motzei Rosh HaShannah reflection – 5782

“And the new year begins,” I thought to myself, after finishing the cup of wine drank in conjunction with the brief havdallah service recited at the end of a holiday during the week. Thus concludes the commemoration of Rosh HaShannah, and the beginning of the new year, replete with its ten day focus on teshuvah (repentance) during the ten Days of Awe, culminating with Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Therefore, the theme of judgment continues, throughout these days, as the decrees are not sealed until the neilah service that concludes Yom Kippur. In fact, for the traditionally-minded Jew, the day after Rosh HaShannah is a minor fat day (the fast of Gedaliah) that helps us to counteract any indulgence that occurred during the two days of Rosh HaShannah. This allows us to recalibrate after the celebrations of the New Year, lest we forget the gravity of these days.

For myself, this is the beginning of the three week period that incorporates the shifting of one holiday to another, inclusive of Rosh HaShannah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchas Torah. This is the only time of the year that I can sincerely validate taking time off, for the sake of a “vacation,” that is more like a three week religious retreat. Moreover, considering that the new Torah reading cycle does not begin until Simchas Torah, the end of the year is still upon us; and, the complete beginning of the new year is still not yet begun. We sort of ease into the renewal of the year on different levels, over the next three weeks. This is one reason why, I am compelled to devote myself to these themes of “new beginnings,” during this extended New Year commemoration.

The Binding of Isaac

Rosh HaShannah 5782 – 2nd Day

“And it came to pass after these things, that G-d tested Abraham, and said to him, Abraham; and he said, [Hineni] Behold, here I am.” – Genesis 22:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

 “Such is the answer of the pious: it is an expression of meekness and readiness.”

– Rashi, Midrash Tanchuma, Vayera 22, sefaria.org

Abraham was called to bring his son Isaac as an offering to Mount Moriah – the future location of the Temple. He responded, without having specifically been told yet what commandment he was to fulfill. He answered with one word, “hineni,” “an expression of meekness and piousness.” Meekness denotes humility, in the face of G-d’s greatness. Readiness to serve H’Shem connotes the ideal mindset of a righteous person. Abraham made a commitment to carry out G-d’s will, inasmuch that his response was one of unequivocal piety, in regard to the will of the L-RD.

It is an even greater tribute to his merit, that upon hearing that he was to bring up Isaac as an offering, he did so without wavering. Consider the ramifications: Sarah was barren for thirty nine years, before G-d fulfilled the promise of a child. Abraham was ninety nine when Sarah gave birth. Isaac was the sole heir to the legacy of Abraham and Sarah, the next in line to fulfill the mission, whereof Abraham was called out from his homeland, to a place that he would be shown. To bring up Isaac as an offering was tantamount to the end of all the hope and aspirations of over fifty decades of patient waiting.

Yet, both father and son, Abraham and Isaac went willingly up Mount Moriah. Isaac permitted himself to be bound to the mizbeach (altar). Yet, when Abraham reached out for the macholes (knife), an angel stayed his hand, saying, “‘Lay not thy hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him; for now I know that thou art a God-fearing man, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me’” (Genesis 22:12, JPS). Abraham was further blessed, “in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:18, JPS).

Although the ram “caught in the thickets” was offered up instead of Isaac, Rashi comments that it was as if Isaac was offered up (Metsudah siddur). One reason why this reading may have been selected for Rosh HaShannah, is because the offering up of Isaac is seen as an atonement and source of merit for the Jewish people. As further mentioned in commentary, As long as Israel makes mention of Isaac’s Akedah before Him, it continues to serve as an atonement for them” (Beit ha-Midrash, part V). And, “When you appear on trial before Me on Rosh ha-Shanah, come with the shofar. Then even if there are many accusers against you, I shall recall Isaac’s Akedah and acquit you” (Pesikta Rabbati, 167a).

Rosh HaShannah 5782

erev Rosh HaShannah 5782

Rosh HaShannah is a time of renewal. Through teshuvah (repentance) we prepare ourselves to face H’Shem: Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King) on the Day of Judgment for the New Year. Through proper reflection, and rooting out our sins well in advance of that day, we hope to begin the new year with the resolve to start anew.

Inidentally, in regard to the renewal of the moon, on that day, when the first sliver of the new moon becomes visible, it is written that it is a time of atonement (Rosh Chodesh musaf service). The waning of the moon, until it is completely diminished by the end of the month, serves to remind us of our own deficiencies, faults, and weaknesses. At the end of the year, when the moon wanes towards the end of Elul; at this time, what merit can we claim in our lives over the past year. Knowing our spiritual paucity, we pray to H’Shem for His mercy.

Rosh HaShannah is considered to be a day of judgment for the new year. We would like to be judged favorably, so we make an accounting of the soul (heshbnon hanefesh), in order that our conscience will permit ourselves to stand before the King. According to the Zohar, “’You stand this day all of you before the L-RD your G-d’” (Deuteronomy 30:9) refers to Rosh HaShannah, when we stand before H’Shem in judgment for the New Year.

When we examine our conscience, we may be brought to a place of moral compunction as a result of guilt and remorse. During the Ten Days of Repentance, otherwise known as the Days of Awe, we continue to search our souls for the flaws that need to be brought into the light . During that time, any judgments against us for the year may be diminished through our efforts at “teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer), and tsedokah (charity),” the mitvoth (good deeds) that “avert the severity of the decree,” for the decrees are not sealed until Yom Kippur.

Shabbat Shuvah 5781

B”H

Shiur for Shabbat Shuvah

(parashas Ha’azinu) 5781

“If thou, O L-rd, wilt mark iniquities: L-rd, how could we stand before you?”
– Psalms 130:3, embellished

“Concealed acts concern the L-RD our G-d.”
– Deuteronomy 29:28, JPS 1985 Tanach

After Adam and Chava ate from the Tree of Knowledge, H’Shem called to Adam, “Where art thou?” (Genesis 3:9, JPS, 1917 Tanach). He responded, “I heard Thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; so I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10, JPS 1917 Tanach). Adam’s shame compelled him to hide himself. Yet, G-d is all-knowing, as well as omnipresent (everywhere present). He surely knew where Adam was. Why did He ask, “Where are you?” One answer given, is that G-d was, in effect, asking, Where are you in your relationship with me?

We learn in the Book of Isaiah that sin separates us from G-d (Isaiah 59:2). Adam lost the oneness that he had with G-d; as a result of his transgression, he was was expelled from Gan Eden, along with Chava, who also partook from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Up until that point, everything that they experienced in Gan Eden was in one accord with H’Shem, a nondual perspective. Yet, after eating from the tree that was forbidden to eat from, they became aware of good and evil. For this reason, even today, there is not only good and evil in the world; also, there is an admixture of good and bad in everything we do.

Like Adam and Chava, we can not hide from H’Shem. He knows our “concealed acts.” Sin separates us from Him; the path to return is through actually admitting our transgressions, unlike Adam who circumvented G-d’s questions. During the Ten Days of Repentance, between Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur, we are all asked, “Where are you?” G-d is prompting us to reveal our sins to Him. Yet, sometimes, our sins may be hidden from ourselves; in this case, we may ask Him to reveal our sins to us.

“May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”

The Devotion of Abraham

L’Shannah Tovah

B”H

shiur for Rosh HaShannah 5781
Conviction: the Strength of Hineni
The Akeidah: Binding of Isaac

“And it came to pass after these things, that G-d tested Abraham, and said to him, Abraham; and he said, [Hineni] Behold, here I am.”

– Genesis 22:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

“Such is the answer of the pious: it is an expression of meekness and readiness.”

– Rashi, Midrash Tanchuma, Vayera 22, sefaria.org

Abraham was called to bring his son Isaac as an offering to Mount Moriah – the future location of the Temple. He answered, initially, without having specifically been told yet what commandment he was to fulfill. He answered with one word, “hineni,” “an expression of meekness and piousness.” Meekness denotes humility, in the face of G-d’s greatness. Readiness to serve H’Shem connotes the ideal mindset of a righteous person. Abraham made a committment to carry out G-d’s will, inasmuch that his response was one of unequivocal piety, in regard to the will of H’Shem.

Therefore, it is an even greater accolade to his merit, that upon hearing that he was to bring up Isaac as an offering, he did so without wavering. Consider the ramifications: Sarah was barren for thirty nine years, before G-d fulfilled the promise of a child. Abraham was ninety nine when Sarah gave birth. Isaac was the sole heir to the legacy of Abraham and Sarah, the next in line to fulfill the mission, whereof Abraham was called out from his homeland, to a place that he would be shown. To bring up Isaac as an offering was tantamount to the end of all the hope and aspirations of over fifty decades of patient waiting.

Yet, both father and son, Abraham and Isaac went willingy up Mount Moriah. Isaac permitted himself to be bound to the mizbeach (altar). Yet, when Abraham reached out for the macholes (knife), an angel stayed his hand, saying, “‘Lay not thy hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him; for now I know that thou art a God-fearing man, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me’” (Genesis 22:12, JPS). Abraham was further blessed, “in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gemesis 22:18, JPS). Perhaps, this may be seen as a segue to Rosh HaShannah, when the entire world is judged; and, H’Shem decides how many blessings we will receieve.

“L’Shannah Tovah Tikateivu”
May you have a good year, and be inscribed in the Book of Life.

Counting Sheep

B”H

Shiur for parashas Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1 – 4:20) 5780

“Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel.”

– Numbers 1:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

“The literal translation of the above mentioned verse would be, ‘Lift up the head of the entire assembly.” This rendering has two potential meanings: that the people would be lifted up to a higher spiritual status or brought down by their own unworthiness. The phrase suggests either upliftment, if B’nei Yisrael were worthy in G-d’s eyes, or chastisement, if they were not acting in accordance with His expectations of them (Ramban).

The sages note that there were nine times recorded in the Tanach, whereupon a census was taken. According to their rendering of scripture, there will be a tenth census taken in the days of Moshiach. “The flocks again pass under the hands of him that counteth them, saith the L-RD” (Jeremiah 33:13, JPS 1917 Tanach). According to the rendering of this verse by the Targum Yonaton, the verse reads, “by the hand of Moshiach.”

The world is judged four times a year; the sages envision the judgment that occurs on Rosh HaShannah, as a census being taken, likened to counting sheep: “On Rosh HaShana all creatures pass before Him like sheep [benei maron], as it is stated: ‘He Who fashions their hearts alike, Who considers all their deeds’ (Psalms 33:15)” (Talmud, tractate Rosh HaShannah 16a, sefaria.org).

The mashal (parable) of counting the sheep also points towards the final judgment, when all of mankind will be judged. “For I [know] their works and their thoughts; [the time] cometh, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and shall see My glory” (Isaiah 66:18).

“Therefore will I save My flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle. And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even My servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I the L-RD will be their G-d, and My servant David prince among them” (Ezekiel 34:22-24, JPS 1917 Tanach).

parashas Bamidbar