Shofar blowing
Shofar blowingצילום: Kupat Hair

HISTORICAL COMMEMORATIONS ON ROSH HASHANAH

Though the main theme of Rosh Hashanah is spiritual (Penitence, Prayer and Charity) and not historical, it still has a commemorative flavor. It recalls the creation of the world and (on the sixth day of the first week) the creation of man.

Other events in the Biblical period which are said to have occurred on Rosh Hashanah are Cain and Abel bringing their offerings to God; the Binding of Isaac; Jacob’s dream of the ladder that joined earth and heaven; God hearing the prayers of three childless women – Sarah, Rachel and Hannah; Joseph’s release from prison; and the great assembly of the people convoked by Ezra and Nehemiah.


THREE TYPES OF SERMON


Isaac Abravanel applied the three shofar notes – "t'ki’ah", "t'ru’ah" and "sh’varim" – to rabbinic discourses or sermons.

The "t'ki’ah" sermon is clear, straightforward and often provocative. The "t'ru’ah" sermon is intricate and allusive. The "sh’varim" sermon has three sections, makes (usually) three points and does not stray from its overall theme.

Histories of Jewish preaching – beginning even before the onset of the Midrash – indicate how discourses over the ages have tended to fit into one of these styles. What has really changed, however, is the content of the discourses.

The Emancipation radically affected the rabbi, moving him away from Talmudic expositions to more contemporary themes. The more modern the rabbi, the more contemporary was the sermon. The more traditional the rabbi, the more attention he paid to traditional rabbinic sources.

In recent decades, the Modern Orthodox movement has tended to return to halakhic studies asking how contemporary themes can best be looked out through a halakhic lens.


WAS IT ABRAHAM’S AKEDAH?

The test that we read about on Rosh Hashanah is called the test of Abraham, though it was Isaac who went through the physical ordeal of being bound, placed on the wood and almost killed.

Why then do we not speak about the Binding of Abraham? After all, the psychological and spiritual ordeal of Abraham was excruciating, regardless of the pain of Isaac!

God was looking for a leader who could be trusted to carry the people into the future. If Abraham proved worthy, it would be he whose name would be attached to the people throughout history.

God was not only looking for a leader. He was looking for a people… and the leader would personify the people. Leo Baeck said, "Every people is a question which God addresses to humanity and every people, from its place, with its special talents and possibilities, must answer for its own sake and for the sake of humanity."

The Akedah is the test of Abraham, and through him the test of Israel.


IS ALL WELL?


The Mishnah Rosh Hashanah opens by telling us that the Jewish calendar has four New Years.

Apart from the "new year for years", which is the date we celebrate next week, the trees have a new year in the month of Sh’vat, Nisan has one for kings and festivals, and a new year for animal tithes is in Ellul.

The secular calendar has a number of analogies – there are the academic, the parliamentary, judicial, the financial and taxation years, and others.

These new years are not just random and arbitrary. The secular new years reveal the ideal pattern of values and priorities – quality education (marked by the academic new year), good government (the parliamentary new year), the rule of law (the judicial new year), the economy (the financial new year). A quality society has its priorities right.

The Jewish new years tell us what matters in a religious community such as Judaism – wise government (marked by the new year for kings), concern for Nature and the climate (the new year for trees), fairness to animals (the new year for animal tithes) and – above all – physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual human health (the new year for years).

The Tenach asks, "Is it well with you? Is it well with your spouse? Is it well with the children?" (II Kings 4:26). As Rosh Hashanah looms ahead these are questions we should all be asking about our society and ourselves.


Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple was for many years Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesman on Judaism. After serving congregations in London, Rabbi Apple was chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, for 32 years. He also held many public roles, particularly in the fields of chaplaincy, interfaith dialogue and Freemasonry, and is the recipient of several national and civic honours. Now retired, he lives in Jerusalem and blogs at http://www.oztorah.com