GOOD MORNING! Rosh Chodesh Elul, the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul will be August 26th and 27th. This means that there is one month and counting to Rosh Hashanah (Wednesday evening, September 24th). Many people might ask, “So, what?” or might think, “Thanks for the reminder to buy a brisket!” However, the answer to “So, what?” is that we have one month to prepare for Rosh Hashanah … and Yom Kippur.
Why would one want to prepare for Rosh Hashanah? Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment when the Almighty decides “Life or death, sickness or health, poverty or wealth.” Does it make sense to prepare for a day of judgment? You bet! However, for many it has the same emotional impact as their cardiologist telling them that they need to lose weight to avoid heart attacks and strokes… a wonderful idea between meals!
-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly,” Commentary on Re’eh 5774
I’m depressed. Well, maybe not depressed but discouraged, or something like that. I’m not really sure what I’m feeling. A bunch of people are trying to convince me that I’m a citizen of Israel and so is every other Christian on Earth.
I have two problems with this. The first is that everything in my intellect, beliefs, and passions tells me it’s wrong. The second is that some of the folks (particularly one of them) are people I respect for their intellectual prowess and spiritual integrity.
I mean, it’s not like it’s a secret that I’m attracted to Jewish learning and study, at least after a fashion (I’m hardly a Talmudic or any other kind of scholar). So why are people hammering away at me (it feels like that) trying to get me to, what in effect for me feels like, commit a home invasion or rip off someone’s birthday present or family heirloom?
I don’t get it.
To me, my interest in Jewish studies and Torah are more like how Rabbi Packouz describes preparing for the High Holy Days:
Why is living in a hurricane zone a benefit? It teaches you a very important lesson: Be real with life! Usually, the weather bureau (N.O.A.A. — National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) gives a week’s heads up. You know that in 7 days a Force 3 or 4 or 5 hurricane will hit. You generally know for sure whether it will hit land, you just don’t know whether for sure it will hit YOU until perhaps a day or a few hours before landfall.
What happens during that week? The hardware store sells out all of its plywood (used for covering windows) and batteries. They have to make special shipments from neighboring states! The grocery stores shelves are cleared out or seriously diminished of canned goods and water. People are scrambling to buy generators to provide electricity needed to keep the lights on, fans going and the refrigerator and freezer working. There is a mad dash for last minute preparations because the STORM IS COMING!
What’s the difference between a hurricane and Rosh Hashanah? The hurricane MAY hit your area; Rosh Hashanah DEFINITELY will touch you!
So, if one believes in a God who has set a standard for behavior and observance in the Torah and who will judge us, does it make sense to make some preparations? It would be reasonable to think so.
How can one prepare for the Day of Judgment?
Preparing for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is like living in Florida and stocking up on needed supplies for the coming hurricane season. Doesn’t seem very “spiritual,” does it? On the other hand, it sounds incredibly practical. It also doesn’t worry about boundaries, barriers, and why I can’t wear the tzitzit behind door number one (game show reference). It “worries” about preparing for an encounter with God.
Why can’t we focus on that too in our little corner of the blogosphere?
How do you prepare for Rosh Hashanah? Rabbi Packouz has ten suggestions:
- Take a spiritual accounting. Each day take at least 5 minutes to review your last year — a) your behavior with family, friends, associates and people you’ve interacted with, and b) your level of mitzvah observance.
- Attend a class or classes at a synagogue, Aish center, a yeshiva on how to prepare. Read articles on aish.com and listen to world-class speakers on aishaudio.com .
- Study the Machzor (Rosh Hashanah prayer book) to know the order of the service and the meaning of the words and prayers. You can buy a copy of the The Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur Survival Kit, by Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf (possibly available at your local Jewish bookstore or at Amazon.com — about 50 left).
- Make sure that you have given enough tzedakah (charity) and have paid your pledges (One is supposed to give 10% of his net income). It says in the Machzor that three things break an evil decree — Teshuva (repentance), Tefilla (prayer) and Tzedakah (charity). Why not maximize your chance for a good decree?
- Think of (at least) one person you have wronged or feel badly towards — and correct the situation.
- Make a list of your goals for yourself and your family — what you want to work towards and pray for.
- Limit your pleasures — the amount of television, movies, music, food — do something different so that you take this preparation time seriously.
- Do an extra act of kindness — who needs your help? To whom can you make a difference?
- Read a book on character development — anything written by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin would be great!
- Ask a friend to tell you what you need to improve. A real friend will tell you … but in a nice way!
Not all of these would apply to me, but then R. Packouz is writing to a Jewish audience, not a Christian with a Messianic twist.
Certainly taking a spiritual accounting makes sense and any person of faith should engage in such an activity. Attending a class relative to Judaism isn’t an option for me unless it’s online such as at Aish Audio. Even then, because the classes are geared to a Jewish audience, there’s a limit to their ability to apply to me.
Study the Machzor? I could. But I won’t be attending Rosh Hashanah services, so if the intent is to familiarize me with said-services, this also doesn’t apply.
I believe in tzedakah but I don’t think how much or how little I give will affect how God judges me, at least all by itself, particularly at a certain time of year. People are hungry every day of the week, so we should try to contribute as often as we can, not just around Rosh Hashanah.
It’s good to right the wrongs we’ve done to others, so I can certainly agree with this one. It’s also good to make goals, to dedicate yourself to becoming a better person and help the family draw closer to God (although in my family, we are so spread out about spiritual perspectives, that we virtually live in our own separate bubbles).
I don’t know that limiting pleasures makes much difference, but every opportunity to act with kindness should be observed.
Read a book? I’m reading all the time, trying to learn more, hoping it’ll make a difference…and Rabbi Pliskin is a wonderful author.
Ask a friend what I need to do to improve? Here we are back at people trying to make me believe that I’m a citizen of Israel again. That’s what I’ve been hearing lately about how I need to improve.
Part of the Rabbi’s commentary on Re’eh states:
One of the indications of the existence and necessity of the Oral Torah — an explanation and clarification (later redacted as the Talmud) of the written Torah (The Five Books of Moses) — comes from verse 12:21 “You will slaughter animals … according to the manner I (God) have prescribed.” Nowhere in the Torah are we instructed in the manner of shechita, ritual slaughter. One might conclude that there was a very sloppy editor. Or — one might conclude that there are additional teachings (the Oral Law/Talmud) clarifying and amplifying the written Word.
There are some people who believe that there is only “Biblical Judaism” and not “Rabbinic Judaism” and that the Bible tells you everything you need to know about observing the mitzvoth.
Except that R. Packouz just demonstrated that it doesn’t. That’s one of the assumptions of some of the people who want me to have citizenship in Israel along with the natural citizens, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…the Jewish people.
My friend Tom sent me a link to a website he said would explain what he’s been trying to tell me. I went there and read through it. I felt like telling the site owner, “1998 called. They want their website back” (I have this “thing” about archaic web design).
Anyway, this is part of what struck me besides having to scan completely from one side of my monitor to another just to read a single sentence:
I am very encouraging to people who want to embrace Jewish tradition, making the lifestyle of Judaism, their own. I offer this personal caution however: as you adopt traditional halacha and make it your own, do not make the traditional halacha a matter of conscience. That is truly your choice. Distinguish between the literal commandment, and the traditional “how to” in walking out that commandment.
Don’t let your fences become walls. Walls that keep out the blessing of a healthy relationship with HaShem, or walls that make your circle of brothers and sisters ever more small.
Like I said, “Biblical” Judaism” vs. “Rabbinic” Judaism. It’s like listening to someone say they love Israel but not Jewish Rabbis, Sages, and Tzadikim. How would the website owner observe the commandment of shechita given that he embraces the “literal commandment” (which is not described at all in the Torah) but not the “traditional ‘how to'”?
How can I reconcile sentences such as:
Jew and Gentile, One in Messiah. We have One King, we are One People, and we have been given One Torah…
…with statements like:
Standing in Prayer with all Israel
How? It doesn’t make sense.
The bottom line is that I’m not going to tell me wife that I have as much right as she does (she’s Jewish) to the Land of Israel and that I intend on davening with a Jewish minyan (because if I’m under the same obligation as observant Jews, I should have the right to become part of a minyan), keeping Glatt Kosher (actually, if my wife made that choice, I’d do so as well because we live together), wearing a kippah and talit katan during my waking hours, and keeping “Biblical” Torah whilst ignoring thousands of years of Jewish interpretation on just how to do that.
Not only would it be bad for family life, I don’t see that being said in the Bible.
I also have no intention of using this as another platform for getting into another “he said/she said” debate over One Law vs. distinctive application of Law. If it comes up again as part of my reading and studying, so be it. I’m certainly going to continue reading and studying. But these debates are not the focus of my life, They can’t be.
They are a spiritual dead-end.
Look at what Rabbi Packouz was paying attention to. He was advising anyone reading his words (well, any Jewish person) to prepare themselves physically and spiritually for the upcoming High Holidays. While not all of us observe those events, it might not be a bad idea to take the portions of his advice that apply more universally to us…to me.
What do all these arguments have to do with a relationship with God? If God, for some strange reason, chooses to give me an inheritance in Israel, I will be totally shocked and probably overjoyed. On the other hand, if He doesn’t (and I hardly expect such a thing), it won’t come as a surprise and frankly, we are all fortunate to get what God gifts us with. I’ll take what He gives me out of His abundant graciousness which includes every day He allows me to live.
You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
What’s wrong with just accepting what God gives us, whatever that may be? Sure, as Rabbi Packouz says, there are plenty of things we all can do, Jew and Gentile alike, to help improve our situation, to learn more, to help others more. These are the things of God. Therefore, these are the things I choose to make important to me.
If I’m putting up fences, then the only thing they keep in or out is me. If I choose to put a fence around Israel to protect her from me, then that’s a choice I make and it affects no one but me. If God chooses to discipline me for that choice, as the Righteous Judge, that’s His right.
But I can’t imagine that He would punish loving and protecting Israel or His Chosen People. If I’m going to err, I’ll err on that side of the debate and let God treat me as He will.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…
–1 Corinthians 4:7-9 (NASB)
Addendum: Revisiting a blog post written by Derek Leman over two years ago called We’re Not All the Same. The reader comments along with Derek’s article makes for good reading and reminds me that this argument has been around for awhile and will probably be around when Messiah comes to teach us how to be better disciples.
Another Addendum: Consider this Part 2.