And so we plead on Rosh Hashanah, Avinu Malkenu—our Father, our King. We know who You are, behind that stern mask, feigning objective judgment upon Your throne. You are the Ruler of All That Is, but You are also our Father, and a compassionate loving Father at that. Come here with us, hold our hands, see everything from our view down here. Feel our troubles and the pangs of our hearts as only a father can do. And then get involved with Your world and bless us with a sweet and goodly year.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“I Don’t Like Rosh Hashanah”
A few days ago, while I was doing some reading, I had an idea for a “Rosh Hashanah” themed blog post. But I got busy with other things and now that I have the time to write it, the idea is gone. I searched my various online inspirations in an attempt to recapture what I had previously thought of, but no go.
But yesterday (as I write this) I did read my four-and-a-half year old grandson a book, written by Sonia Levitin called A Sound to Remember. Unfortunately, it was a library book and since it was due, I had to return it, thus I no longer have it with me to quote from.
The book seemed a little long and a little dry for my young grandson but he still cuddled next to me and paid rapt attention as I read the story of a boy, just past Bar Mitzvah age, named Jacov, a child living in a 19th century European village. Jacov was described as a “slow boy” who stuttered and who generally was the joke of both children and adults in his small town. But his ally was his teacher and friend, the Rabbi of the local synagogue.
The story begins several weeks before the start of the High Holidays. At this time, someone is usually selected to blow the shofar at the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services (custom says that a single individual is chosen for both of these honors). However, instead of the Rabbi choosing one of the elders of the synagogue or another person of esteem, he chose Jacov.
No one could believe it. Everyone tried to talk the Rabbi out of it. But the decision was made.
Jacov was terrified. What if he made a mistake? How much worse would he seem in the eyes of his neighbors than he already was if he made a mess of blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah?
The day came. Jacov’s parents beamed with pride as the young boy, shofar in hand, stood at the bemah ready to participate in the most important part of the service. The Rabbi called for the first blast. Jacov, who had been practicing diligently in preparation for this moment, blew with all his might, but almost no sound came out. The Rabbi called for the next blast. Jacov redoubled his efforts and the sound was a little better, but still hardly above a whisper. Jacov was red with embarrassment and trembling with shame. He just had to get the last call right.
The Rabbi shouted for the last blast but absolutely nothing was heard from the shofar. Jacov, in spite of all his efforts and determination, couldn’t make a sound.
The day was a disaster for both Jacov and everyone in the congregation. Angry faces “greeted” Jacov and his family as they left the synagogue that day. Jacov had no appetite for food and sat on his bed at home as that night’s darkness encroached, almost as dark as his depression at having utterly failed.
As I said, typically the person who blows the shofar at Rosh Hashanah also has the honor at Yom Kippur, but everyone in the village felt certain that the Rabbi would replace Jacov with a much more worthy individual. After all, who could be less worthy than Jacov?
But this was not the Rabbi’s choice. The Rabbi instead, made a secret agreement with Jacov and then took a quick trip to the city, which was unheard of for a Rabbi during the High Holidays.
He said that it is true that customarily, the shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah should be loud and robust, but sometimes this is not what God wants to hear from us. Sometimes it is our whispers, our anguish, our small cries of the soul that honor God more. Who is to say that Jacov’s tiny and silent efforts weren’t as pleasing to God as another’s loud, clear shofar blasts? Rabbi was much more eloquent in his words than I am right now, and all of the people in the synagogue realized that at this time of atonement, they had failed their Rabbi, little Jacov and his family, and God by being so stern and unforgiving. To truly end the commemoration of this most holy day, they all had to seek forgiveness and make amends.
Then Rabbi revealed the reason for his trip and the purchase he made in the city: another shofar.
At the end of the service, both Rabbi and Jacov blew their shofars together, and no one could be certain which one (or was it both) was making the loud, clear sounds to remember.
Rabbi Freeman in his Rosh Hashanah commentary, tells a story of a Jewish farmer who had hired a teacher to live in his home with his family. In exchange for room and board, the teacher was to provide instruction for his children. However, with the approach of Rosh Hashanah, the teacher went into town to stay for the holidays so he could be close to the local synagogue. This left it to the father to “home school” his children for several weeks.
The father, usually such as “softie” with his children, found that he had to be overly firm to keep his children from taking advantage of him while he was teaching them their lessons.
Finally, on only day three of this exercise, one small child broke down in tears. Father may have played a good part as stern teacher, but he was still father at heart. He couldn’t bear to look at one of his smallest children crying. Looking down at the table to conceal his chagrin, he brusquely called the child over.
“Why are you crying?” he asked.
Between his sobs, the child answered, “I want to ask my daddy…”
“I mean my teacher…”
“…so I can ask my daddy…”
“…that my daddy should ask the teacher…”
“So what is it?!”
“…that my teacher shouldn’t be so hard with us any more!!”
The story of the beginning of the New Year and the Day of Atonement is the story of our Teacher, our Master, and our Father and who we are as His children. Although most Christians probably don’t think there’s much for us to learn, since we accept that Jesus is our final atonement, there is a great deal we should pay attention to.
We are like Jacov, not very “quick on the draw,” so to speak. Earnest but immature. Eager to learn, but stumbling over the details. We know we are criticized and often deserve it, but we also can’t always control our natures and we make a lot of mistakes. If only our stern taskmaster, who asks so very much of us, would also be our loving Father, who can forgive abundantly.
We assume that once forgiven, we can do whatever we want. That we cannot fall from the hands of our loving Father. We often abuse the privilege of being “saved.” But what did Paul say?
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?
–Romans 6:1-2 (NASB)
I recently heard it said that as Christians we should live lives of continual repentance before God. That doesn’t mean we repent once, declare our faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, and then we’re covered forevermore, regardless of our behavior. It means we must be continually aware of our sins and our failures, continually confess them before the Father, continually regret our willful disobedience, continually make life changes designed to never again commit the sins we have repented of, and relocate our steps so we are walking on the path that God has set before us.
Even if we did that only once a year, say during the High Holidays, it would be a better effort at repentance than many Christians make.
Then, maybe we would appreciate that the harshness of our teacher is only a mask concealing the kindness and forgiveness of our loving Father, who is in Heaven.
If you are still asking yourself what possible relevance can the commemoration of Jewish festivals have for Christians, since this is all commanded in the Law (Torah), consider the following:
Question: Why do the Jewish people needs a covenant/Brit with G-d. Why do we have to be commanded to follow his Mitzvos? Why is the commitment necessary? Please let me know if you have any suggestions on further readings as well.
Answer: The Talmud asks your question, in a way. First, note that the Torah gives commandments to Gentiles as well, so evidently it is the Torah view that all humans need these. In fact, Adam, the first man, was commanded.
-from “Ask the Rabbi”
“Commandments and Covenants”
Without the basis of Torah, we Christians have no moral or ethical elements in our lives. This is no directive for Christians to behave like religious Jewish people, but God’s covenant with Abraham is our linkage to Christian covenant relationship with God. A significant subset of Torah is intended for the people of the nations who are called by His Name. Certainly the commandment to repent is not lost on us…or at least it shouldn’t be.
Wishing you a good and sweet new year.