Our sages look out for us; yes they do. They are our leaders and as leaders they have to squeeze out the optimal best in all of us and motivate us to be the best we can be. They are our cheerleaders when we do well, and console us when we sinned. The Sages have an important task in where they have to represent us well; they have to instruct us to say the proper terminology in court so we can get the optimal verdict.
How do they do it?
How do they provide us with proper representation?
We have to ask ourselves “What’s the best way to have a good year and get in the book of life? How do we go about it? What’s the best method, percentage-wise for a successful sweet year? Should we have a businessman approach and get the best deal possible?” If we are desperate, maybe it would be wise to grab any deal!!
The lawyers are our Sages, who through the guidance of our Torah, comprised a three method plan to approach G-d on Rosh Hashanah. Our chachamim believe this formulation of prayer, which they added some salt and pepper to it, will enable us, if done right, to receive a good verdict. We will discuss Yom Kippur a bit later.
The Three Methods Are:
* Shofrot – A shofar is the main symbol of the high holidays. What’s so special about a shofar? Why do we need to hear it?
Why do we blow the shofer 100 times?
The Chazanim (cantors) Rabbis, and the person who tokes the shofar (shofar blower) are all meticulously careful that there should be 100 sounds blown before the crucial mussaf prayer. One may ask, why 100 sounds? Rabbi Berel Wein mentions one reason, which we learned from a famous incident that happened at the time of the shoftim (Judges).
Our ancestors were in constant war with their neighbors, the Pilishteem. Similarly, today one can identify with the conflict of our Arab neighbors. The Pelishteem army was led by the strong and mighty General Sisra who terrorized opposing countries. Sisra was a startling, frightening figure and is best described similarly as a mixture of Ivan the Terrible and George Patton.
The Jews were led by Devorah and her general Barak ben Avinoam who with G-d’s help were defeating the Pilishteem army. Sisra realized the end was imminent and fled. As he was escaping, he meets Yael who realized who he is. She brought him into her home where she fed him and gave him wine. He found comfort in Yael who seduced him. When Sisra was sleeping, Yael, who was loyal to the nation of Israel, killed him.
It is written in the ‘Song of Devora’, in the book of Prophets, Sisra’s mother was waiting by the window for her son to return. She saw the injured solders limping back from battle; she witnessed the broken war carriages. However, there was no sign of the great warrior, her son, Sisra. The text describes her waiting by the window and coming to the inevitable conclusion that her son was never coming home. Realizing this, she begins to cry and wail 100 sounds. The sages say this is the reason why we blow the shofar 100 sounds.
One may ask what’s the connection between Sisra’s non-Jewish mother, wailing for her son’s return, and the Jewish congregation listening to shofar blowing on one of the holiest days of the year?
Sisra’s mother was privileged; she came from a picture perfect prestigious family. She was a straight-A student who was a prom queen beauty. She was head cheerleader who married the star quarterback leader of the football team. They had a big house with many cars, maids, a butler, a dog named Lassie, and many kids who each went on to become successful in their own right. She never saw a cloudy day in her life. Whatever she touched, with no effort, turned to gold. Sisra’s mother felt she was in charge of her own destiny.
However, for the first time in her life, she felt she was not in control; someone else was pulling the strings and that someone else was G-d. So she turned to G-d out of feeling inadequacy and hopelessness, acknowledging ‘it’s not me but someone higher above.’
When they blow the shofar during the High Holiday, one should feel that G-d runs the world and He is in control of our lives. Granted, we have to make an effort and some of us have seen tremendous success. However, at the end of the day, G-d is always in charge. This is what Sisra’s mother felt at that moment.
The word LINSHOM means to breath; it comes from NESHAMA – the soul. The purest part of man is the soul. For this reason, G-d may have mercy and forgive us. After all those layers and layers of sin one accumulated, there lies the purest of good, the NESHAMA. When G-d created man, he blew into his nostrils the breath of life. There are a number of ways one can identify someone. At night, in the dark, one can tell a loved one through the sound of their breath; if one wants to get spiritual, one way to start is to take deep breaths. The essence of the soul is though the passage of breathing. This is the reason we blow the shofar which is the highest form of prayer because it comes from the inner part of man; a part that’s not tainted, the purest part of man, deep inside him, the NESHAMA. So, apparently through the shofar, it’s the purest Tefillah.
In the amida of Mussaf, the additional prayer said after the morning services, we say nine blessings. The Gemarah says the source for the number nine is the 9, AZKAROT mentions of G-d’s name in the story of Chana. We read on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the story of Chana, who was known for the tremendous intensity of her prayer. Chana was a barren woman who had to suffer the humiliation by her husband, who took a second wife and bore his children. Chana’s prayers were finally answered on Rosh Hashanah. She had a son who became the great prophet, Shmuel. There is a very important message one can learn from the story of Chana that is a very essential part of the holiday, and for that matter an essential part of life. At the end, Chana bore seven children while her rival lost a child every time Chana gave birth to one. One must realize there is a change of fortunes that the unpredictable life offers. Rav Tzadok HaCohen says the Shofar blowing consists of shevarim and teruahs which are broken sounds representing crying, broken spirit. This must always be sandwiched in by two tekias. The firm unbroken sound represents joy. This represents the theme of the day; we have to be joyous, however we are judged; so anything can happen, which translates into fear. For some, this year will bring joy and for some sorrow. For some, fortunes will change and for others not.
* Zichronot – remembrance: When we pray and ask G-d to remember our good merits, we are referring to our ancestors. We said in our previous newsletters since we are the genealogy of those great people, it would be a good bet, and it would be safe to assume that those great qualities are found in us. Therefore, He should forgive us because we are bound to do well. So we remind him of the major shining moments in our history where it was so impressive it would be hard for Him not to forgive us. It’s a tremendous weapon which we use on Rosh Hashanah. The three major characters that will help us in this theme is Avraham, his wife, Sarah, and their son Yitzchak, and the major event is the Akeda.
What’s important to note and a major aspect to Judaism is the power of the Hebrew letters. Avraham and Sarah were believers of monotheistic G-d and they openly campaigned for Him. Unfortunately, though, they could not have children. G-d rewarded them by adding the letter ‘HEY to Avraham and Sarah. As a result, Avraham and Sarah became a new entity. (Perhaps this is the reason when someone is sick, a new name or a letter is added). Avraham was taken out from the mazal of the world and was rewarded with the ability to go against nature. “You will always have the ability to break nature through your faith,” G-d said to him. They weren’t supposed to have children, it was against nature and yet, they did. So we see, the inception of Jewish nation, the whole Jewish entity began against nature through the power of the letter HEY. This letter represents G-d’s name. So if someone calls Avraham, Avram, they take away the power, not just from Avraham, but himself. He takes away the essence of the Jews. Avraham with the HEY fuels us together. Ever wonder why we are called children of Avraham and not the children of Noach (non-Jews). Because Noach had children naturally, he was part and parcel with the natural state of the world. We have an unnatural and illogical existence; we were crucified, humiliated, and tortured throughout history. However, we never lost hope; we were tenacious and we never gave up. So G-d remembers Avraham’s ability to spread G-d’s name and being a model example of what a Jew is all about. The acts of kindness were passed down through the generations to us. G-d looks at us and that particular potential to manifest itself through our personality. Then it would remind Him of our forefather, Avraham.
Ever wonder why we do not say one slicha – please forgive me – on Rosh Hashanah. Why don’t we bang on our heart like we do on Yom Kippur? Nevertheless, it’s the big time, Judgment Day. How is it Judgment Day if you’re eating such delicious foods via three course meals? When I was a young care-free fellow, the tradition was I would buy a new suit every Rosh Hashanah; that’s Judgment Day? Maybe one is being judged by friends on who bought the nicest clothes at bargain prices. Who got more bang for their buck this holiday season? The cheap is to pay Jamaica Avenue prices and have the Hugo Boss, Fifth Avenue look and quality. In essence, though, Rosh Hashanah is designed that way; it’s designed to feel like royalty. Everybody in shul is on their best behavior, dressed to the tee; one feels like royalty.
ME ZEH MELECH HAKAVOD – who is the king that’s wrapped in honor, in royalty? He’s the one who gets the KAVOD. The KAVOD is due to him. G-d is the king. However, if the king has no followers, his kingship is weakened. His people are the ones who raise the volume and strengthen his rulership. If not, they are not needed. So it’s our responsibility to make a tremendous kavod in His honor all year round, especially on Rosh Hashanah. We wear the fine clothes, cook fine foods and we feel good about ourselves. We feel like royalty. What a great feeling, right? By enhancing and indulging in the royalty, one is enhancing G-d. However, it’s important to think, “I am doing this for G-d.” All the clothes, the food, the feel-good is all for G-d. This is the frame of mind we should have on Rosh Hashanah when we pronounce MELECH – King – at every juncture of our prayer. All this material beauty is all for You, G-d.
The greatest teshuvah – repentance – that ever occurred was by one of the three central characters:
The Matriarch, Sarah
When the three angels arrived to Avraham’s home and proclaimed, “Sarah and you will have a child”, Sarah upon hearing them from the back, by the door, laughed. We’re going to have kids – that’s funny. Apparently, G-d didn’t find her reaction too amusing and asked her, “Why did you laugh? Do you doubt I have the ability to do so, the ability to change your mazal?” Sarah answered something very startling, “I didn’t laugh.” “What do you mean you didn’t laugh? Are you lying in front of the Almighty? That’s chutzpah!!!” What is startling is that she meant it! Sarah was completely sincere that she didn’t laugh.
“HAYOM HARAT OLAM” We say in the Mussaf Amida prayer “today”. Today, I am a different person. I totally regret what I did, to an extent, to such a level that I disengage, dis-associate myself from the person who sinned. Although I take responsibility, however, that’s not me anymore; I’ve changed; I would never do those things again. With all the regret that was in her heart, she meant it. How else would one explain her naming her son Yitzchak; Yitzchak means laughter. Is it possible she would name her child after a sin? That would constitute the highest level of audacity. However, the name will forever be associated with the highest level of teshuvah – repentance – performed by our matriarch, Sarah.
Yitzchak’s special quality was how he prayed. No one prayed with such intensity as Yitzchak did. When his bride-to-be, Rivka, arrived and she saw him for the first time, she fell off her camel, because she saw him at the time when he was in the middle of prayer. It left such an impression that she was struck with such fear and awe of him for the rest of her life. When one makes the leap and becomes religious, this individual’s prayer is beloved in G-d’s eyes more-so than the prayer of one that has been religious all his life. One may think such was the case with Rivka who came from a house of reshayim. Rivka’s strong character and extreme kindness was quite the opposite of her family. One can only imagine how difficult it was for her to live in her father’s house; she was a unique individual, a tzadakus. Rivka’s prayers rattled the heavens. However, it was Yitzchak’s prayers that were accepted, in which, enabled them to have children, because he prayed with intensity.
G-d injected Avraham with such a love for his son, Yitzchak, like no other, which made the test extremely difficult.
These three characters showed such devotion to G-d; such devotion and love to each other, that they’ve taken human potential to an unprecedented level. We are proud to say we are their offspring and offspring inherit the character traits, the genes of their ancestors. So if they were outstanding, we too, have the credentials and potential to reach them. G-d, then should give us the benefit of the doubt; after all, we’re a chip off the old block.
With these three methods, we hope that it would be sufficient for a good Judgment Day. The next part of repentance is Yom Kippur.