deep form of memory is a re-entering the male phase of conception - to go back to the initial flash or spark and re-live it vividly and literally. The root of זכר zachor, 'remember,' is identical with זכר zachar, 'male.' The connection should be obvious. Maleness is exactly that: a carrying over of the distilled essence of all previous generations in a seed which will form the next generation. The seed is a 'memory' of the past. In fact the word זכרן memory and זרע seed are numerically equivalent. The work of memory, re-living the flash of creation, is perfectly fitting and necessary for Rosh Hashanah."

So we had the bad, and now here's the good. I'll close with the words of R' Tatz, "Rosh Hashanah is the flash at the start of the year, and as such is a blueprint for it. If we live Rosh Hashanah correctly, we can experience a fantastic year! The genes of the year are being laid down now, we could say. The first Rosh Hashanah ever was the day of the creation of man. That day of creation was the world's first Rosh Hashanah, and its climactic event was the creation if the human. That is why the day always retains it power to re-create man! When we genuinely and intensely decide to elevate our personalities on Rosh Hashanah become inspired to live the coming year as higher beings we are using the day's deeply-rooted energy as the day of human creation. The day has the power to energise real change and help a person become unrecognisably different."

I hope that every one of you, and indeed all of Am Yisrael experience a beautiful, deep Rosh Hashanah, that you connect with your Tefillot and open up your hearts to Hashem, that he may accept your prayers, and that we may be granted our requests. May we come closer to Hashem and understand his ways, and may the Moshiach come soon in our merit. Shana Tova U'Metukah!

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