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Rosh Hashana & Nitzavim

Thursday, 26 September, 2019 - 7:20 pm


How are we to approach Hashem on Rosh Hashana? Rosh Hashana is a time when most Jews go to Shul.
Something drives us at this time to connect to our heritage and to be part of the annual event known as the High Holidays. What is this drive and why is it so important? The truth is that how meaningful Rosh Hashana is to us really depends on the meaning we bring to it. For some it is a social event that brings everyone together once a year. For others it is a time to remember our past and recharge our Judaism.

For some it is a time to pray and ask Hashem for blessings for the New Year on this “Day of Judgment.” Ido believe that underlying all of the explanations we may give for why we show up is the essential soul in each of us that never gives up and is always, no matter how we live our lives, bound up with it’s
Divine source. On the day of Rosh Hashana, the anniversary of the creation of humanity, Hashem renews His creation of the universe, as we say in the liturgy “this day is the beginning of Your work,” and there is a special holiness permeating the atmosphere. Even if we don’t feel it in our minds or heart, our
soul feels it, drives us to do something about it and schlepps us to show up.


Once in Shul, or for that matter for someone who can’t make it to Shul but wants to observe this great day, how do we connect? I think that most people feel that they are less knowledgeable than others and less worthy to truly approach Hashem. We look at the book and read the prayers, but do we feel that we really understand the meaning behind them? There are great scholars who know what the prayers really mean, what the mystical meaning is behind the words, but me? What do I understand? Without any real knowledge, it’s just rote, so I might as well just give up on any real connection with
Hashem and just go through the motions.


I have two answers to this problem. First, while the prayers are really very important and do, indeed, carry many mystical meaning to help us bring blessings on ourselves, our families and the world, the most important Mitzvah of the day is to hear the Shofar blasts. So if you focus on that part, you are getting the most out of the day. What exactly is the meaning of the Shofar and why is it so important? You can find some answers here. But the bottom line is that hearing the Shofar is key.


How about if you don’t get the meaning of any of this and feel somehow left out of the mystical experiences? Here is a story from the book Sipurei Chassidim that I think addresses this point well. The blowing of the Shofar has many deep mystical explanations, and is central to the entire Rosh Hashana
service, so the person who blows the Shofar for the whole community should really try to brush up on his knowledge to deeply understand the significance of what he is doing. In the synagogues of great mystics, the person chosen to blow the Shofar would be one of the greatest among them. In Chabad,
the Rebbes themselves would blow the Shofar. Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, who can best be described as one of the greatest giants of all time in Torah, holiness and humanity, approached one of his greatest Chassidim (close followers) by the name of Reb Zev Kitzes
some time before Rosh Hashana and appointed him to blow the Shofar. The Baal Shem Tov told him to study the Kabbalistic meanings of the Shofar blowing, and we can only imagine the spiritual fervor with which Reb Zev approached this holy task. He spent many days learning the deep secrets of this Mitzvah,
and took notes on the main points, for him to refer to while he was blowing. He put these notes in his pocket in the morning of Rosh Hashana in order to have them with him at the right time. When the 
 time came to blow the Shofar, Reb Zev realized that the paper was missing. He was crushed. The holy Rebbe had entrusted him with such a great responsibility and now he would let him down. He tried to think of the mystical teachings that he had learned, but he was so distraught that he couldn’t think of anything and instead just focused on following the Halacha (Jewish law) and getting the sounds out in
the proper form. He was devastated and spent the rest of the service sobbing with his tallit over his head. At the conclusion of the services, the Baal Shen Tov approached him and said: “Gut Yom Tov (happy holiday), Reb Zev! That was a most extraordinary shofar-blowing we heard today!”


Reb Zev didn’t understand. The Baal Shem Tov explained (from “In the king’s palace there are many gates and doors, leading to many halls and chambers. The palace-keepers have great rings holding many keys, each of which opens a different door. But there is one key that fits all the locks, a
master key that opens all the doors. The kavanot (mystical meditations) are keys, each unlocking another door in our souls, each accessing another chamber in the supernal worlds. But there is one keythat unlocks all doors, that opens up for us the innermost chambers of the divine palace. That master key
is a broken heart.”


On Rosh Hashana we say: Avinu Malkeinu,” our father our king. Hashem is foremost our loving father. Each of us can approach Hashem on this awesome and auspicious day, with or without knowledge, with or without deep meditations. Hashem is available to us with deep and abiding love, and is waiting to
shower us with blessings for the New Year. May it be a sweet and successful one for all of us.

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