jeudi, octobre 06, 2005

rosh hashana from Elisheva

For those who are interested, (I'll certainly not be offended if you choose not to continue to read!) I have endeavored below to provide you with words of Torah, but as I'm inadequate for the job, let me say in advance that I offer you a few words belonging to other people cobbled together with my own poor reasoning. It's a bit long, for which I apologize. Had I more time, I would edit it properly and make it more concise.

As always, if I make any errors, misinterpret the stories, or falsely retell the stories --any errors are my own fault and not to be blamed on anyone else. I believe I learned once that HaRav Auerbach zt"l once said to a student, "it is better that you should tell my ideas as your own then to tell your ideas as mine." So if anything sounds terrible or incorrect and is attributed wrongly, blame my poor intellect instead. I'm hardly the scholar. Also, if anything strikes you pleasantly and you feel good from what I've written below, I'm glad for it, but if however, what I write strikes you as non-sensical or simply bad thinking, I beg of you to forget these words immediately.

If I may be so bold as to begin with an idea I heard from Jeremy Meisel, who repeated the words of a rebbe at Lakewood Yeshiva, and use it to my own devices, I would say as follows: The Lakewood rabbi told a story that on one day in the court of a great king, all the carpenters were lined up to present their requests for materials they needed. One man was ushered to the front of the line, listened to attentively by the king, given what he requested, and allowed to leave to begin his work immediately. The other carpenters wanted to know what this carpenter was doing that gave him such preferential treatment. The answer given is that this carpenter was doing work for the king and so all his requests were granted so he might do a good job. I believe that the Lakewood rabbi's vort is that the Rosh Hashana tefillot is our chance to put Hashem as our King/Melekh and if we choose to serve Hashem in our deeds and actions then our requests during the year are listened to more attentively and granted more readily.

I would begin to add to this idea with the remark that often I hear people talk about making resolutions at Rosh Hashana like one might discuss New Year's resolutions around Jan 1st. I've pondered this connection briefly every once in a while and would like to take a brief moment to stab at a possible answer as to what those days of repentance/self-reflection, those days of standing before the King of Kings, and those days of asking for a good life might -in some tiny aspect- be about.

One might think that this is our time to look our best, since we are coming before the King. I would counter that by saying that every day, we are before the King. No one can hide from Hashem. What makes this time so much more special? At another moment, we might think perhaps the more slichot one can say the better so as to be in a proper mood for seeming repentant enough to merit a good year. Some kind of self-flagellating sense may lead some of us to think that if we might be properly penitent, we might do better next year. If so, we and our co-religionists seem to be proponents of an idea that the more you beat the horse the more likely it is to get up and walk properly --which experience can prove doesn't work. If it doesn't work, then why do we do it? What about those who sit in shul and simply endure -or even sleep through- the long litany of rote words and chantings? What do they get out of it?

We spend a great portion of the davening talking about Hashem as melekh and a great portion of time in appearing repentant so as to sweet-talk(?) HaKadosh Baruch Hu/HKB"H (Hashem) into granting us a good decree, yet when one admits that Hashem is the master of all, the One who controls everything, does all that self-flagellation do any good? Hashem knows better than we do even which bad things we will do this year, what of the list in the vidui we are not truly penitent over, ... How can we really stand there and say the vidui if we know we may within the next month do at least one of the sins on this list? --and that timeframe if we're all highly optimistic people! Hashem certainly knows we probably will. We say these things each year no less, so it's fairly guaranteed that our penitent repetition of this year after year might get a bit old for Hashem. Hashem and we both harbor no doubt that we are going to do these things again! Why not stop here, wait until the moment before death and just say the vidui then and have it over with at a moment we might truthfully be able to say, "we're sorry, we won't do this again"... !? The answer to me is nicely put in the _Shadowlands_, wherein the character of C.S.Lewis says, "I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God, it changes me. " What a great thought, prayer changes me. It's actually reflected in the Hebrew itself the verb to pray is a reflexive verb, meaning we do it to ourselves.. Usually this grammar is reserved for things like I dressed myself, etc. ... how does one pray oneself? Hah! Is it that prayer changes us? Let's say this is so. Even if you don't have the concentration and intention for the prayer, don't understand the prayer, don't like the prayer, halachically, we say --pray anyway. Perhaps the act of praying will change each one of us.

Why then a special holiday? Why not just presume that shabbat or daily tefillot can do this all the same? If one is praying for praying's sake to change oneself, are not all prayers equal?

Perhaps Rosh Hashana --if one feels like getting out on a limb with connotations-- is a connection between the real "Rosh" the Ribono Shel Olam, HaBorei, the Creator, and time -"Hashana"- for us finite (er, mortal) beings who count our lives in years, weeks, days, hours, minutes, ... even for some of us nano and picoseconds in a slightly different manner. Time is of the essence to our very existence and is the manner in which we measure our very presence in this world. At Rosh Hashana, we mention life and death, which are conditions very much connected to our sense of time.

Certainly we see time counted every week with shabbat. A.J. Heschel called shabbat "a palace in time." Ehad Ha'Am is credited with penning the line "more than the Jews have kept shabbat, shabbat has kept the Jews." Marking time through shabbat and remembering what holiness can do for our lives at least once a week has helped us to retain our identity -our purpose in life, our connection to HKB"H, among lots of other things. Shabbat, that palace where we meet to affirm that HKB"H created the world --is it not enough to bring us to set our eyes upon the King and remind us that we serve Hashem? I would venture a guess not.

Perhaps Rosh Hashana itself lends us a marker on a grander scale, of once a year, to remember that we who count our days, whose lives are bound by time, are connected to that "Rosh," who doesn't count time. Rosh Hashana, rather than counting time like shabbat, might be a means of stopping our counting of time. At Rosh Hashana, standing before HKB"H and discussing our character flaws in shul together, we stop -we halt the business of time- to reflect on what is really important.

Simply put, it may be that we are reminded that there is more to our lives than the petty surface things we hold in front of ourselves when we worry about time. The Ba'al Shem Tov wrote something lovely that I can only paraphrase awkwardly as "the world is new to us every morning, that is Hashem's gift, and we should believe we are reborn each day." This is difficult to do. Rarely when we go about our days, --teaching, attending classes, working, going to meetings, picking up the kids, or whatever else we are doing, -- do we think about what we would do if this one or that one of our loved ones -bli ayin hara- were to die. We tend, also, not to live with that awe and delight as if each day were are first or with that love and savoring taste as if each day were our last. As several people have pointed out to me over the past year, we just can't live our lives like that. If we did, we might never get anything done. So we resume counting time outside the bounds of Rosh Hashana.

At Rosh Hashana, when we recommend ourselves to Hashem more with our character, our hopes, or our intentions and less with our resumes, our station in life, or our job titles, we remind ourselves, however subtly, of the important things in life, which cannot be seen by the eyes. We remind ourselves of whom, perhaps, we aspire to be through the prayers we pray at Rosh Hashana and thus are we changed by that raised level of awareness. We stop for a moment in time -sanctifying that time- to renew our awareness that beneath the surface, in the depth of ourselves, who we are as humans matters to the Ribono Shel Olam. Knowing this may subtly alter how we act for however brief a period of time before we are so immersed again in our daily lives that we forget. Maybe that's why we need to do it every year? That this time is connected to our requests for a good year, for a good life, is no silliness. What matters to us about a good life and a good year is connected to what matters to HKB"H about whether we are looking internally and trying to be good people and good av'dim (servants of) Hashem. So really in the end, our Rosh Hashana tefillot whether or not we consciously think so, are focused on this moment when we place Hashem in front of us to remember that HKB"H is king, and that what really matters is who we are inside and not what is on the outside.

... and that maybe, just maybe, is what links New Year's resolutions, serving the King, and prayers for a good life all together. I don't know, but this is my guess for now.

N.B. The idea of "the important things are invisible to the eyes" is from my recent reading of _The Little Prince_ by Antoine de St. Exupery.