Rosh Hashanah 2017
At Touro Synagogue, September 22-23, 2017
[regarding the video, which is at https://youtu.be/sNIiTCSJUfI there is a discussion including the lyrics at http://www.yiddishpennysongs.com/2017/09/a-gut-yor-git-yuhr-zu-alle-leite-gut.html. As sung, the following verse was omitted,
"A year has now passed in misery and fear
Your child is swimming in blood
Innumerable pogroms and war all the time
Butchered without any sin at all
Those without a father, without a mother,
they feel desolate as a stone
We beg you, God, in your holy name,
That this shall never happen again."]
When people meet, they try to find something in common. Do they share the same interests? Who do they know? Where have they been? We know this as playing Jewish geography. I overheard one of our Navy students, “If you are in the Navy, there is an additional commonality. Have you been to Touro Synagogue? Have you met Rabbi Mandel?” From shore to shore, the reputations of CJI and Rabbi Mandel sail high above the waves!
Among our visitors during Rosh Hashanah were Moshe Bar-Z'ev and his wife, Carol Fuchs. Moshe and Carol both made Aliyah during their youths, Moshe from the United States and Carol from Toronto. Moshe has a special link with Newport, since he can trace his routes to Dokshitz, like many Newporters. They are inveterate travelers, and were in Orlando during the Hurricane Jose. They regaled us with tales of visiting Luxor Egypt.
To help us concentrate, at Touro Synagogue, we listened to the battle of the Shofars. Rabbi Marc Mandel’s blasts pierced our hearts. Saul Woythaler's shofar is a Stradivarius of shofars, and Saul plays the bassoon. He not only pierced our hearts, but filled the room and perhaps went even higher.
Rabbi Marc Mandel spoke succinctly on both days of Rosh Hashanah. He focused on two words, on the first day, “צחק” (laughed) and on the second day, “shanah” (year).
Rabbi Mandel started with a famous quote from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,”
“What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
In the interest of full disclosure, Juliet most likely said,
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose,By any other word would smell as sweet.”
She was telling Romeo he should change his name from Montague. To Juliet, names did matter!
“On Rosh Hashanah we have the custom of wishing each other a Shana Tova, a good year. The word shanah means year. But the word shanah has various other meetings.
“Shakespeare said, ‘What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’ But names are important.
“Rosh Hashanah has several different names. It is known as Yom Ha-din-the day of judgment. The Mishnah tells us that the whole world is judged on Rosh Hashanah. It is known as Yom Teruah, the day of the shofar. We will make 100 sounds on the shofar.
“It is also known as Yom Hazikaron, a day of remembrance. Being remembered on Rosh Hashanah? Who is doing the remembering? One answer to this question is: God remembered Sarah on Rosh Hashanah, and she was able to have a child, as she was promised.
“Let's remember–How did Sarah react when she heard that she was going to have a child at her old age? What was her reaction? She laughed. She was laughing! And when her child was born-what did she name him? Yitzhak, which means laughter, to laugh.
“Some philosophers believe that the essence of humor lies in its incongruity. We laugh at things that surprise us because they seem out of place.
“That's why Sarah laughed-it seemed impossible for her to have a child-she was an older person at the time.
“But why are we focusing on humor on Rosh Hashanah of all days? Rabbi Sampson Rafael Hirsch, rabbi in Frankfurt, Germany during the 1800s noted that in Hebrew, the word for laughed, צחק, is very similar to the word for scream, צעק. We have two virtually identical words for two opposite emotional expressions. There could be an important lesson for us on this New Year.
“When we look at the world around us we could either scream or laugh. When we look at the world and see North Korea with its nuclear arsenal, or the threats that climate change and global warming post to our planet, we want to scream.
“But, we can also look at the world and see how much medicine has improved the lives people all over the world, and how rapid change in technology are making the world better–we want to laugh.
“Rosh Hashanah tells us to be like Sarah and laugh. When Sarah heard that she was going to have a child at her late age, she could have screamed and said, “Who is going to take care of this child? How will I survive the birth of this child?” But she didn't scream. She laughed.
“And that’s who we have to emulate-as we begin the New Year, full of challenges and worries and concerns-let us be like Sarah the woman of valor – and let us laugh and be optimistic as we begin the year of 5778. Shana Tovah!”
“On Rosh Hashanah we have the custom of creating each other with the phrase Shanah Tovah! Shanah means year, and Tova means good. We wish each other a good year. But the word Shanah has other meanings too.
“The prophet Malachi wrote, describing God (Malachi 3:6,
אֲנִי יְהוָה, לֹא שָׁנִיתִי ‘I, the Lord, do not change.’ The word שָׁנִה means to change. But we are obliged to change. That is the essence of the High Holy Days. Rosh Hashanah is when we commit to change.
“So what holds us back from changing? It’s the very same word, שָׁנִה, which also means to repeat. The Jewish collection of laws is called Mishnah, because when they studied it, they repeated it so many times-they knew it by heart.
“Human beings are creatures of habit. We repeat the same things over and over again. So we have two opposite powers at war with each other-change and repetition. We want to be different and we want to change, but we are programmed to repeat.
“How do we win this battle? For one thing, we sound the shofar. When was the shofar sounded? During wartime it was a rallying call. This is an existential war that we are all fighting and the battle in earnest on Rosh Hashanah.
“What else do we do during Rosh Hashanah to help us win the battle? We pray together. Longer and more intense prayer are supposed to stir us up and create the desire for change.
“That's really all we can do on Rosh Hashanah. We rally and pray together to emotionally support each other, as individuals and as one nation.
“Let us hope and pray we win the battle, and if we do, we will be partnering with God to repair this fragile and vulnerable world. Shana Tova.”
Jewish Newport wishes you victory in the existential battle we fight with ourselves. Shana Tova!