Rosh Hashanah Day 2-Time to Reflect

Thank you for joining us for another morning of spiritual prayer. It is so great to see multiple generations of families together, both new members and those who have been here for decades, joining together as a spiritual community. I want to be sure that everyone knows that you always have a place here at the Jericho Jewish Center. Please be frequent visitors and please give me your input as to what you’d like to see at your Jericho Jewish Center.

Lucille Frenkel, “New Year Prayer 5734-1973”

Another New Year

Marking passing of time,

A fresh chance to reflect

And to question how I am

Passing my days

In my journey through time-

Do I value each moment

God sends to be mine?

Do I criticize much

Which I do not approve,

Instead of attempting

Myself to improve?

Another New Year

Marking passing of time

Holds the need to reflect

On my whole life design.[1]

What are you thinking about this New Year season? Is there something on your mind that you want to change? I’m so thrilled that you have decided to come to synagogue today. Let’s explore the topic of our relationship within ourselves and within our congregational family.

There’s a dichotomy on the High Holidays between our being viewed as a community or as individuals. It’s well known that כל ישראל ערבים זה בזה, all of Israel is responsible for one another.[2] That’s why we say the entire list of sins in the וידוי (The Confessional) in the plural on Yom Kippur, for even if we did not do a sin, someone in our midst did, and we are all viewed as אגודה אחת (Agudah Ahat), one bundle. This stands in contrast with ונתנה תוקף (U’netaneh Tokef) where it states וכל באי עולם יעברון לפניך כבני מרון, all of Israel passes before you כבני מרון. What does כבני מרון mean? Looking at the line which follows כבקרת רועה עדרו מעביר צאנו תחת שבתו, we see “as a shepherd shepherds his sheep causing his flock to pass beneath his staff, so too do we pass before G-d.”[3] The phrase כבני מרון first appears in the second Mishnah of tractate Rosh Hashanah[4] as the way in which the people of Israel are judged on Rosh Hashanah.

The rabbis ask in the Gemara what is the meaning of this term בני מרום? Three interpretations are given. The first is ascribed to the Babylonians, who assert that it means “like a flock of sheep,” using the Aramaic term בני אמרנא.[5] Rashi explains that when sheep are counted in the giving of a tithe, they pass through a narrow opening too small for more than one at a time to go out. So too does Israel appear before G-d one at a time.[6]

In contrast, Resh Lakish states that it refers to the elevated heights of the Maron area. Where exactly is this? According to Rashi, the Maron area had a road with a steep drop on both sides, making it so narrow that two people could not walk side by side. Thus they needed to walk one after the other.[7] Often when climbing a mountain the ascent is so narrow that a group of hikers need to go single file. So too is it with us-we approach G-d singularly, as individuals.

The third interpretation, of Rav Yehuda in the name of Shmuel, is that כבני מרון refers to the soldiers of the House of David. As Rashi comments, David’s soldiers were counted one at a time as they walked out to war in single file.[8] In war today we do the same; a troop is an individual, and troops are counted one-by-one.

Which interpretation is correct? Does כבני מרון mean a flock of sheep, the high places or the soldiers of David? Rabbi David Golinkin of the Schechter Institute wrote a responsum on this asserting that the pshat, or literal meaning is a cohort of soldiers, based on the word numeron, which means a troop. [9]  It’s hard to connect with an image of a soldier when living sheltered, suburban and peaceful lives. At the same time, I would argue that we are all soldiers in a way. Each of us wages battles in our daily lives, fighting for things in which we believe. Rabbi JJ Shacter of Yeshiva University quoted the late Alan Paton, writer of Cry of my Beloved Country, who wrote from one of his characters: “When I shall ascend to heaven, which I certainly intend to do, I will be asked, ‘where are your wounds?’ When I will say, ‘I haven’t any,’ I will be asked, ‘was there nothing worth fighting for?’ and that is a question that I do not want to have to answer.”[10]

How do we pass before G-d not as sheep, merely led by our shepherd, but as soldiers, armed with a mission and fighting for a purpose? What can we do to ensure that our actions are judged not from a position of submission or weakness but rather from one of strength? At times I am scared of taking a stand, of what the consequences will be for doing so, and I’m sure I’m not the only one in this room to whom that applies. Yet our tradition teaches that at times we must take strong stances based on what we believe and that if we do not do so we can be called to account for it.

We can find deep meaning in our encounters with G-d whichever of these three ways we look at how we pass before Him. As sheep we can examine whether we are owning our Judaism or just going along with the herd. Alternatively, sheep are submissive and we should look at whether we submit ourselves to the Torah guidelines and boundaries. Regarding passing before G-d on the heights of Mount Meron, let us examine how we raise ourselves up, elevating our actions to greater heights. In seeing ourselves as soldiers, may we look at whether we have the other guys’ back: are we really committed to someone else or to a greater cause? How do we extend ourselves for others?

The lessons as to how we pass before G-d as individuals also become applied to the nature of community. We are judged as sheep, which travel in a group (in fact, the word “sheep” is both singular and plural.)  We recognize that we achieve a greater impact when we act together. Looking out into our congregation on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I feel our collective strength as the Jericho Jewish Center. It is also apparent whenever I go to a Shiva minyan and see the outpouring of support and warmth for those who are most vulnerable. We are also part of an initiative called Partners in Caring where a number of our congregants have been trained as Friendly Visitors, tasked with bringing comfort to those who are ill or confined to their homes, a number of whom are our own congregants. In addition, we know the importance of taking a stance as a community, whether historically for the Campaign to Save Soviet Jewry or every year at the Salute to Israel Parade on 5th Avenue. As a whole, we truly are greater than the sum of our parts.

Similarly, we are judged upon ascending the Heights of Mount Maron. In our lives we must ask if we are striving to rise higher, to be better spouses, parents and friends. Are we fine with the status quo or do we continually want to elevate ourselves? Even if the challenges are immense that does not give us the right to stop engaging in them. We always want to be the people who believe in ourselves and strive to make the greatest impact we can with all that we are.

In terms of being a soldier, let us ask what do we really fight for? What matters to us? The issues of past generations might not have the same degree of importance to us, but if we don’t have something for which we are willing to stick out our neck, if we live in a world where “anything goes,” than we do not stand for anything. It’s no coincidence that Chabad shlichim are referred to as “The Rebbe’s Army”: they know their mission in life and they stand behind it 100%. What is our personal mission statement and how are we going to fight to make it a reality?

As we pass before G-d single-file this Rosh Hashanah, we need to think about how we want to be judged. According to Rava in the Talmud, at the moment that we pass before G-d for judgment, we are asked “Were you honest in your business dealings? Did you set aside fixed times for Torah? Did you engage in procreation? Did you seek out the words of the prophets? Did you delve into wisdom? Did you seek to understand the matters that were inside other matters?”[11] That is a lot of questions for us to ponder, and it would be overwhelming to take them all at once.

At this time of introspection, let us work towards answering those questions in the affirmative one at a time. May we say “Today I am going to be sure to set fixed time for study, to learn the wisdom from our tradition,” or “Today I’m not going to jump to conclusions but rather think about the deeper meaning behind what I’m supposed to do today,” or “Today I’m not going to gossip but rather think before I speak.” In being more reflective, mindful and intentional, we will truly make this a year of great spiritual growth, refinement and development.

I will conclude with another piece of my grandmother’s wisdom as we prepare for the reflection brought about by the powerful Hineni prayer:

Lucille Frenkel, “New Year Prayer 5732-1971”

At the approaching of each New Year

One must really pause and ask oneself

What one has accomplished in the past year,

What one has envisioned of the New Year.

For time is not guaranteed progressive,

And living can advance or be regressive.

Thus, at the approach of every New Year,

One must really pause to reassess

What one has accomplished in the past year

To assist the new year to progress.[12]

Shana Tova U’metuka, a happy, sweet and healthy new year to all.

We continue with Cantor Goldstein leading us in Hineni, “Here I am,” on Page 124.

[1] Lucille Frenkel, A Jewish Adventure (Milwaukee, WI: The Eternity Press, 1983), p. 133.

[2] ספרא בחוקותי פרק ז, ה (Sifra Behukotai Chapter 7, Midrash 5)

[3] Unetaneh Tokef Prayer (ונתנה תוקף)

[4] Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:2

[5] Rosh Hashanah 18a

[6] Rashi on Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:1

[7] Rashi on Rosh Hashanah 18a

[8] Ibid.

[9] David Golinkin Insight Israel: The Schechter View, Vol. 5, No. 1 September 2004 (Jerusalem: Israel).

[10] JJ Shacter, “Was There Nothing Worth Fighting For?” in A Treasury of Favorite Sermons by Leading American Rabbis by Sidney Greenberg (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc. 1999), 226-27.

[11] Babylonian Talmud Tractate Shabbat 31a

[12] Lucille Frenkel, A Jewish Adventure (Milwaukee, WI: The Eternity Press, 1983), p. 132.

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