Rabbi Dr. Raymond AppleRabbi Dr Raymond Apple AO RFD is Emeritus Rabbi of the Great Synagogue, Sydney. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem, where he publishes OzTorah, a weekly email list and website with Torah insights from an Australian perspective.
One in a Hundred
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev said to God one Rosh HaShanah:
"Ribbono Shel Olam, Master of the World! You ordained 'a day of t'ruah' - blowing the shofar (Numbers 29:1). See how much Your children love You! You commanded a t'ruah - and they blow a hundred notes. Thousands, tens of thousands, millions of Your people Israel have blown those hundred notes for millennia. How many shofar notes
A modern Levi Yitzchak would not leave it at that.
have been sounded over the ages? No one can count them. But at the same time, they have called upon You with the words, T'ka b'shofar gadol l'cherutenu - God, blow just one note on Your great shofar to herald the beginning of our freedom and redemption. God, You asked us for one t'ruah, and we give You a hundred multiplied over and over again. All we ask from You is one t'kiah. Why can't You give us just that one note?"
God's answer was presumably that the time is not yet ripe and that the people of Israel still have to wait.
A modern Levi Yitzchak would not leave it at that. This might be what he says:
Ribbono Shel Olam, Your people suffer so much. Please hasten the day of their redemption. They really try to be good human beings, but they have to fight an environment of immorality. They try to be good Jews, but they have to struggle against temptations that are hard to resist. They enrich the world, but they receive insults in return. They have a tiny holy land where they work miracles, but even some of their own people want to dismember it. They know You are on their side, but they yearn for a sign of Your love. I implore You, Ribbono Shel Olam, come to their rescue with Your one shofar note!
I'm My Own Grandpa
I think it was a music-hall song and its refrain was "I'm my own grandpa." I don't remember the words and I suspect they have another nuance altogether, but now that I am a grandfather I think the words were written for me.
We all need a mentor and, when we are young, our grandparents often perform that service for us. The Torah actually commands us in parashat Ha'azinu, "Ask your father and he will tell you, your grandfather and he will declare to you." (Deuteronomy 32:7)
The problem is what happens when we become older and our grandparents are no longer alive. Nor, in some cases, are our parents still with us. Where do we go for a shoulder to cry on, a word of advice, a loving rebuke?
Without a grandpa we become our own grandpa. Youngsters come to us in the same way that we once went to our elders. When we ourselves need wisdom and counsel we have to rely on ourselves.
One answer is suggested by the rabbis' interpretation of the Joseph story. When faced with decisions, "the image of his father appeared in his mind's eye," and he worked out what his father would have said or done. Another approach is to go to our Heavenly Parent for guidance. Prayer may reveal the answer; consulting the Divine Word in the Torah certainly will.
Prayer may reveal the answer; consulting the Divine Word in the Torah certainly will.
The Ten Days Ahead
Rosh HaShanah is great in itself, but also a great gateway to the year. It commences the Ten Days of Penitence, which start the year off on a serious note. If the secular new year were the beginning of a ten-day period it would need a name, which would probably have to be Ten Days of Living It Up. In alphabetical order, it would be addiction, banality, consumption, drinking, eating, frivolity, gambling, hedonism, idleness and jabber.
I once attempted a list of themes for the Jewish Ten Days of Penitence. I included hope, faith, charity, modesty, peace, truth and justice, a range of theological and ethical issues. Others would have different issues and priorities. But whatever list you go by, it is bound to be serious and thought provoking.
The Ten Days are not there for inanities and ephemera, leaving merely a headache and a hangover. They are a precious opportunity to focus our sights on the meaning of God and the purpose of life. Make your own list of themes and allow them to inform all you do in the year ahead.