Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Remember to Observe

R’ Moshe Odess of Tzohar spoke at Yavneh Minyan this week, as part of a Scholar in Residence program with his wife R’n Naamah Odess (is that Odett in Sefardi havarah?)

Unfortunately, I don’t remember a lot of his points, being somewhat spacey after the Long Yom Tov, but I had other ideas in reaction to them. So, over the next few days, I’ll post some brief summaries, along with the ideas his talks inspired.

On Friday night, he spoke about Shamor vs. Zachor, the requirements in the two versions of the Ten Commandments to Observe (refrain from creative work) and Remember (do actions to sanctify the day) the Sabbath Day. He linked them with the two formative events that the Sabbath commemorates – Creation and the Exodus. This being Parashat Bereshit, you see – the Creation link. The Friday night service focuses on the Creation, with the paragraph of Vayechulu, which is all about resting, so maybe that’s for the Rest aspect? While the Saturday morning service is the paragraph Veshamru, which is a more active paragraph. The Kiddush also bears this out, the first clause about God resting from the work of Creation, while the next clause saying that it is the beginning day for holy assemblies in memory of the Exodus –where we the Nation actively got up and did stuff, went out, followed God’s commands, etc. What’s the connection between Exodus and Shabbat? I don’t remember his point, but maybe someone else who was there can chime in.

My reaction to this was mostly about Veshamru – it integrates both aspects of Shamor and Zachor. Shamor is the rest from melacha, but Shabbat is not just about sitting around like a lump and not doing anything, there’s also the Zachor aspect – we sanctify Shabbat through doing Shabbosdik things, making Kiddush and havdalah, learning extra Torah that we don’t have time for during the week, being careful about our speech and our leisure activities, etc.

Think about the paragraph:

· Veshamru – The Jews Observe the Shabbat

o Laasot – To DO the Shabbat

§ Ledorotam – as an eternal covenant

§ Ot Hee – it is a Sign between God and Israel

o Ki Sheshet – In six days did God CREATE the universe

· Uvayom ha7 – on the seventh day He RESTED

This displays a chiastic structure: A-B-C-C-B-A. It links Shamru (Shamor) with REST. It links Laasot (to DO) with the Act of CREATION. And in the center, the Covenant is an Eternal Sign. What we DO on Shabbat is the Zachor aspect. So Resting on Shabbat is linked to Shamor, Doing is linked to Zachor, and the whole thing is an integrated whole. More, the Shamor aspect, the rest from melacha, creates a context in which the Zachor aspect, the Actions, have actual meaning. They are not symbolic, they are part of an integrated experience.

And what about the link to the Exodus? If the night is about creation, the day is surely about the exodus? Well, the paragraph is in the middle of the description of the Mishkan, the ultimate physical link between us and God during the Exodus. It is linked to the Second Tablets narrative, even if it isn’t the literal Second Tablets version of the commandment (according to R’ Reuven Cohn of Boston). And, as R’ Odess mentioned, the Kabbalah tells us that God looked into the Torah and (used it as a blueprint to) created the Universe. So they are all linked – Creation and Exodus, Torah and Creation, Shamor and Zachor, inaction and action, a complete integrated Shabbat experience.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Chaz: Simchat Torah


During the Yom Tov festivities I was asked two excellent questions. One was why we utilize the Yomim Noroim melody for Simchat Torah night. I responded that it is not for sake of levity, but in fact, just the opposite. It was instituted to remind us that Simchat Torah is considered by Chassidim as a day to change the decree of one’s fate and to achieve atonement through joy rather than fear. And, according to Rabbi Elie Munk (World of Prayer) as quoted by my teacher, Chazzan Macy Nulman, to remind us that “unbridled boisterousness is regarded quite unseemly...”. It was to remind us to temper our unrestricted emotions on this day. Unfortunately, we seem to have forgotten this part of the equation – perhaps, I must admit, for the good. However, we must be careful not to make the Maariv into a “joke”.

Question #2 was – why is there elements of “Eicha” (Lamentations) in “Ata Horaisa” and “Ana Hashem” during Simchat Torah? The answer is similar to the first, as expressed by Chazzan Nulman:”…in order to temper uncontrolled levity. It is also a reminder of the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem….parallel to breaking the glass at the conclusion of the marriage ceremony…to recall the great calamity that befell the people of Israel”. As a result of our joyous celebration of the Torah on the beautiful Yom Tov that we just have experienced - may we therefore merit seeing the rebuilding of the Temple in our day, V’chayn Y’hi Ratson!

Daven well and sing along!

© 2008 Cantor Sherwood Goffin and Lincoln Square Synagogue

Thursday, October 02, 2008

God the King at the Head of the Year

Another retread from Mesukim MiDevash -
The Kingship Theme of Rosh Hashanah

Sefasai Tiftach
Rosh Hashanah 5765
Jonathan Baker

Malchiyos. Kingships. These resonate throughout the Yamim Noraim, particularly on Rosh Hashanah. Malchus implies a mutuality between Ruler and ruled, that may be closer than our connection to the King as He is crowned in the daily Kedushah.

The idea of Kedushah is separation, removal from the mundane for a holy purpose, as Rashi says at the beginning of Parshas Kedoshim. The daily Kedushah coronation emphasizes this separateness: our prayers rise up to the angel Sandalphon, who weaves them into crowns, and then pronounces a Name over them, and they fly up to the separate realm of the Ein Sof, the Infinite Transcendent G-d. Our prayers, not we, reach the angels. The crowns, not the angels, can traverse the infinite gulf between the finite spiritual world and the Infinite. There are two unbroachable layers separating us from Hakel Hakadosh.

But during this period of the Ten Days of Repentance, our teshuva is most appropriate, and is accepted immediately (Rambam, Hil. Teshuva 2). We are told Dirshu H’ behimatz’o, kra’uhu beh’yoto karov – seek H’ when He is to be found, call to Him when He is near. How do we reconcile this with the separation of the Holy?

The Gemara gives us a special mitzva on Rosh Hashanah to crown the King. In Musaf, we say Malchiyos k’dei sheyamlichuni – in order that you crown Me. Not the angels, not through separation, but directly. In line with this, we make what R’ Isadore Twersky, the Talner Rebbe z”l, described as the greatest change in the prayers of Aseres Yemei Teshuvah: the third blessing of the Amidah changes from Hakel Hakadosh to Hamelech Hakadosh. In fact, the Rambam refers to a now-lost custom to include the extra Uv’chein paragraphs in the Amidah during the whole 10 days, further emphasizing His kingship. How does this shift make such a big difference?

Malchus, in the ordinary sense, indicates absolute rule. He is the absolute Sovereign, and we absolutely submit to Him.

The kabbalists, however, speak of the sefira of Malchus, as the mouth of the Primordial Man, the node through which power is transmitted from one level of the spiritual world to another. Malchus is thus associated with gilui, with revelation. A few examples demonstrate this:

1) The Gemara in Megillah, recounting the story of David and Naval, David wants to kill Naval for lese majeste, but Avigayil (Mrs. Naval) argues that David doesn’t have the right, as he has not yet been publicly proclaimed king. In Avigayil’s phrasing, lo yatza tiv`o ba`olam, his coins have not yet been minted. He is not yet fully revealed to the public.

2) R’ Velvl Brisker notes that while the restrictions on a king’s wealth, wives, horses, etc. apply always, the king is not obligated to write his second Sefer Torah until vehayah keshivto: he is seated on his throne. Why? From the above gemara – it’s a function of public acknowledgement, of public revelation.

This identification of gilui with malchus thus suggests an intimacy which, aside from this relationship, doesn’t exist. When H’ revealed Himself at the Sea, there was a closeness, an intimacy – we could say Zeh keili v’anveihu, or as we say after Shma, Malchus’cha ra’u vaneicha – we saw Your kingship, in splitting the Sea. It was a revelation that created a closeness.

Later in Hilchos Teshuva, the Rambam talks about the teshuva process. Last night, one was muvdal, separate from G-d; although he cried out, he was not answered. Sin blocked him. Now he is mudbak, cleaving to G-d, after doing teshuvah. The essence of distances us from the Kadosh Baruch Hu. Cheit, sin, is the antithesis of malchiyos. How can the two coexist, be resolved, through this time?

We note a difference in the malchuyos of Rosh Hashanah and the rest of the week. We are not allowed to confess sins on Rosh Hashanah, because of this dialectic. On the day we specially crown God, we cannot concentrate on cheit. But the emphasis on malchus continues through the ten days. Note that the Rambam in Hilchos Teshuvah 2 tells us that Yom Kippur is keitz for teshuvah. Not just the time for teshuvah, but the culmination of teshuvah during this period.

It is a process, from the mandated coronation on RH, through the 7 days of self-scrutiny and teshuvah, through Yom Kippur when atonement is granted for those who do teshuvah (according to the Chachomim).

Hashem wants to be our King. How is He King? As we say in the Shmoneh Esreh, He is meimis umechayeih. We see from David and Naval that the power to execute helps define earthly kingship. Only He can sustain us. He doesn’t need our permission for this, of course, but he does, as it were, need our cooperation.

The Malbim explains Baruch atah H’ as giving Him something. Following Ramban, it’s something He needs, as it were. He wants to shower us with blessings, but we, to allow Him to do so, must be worthy.

Our coronation, our creation of the initimate relationship, allows Him to sustain, to be fully Melech meimis umechayeih. The mitzva of Malchus obligates us further in Teshuvah so as to attain the malchiyos of the King Who gives death and life.

This is an awesome and terrifying, yet energizing responsibility, as R’ Mayer Twersky says. God comes knocking during this time, by giving us varying degrees of suffering. Are we ready to answer the call, during this time of Dirshu Hashem behi-matz’o?

May H’ give us the sensitivity and strength to answer, to repent, and to merit a good inscription and sealing.

This column is largely based on a lecture by R’ Mayer Twersky on 9/11/2002, available in audio at TorahWeb.

For another take on the Kingship theme on Rosh Hashanah, see R' Micha Berger at Aspaqlaria.