Monday, September 30, 2019

Rosh Hashanah Morning - Study Page 116

Having shared the b’racha - the blessing for Torah study, let us consider verse 18 of Psalm 118:

פִּתְחוּ־לִ֥י שַׁעֲרֵי־צֶ֑דֶק אָֽבֹא־בָ֝ם אוֹדֶ֥ה יָֽהּ׃

Open the gates of victory for me that I may enter them and praise the LORD.

We often consider this as a petition to the Divine, to God, to the Mystery of Creation to open those gates for us.  Yet, when we explore the Hebrew of this verb, to “open”, it is a request to a plural, and our commentators teach us that at its origin this was a request to the gatekeepers of the ancient Temple.  Having transcended the ancient reality that atonement was found only in the ancient Temple, to the realization that atonement is found in our own acts, behaviors and choices as well as those of community surrounding us, here and wider, we see this verse having a deeper meaning.  It is our request to all of those around us for a shared journey of seeking the righteous path.  May we all find ways in this season to discover, working hand in hand, the Gates of Righteousness, and know we can travel that path together.  Shanah Tovah!


Rosh Hashanah Morning - Intro to the Amidah

As we prepare for the Amidah, the central portion of our Jewish prayer, we recite words from Psalm 51, verse 17:
  אֲ֭דֹנָי שְׂפָתַ֣י תִּפְתָּ֑ח וּ֝פִ֗י יַגִּ֥יד תְּהִלָּתֶֽךָ׃

Adonai, open up my lips, that my mouth declare Your praise.

Malbim, a 19th century Bible commentator teaches that in this declaration, we are asking that we be open to the words that follow to show, to teach us the praises of which the Divine, the Mystery of Creation, that God is worthy of receiving.  It is about being open to that which may be beyond our current understanding….the way in which we see the world through our own lens.  May this Amidah lead us to greater understanding, that which is beyond ourselves at this moment… 


Rosh Hashanah Morning - Intro to Unetaneh Tokef

As we prepare for these challenging words, the words of Unetaneh Tokef, we often hear a fatalistic resignation, but Max Arzt former chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, teaches that the poet’s intention with this words is rather quite the opposite.  It is to deny that our human life is subject to an irremediable fate.  Rather, the prayer, he says, reaches its climax when it assures us that it is within our power to annul an evil decree, to reopen the future, and to reclaim the initiative it gives:  the quantity of our life may be in the hands of God, however the quality of our life is only in our hands as the Rabbis teach in Talmud Berakhot:  Everything is in the hands of God except the fear of God. (33b)  Raba, a 4th century sage remarks on this idea that these are among the questions to be asked of us in judgment:

Did you conduct your business with integrity?  Did you set aside fixed times for study of Torah? Did you concern yourself with the duty of raising a family?  Did you retain a confident faith in the fulfillment o the prophetic ideals of Israel’s redemption and the coming of an era of universal peace?  (Shabbat 31a)

As we hear these words of Unetaneh Tokef echo through the room and the chambers of our souls, may we ask these questions and others that inspire us towards life goals.  The goals of choosing life, the goals that lead to a healthy balance of self and other.

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