I believe that all of us can agree that this year the awesome days of Rosh Hashannah will be different than in past years. Many of us may not even be allowed to attend the synagogue for public worship. Others will pray and assemble in open, outside areas. There is a rhythm to our holidays that this coronavirus has interrupted. Nevertheless, Rosh Hashannah will take place and Jews worldwide will commemorate it according to our halakhic and traditional customs. But perhaps most importantly, I feel, and I certainly hope that it will be a more introspective Rosh Hashannah than we perhaps have experienced in past years.
The prayers for life and family, success and prosperity, peace and tranquility, accomplishment and productivity, purposefulness and meaning, will have a more intensive, personal tone. This year it requires little imagination to realize that we stand before the heavenly court and pass, in single file, to be judged and blessed.
There are those who because of circumstances in their synagogues or community may curtail the prayer service and omit certain of the paragraphs that are ordinarily so much a part of the holiday service of the day. I respect the opinion of rabbis who chose to follow this route because of the local situation in which they find themselves, however to me every word of the holiday prayer book now takes on even greater meaning and relevance.
I cannot imagine that under the present circumstances that exist here in my synagogue, that we will omit any prayers. We can all do without sermons and other additions but the holy words that have been sanctified over the centuries by the tears and even the blood of millions of Jews who stood before their creator for judgment and blessing should not be absent from our lives and lips. We need to remember that wherever we are it is Rosh Hashannah and that it should be treated and observed as such.
The Talmud records that we passed before the heavenly court as soldiers in the army of King David. It also compares us to the sheep that exist around Mount Meron. Sheep and soldiers, at first glance, seem to be opposite descriptions and scenarios. Soldiers stand erect and march proudly, while sheep always have a low profile and are not given to represent strength and firmness.
Yet, I believe that we can well understand that the Talmud did not present us here with an either/or choice – soldiers or sheep. Rather, it meant to teach us that all human beings are both at the same time. We have within us enormous strength and capability, potential and firmness of purpose and behavior while at the same time we are but dust and ashes, putty in the hands, so to speak, of the Holy One who has fashioned us.
It is the challenge of life, its experiences and events that confront us as to when we should stand erect and firm as soldiers or whether we should be humble and adopt a low profile, as do sheep. Rosh Hashannah brings us face-to-face with this challenge. As far as Torah values and the Jewish people are concerned, we are certainly to be soldiers in the army of King David. But as far as our own personal wants and desires, social behavior, and communal responsibility, we should lower our egos and allow ourselves to be counted as the sheep of Mount Meron.
I send you my blessings for the new year and for a ktiva v’chatima tova.
Rabbi Berel Wein