High Holiday Reader 5781

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Sounding of the Shofar. Alex Levin. Jerusalem, Israel. Art Levin / artlevin.com




Light of The Torah Alex Levin Jerusalem, Israel Art Levin / artlevin.com

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P r eface / K J H I GH H O L I DAY RE AD ER


The High Holidays will be different this year. The services will be shorter, the singing will be subdued, and the sermons will be omitted; and so many of us will be staying at home. The prayers and sermons that are meant to mark the spiritual high point of the year have now been condensed to their bare minimum. How do we, as a congregation, maintain a high level of inspiration despite these constraints? It is because of this challenge that we have compiled this High Holiday reader. Collected here are timeless commentaries that offer profound insights into Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It was a collaborative effort of our entire clergy team, each of whom have made multiple contributions to it, and has been co-edited by Rabbi Meyer Laniado and myself. We thank Vanessa and Ray Chalme’ for sponsoring this reader. In it are commentaries about the prayers and the Torah readings of the High Holidays. Use it as a companion to your Machzor, as a guide to the prayer experience; and you can also read from it at any time, for a few moments of learning and insight. We miss seeing you in synagogue. But if you cannot make it to KJ, KJ will come to you. It is our hope that this reader brings a bit of the KJ spirit to your home, and adds a new dimension to your High Holiday experience. With blessings for a New Year filled with health, joy and goodness,

Chaim Steinmetz


One of the greatest losses inflicted upon us by the Coronavirus is the inability, for many of us, to pray in shul, even now. It is, first and foremost, a Halakhic loss because tefillah b’tzibbur - communal prayer - is a greater fulfillment of the mitzvah of tefillah than is praying alone. It is also a social hardship because davening in shul contributes to social cohesion and solidarity. One of the funniest lines circulating during this awful pandemic goes

like this: “I can’t believe that I haven’t talked in shul for five months!” But, like almost everything that has impoverished our lives during this plague, there is a positive side. In our solitude, there are opportunities. One of them is the ability to pray at our own pace without having to keep up with the hectic - shall I say breakneck - pace of the tzibbur. There is a chance to focus more on the words, to consult the English translation - or commentaries - to actually think about what we are saying; to allow our prayers to redirect our thoughts and our behavior; to realize that, when we are reciting the Amidah, we are quite literally standing before God. Speaking personally, I have hardly ever appreciated davening as much as I have during the past few months. I daven much more slowly and intensely and with much greater kavannah. I have discovered meanings in the prayers that I never noticed before. I have felt closer to God - and, strangely, to myself - in my davening on weekdays and especially on Shabbat. There are no distractions, no skipping in order to keep up with the tzibbur, no time limits; just the privilege of praying in the presence of the Ribbono Shel Olam. The approaching High Holy Days fill me with excitement. Despite my age and vulnerability, I am determined to be in shul to do some of the things there that God has blessed me to be able to do. Make no mistake about this: I am inspired by this opportunity and grateful to be able to fulfill my role. But, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, while I will be thrilled to daven with my community, I will miss davening alone, often with Audrey, and the special meaning it has given to us. So, if you are not coming to shul for the Yamim Nora’im this year, you will certainly miss the inspiration of davening b’tzibbur, but please embrace the special inspiration that comes with davening alone: slowly, intently, and with attention to the words and the ideas. There can be much joy, pleasure and satisfaction from the experience. Please God, next year, your davening in shul will be so much richer for the experience of davening, this year, alone!

Haskel Lookstein

R A B B I LO O KS T EI N ’ S P R AY ER AT H O M E G U I D E : PAG E 61 .

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We are excited to present to you a unique High Holiday reader that incorporates visual elements to express the themes and messages of the High Holidays. We sought to enhance the written word and inspire and engage in a way that words alone cannot. Every member of the KJ clergy and admin-

Contents Rosh Hashanah


istrative team contributed their unique talents, allowing us to share with you a plethora of rich sources on the high holidays, including artwork, articles, sermons, paintings, sculptures, historical artifacts, photographs, and more. We hope this diverse collection of materials brings more meaning to your High Holiday experience.

Meyer Laniado



PRAYERS 3 Gaonic Additions


Malchiot, Zichronot & Shofarot: Kingship, Remembrance, and the Sounding of the Shofar


Unetaneh Tokef




Rosh Hashanah, Day I


Rosh Hashanah, Day II


Haftarah, Day I & II


SHOFAR 19 Why Do We Blow The Shofar?


Aspects of The Shofar


Yom Kippur






Kol Nidrei: Powerful or Problematic?


Interpersonal Forgiveness


The Four Steps of Teshuva


Teshuva: Reinventing Yourself






Yom Kippur Day: The Temple Service


Maftir Yonah





Sermons 45 What Do You Have When You Have Nothing?


A Halakhic Approach to Suffering


Where is God? Ayeh M’kom K’vodo?


Why Thank You is Not Enough


Resources 59 Rabbi Lookstein’s Guide to Prayer at Home


Rabbi Daniel and Rachel Kraus’s Questions on Torah Readings



The Holiday Series, Rosh Hashanah Arthur Szyk. New Canaan, CT; 1948. CC BY-SA / creativecommons.org/ licenses/by-sa/4.0

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Rosh Hashanah, Day II






Understanding Zokhreinu leHayyim and Kotbeinu beSefer Hayyim 3 RA B B I M E Y ER L A N I A D O

Hayom Harat Olam: What’s It About?



- Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling “Preamble from the Heart” - Eugene Korn, “Tselem Elokim and the Dialectic of Jewish Morality” - Rabbi Abraham I. Kook, Letter 379 - Leon Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis

- Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, Thoughts for Rosh Hashanah


- Remembered as God’s Beloved Child - Rabbi Yaakov Medan, The Themes of Malchiot, Zichronot, and Shofarot

Haftarah, Day I


- Rabbi Yehuda Felix, “Hannah, the Mother of Prayer”


- Talmud Yerushalmi, Ta’anit 2

Haftarah, Day II


- Rabbi Mendel Hirsch

- The Legend, R. Isaac of Vienna



Rosh Hashanah, Day I


Angels at the Door







Rabbenu Sa’adia Gaon’s Ten Reasons for Shofar 20 - Rabbi David Avudraham (14th century Seville)


- Talmud Yerushalmi, Ta’anit 2:1


- Rav Mosheh Lichtenstein, “The Human Dimension of Shofar”

- Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 20.1

- Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance 3:4

- Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Covenant and Conversation, “The Miracle of a Child”

- Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 16a



- Alhatorah.org

- Rabbi Avraham of Sochatchov, Ne’ot Desheh

Laughing at Logic


- Talmud Ta’anit 4a

- Rabbi Yaakov Medan, The Themes of Malchiot, Zichronot, and Shofarot

And Hannah Wept: Infertility, Adoption, and The Jewish Couple

FAITH AND MORALITY - Bereishit Rabbah 65:10

- Rabbi Gedaliah Shor, Ohr Gedaliyahu


- Talmud Rosh Hashanah 16a (4th – 6th century) - Rabbi Soloveitchik, Divrei Hashkafa



- “The Akeidah,” a poem by Rabbi Ephraim ben Jacob of Bonn (12th century)

- Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, 32


- Tanna debe Eliyahu Zutta 22 - Vayikra Rabbah 29:3



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GAONIC ADDITIONS From Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur we recite gaonic additions in our Amidah which express our desire to be remembered for life, and written in the Book of Life. While this is generally understood literally, Rabbi Laniado reads these passages metaphorically, revealing a powerful message for how we can live our lives. EXCERPT ON THE TOPIC


UNDERSTANDING ZOKHREINU LEHAY YIM AND KOTBEINU BESEFER HAY YIM / RABBI MEYER LANIADO What do you want more of in life: more years or more quality of life? This is the question we should ask ourselves when we say on Rosh Hashanah zokhreinu lehayyim, remember us for life, or kotbeinu besefer hayyim, write us in the book of life. Is the hayyim, life, we are praying for the length of years or the quality of its moments?

Our Hakhamim describe hayyim, life, and living, as the striving for a goal greater than ourselves, to help our society, and positively impact one another. It is how Ya’akov, our forefather, achieved immortality. As the Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) states: Ya’akov Avinu lo met, Ya’akov our father did not die (Ta’anit 5b). This famous statement was said by Ribbi Yishak, quoting his teacher Ribbi Yohanan, to Rav Nahman over a shared meal. Ribbi Yishak had come from Israel and was visiting with Rav Nahman, the Exilarch, the political leader of the Jewish community in Babylonia. Rav Nahman was shocked by the statement that Ya’akov Avinu did not die. The Torah says that he was embalmed and buried (Bereshit 50:3-13). In response, Ribbi Yishak makes a creative eisegetical point on a sentence in Yirmiyahu. The sentence speaks to Ya’akov and Yisrael and says you will be saved, moshiakha, as well as your children, zarakha. So, just as the children are alive, beHayyim, the nation of Yisrael, so too Ya’akov, their forefather is living, beHayyim (Yirmiyahu 30:10). This is a creative point, but the message is not yet clear. Before Ribbi Yishak and Rav Nahman part ways, they bless each other. Ribbi Yishak said: You already have Torah, wealth and children. Therefore, may it be God’s will that your offspring be like you. That is what he meant by the statement Ya’akov did not die. He lives on because of his family who carry his legacy. This is what the perplexing phrase that ‘the righteous, even after their passing are called ‘hayyim’ means (Talmud Bavli Berakhot 11-12). These righteous individuals, during their lifetime, instilled in others the value of appreciating hasdei Hashem, the favors God bestows upon us. So, when these people acknowledge the graciousness of God and say a berakha, they are keeping the memory of the righteous alive. This is in contrast to the reshaim, who, by definition, do not make a positive

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Festival prayer book (mahzor). North Africa, 15th century. Initial-word panel decorated with penwork and pen-flourishing at the beginning of the section for the New Year. The British Library; Oriental 5600.

impact on others, do not have a continued legacy, and furthermore, are considered dead even while they are living, as the text continues: ‘The rasha, while living, is considered dead since they see the sun rise and set and they do not recognize The Creator. They eat and drink and do not recognize the source of their sustenance.’ They are not focused on contributing to others and society. So, hayyim is more than living on because one has a child with their name as in the eisegesis about Ya’akov. Hayyim is a life that positively transforms another. This point becomes clearer with Rambam’s explanation of the term ben, son. He explains that it is not solely biological. The term for a biological son is yeled, while ben specifically refers to someone whose life was shaped, whether biological or not (Mishneh Torah Hilkhot Talmud Torah 1:2 and Moreh Nevukhim 1:6). This hayyim is what Abraham Maslow called self-transcendence. It is experienced when we make an impact, transform the life of another or have a purpose beyond the self. He explains in his later works that self-transcendence is the ultimate human experience and the pinnacle of our existence when life is “motivated by values which transcend self.” When we are praying on Rosh Hashanah zokhreinu lehayyim... kotbeinu beSefer hayyim, we are really asking God for quality moments where we can create value in the lives of others and not just for ourselves.

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Today Is the Birthday of the World, 1955. Ben Shahn (1898-1969). © VAGA at ARS, NY. Ink on paper 22 1/2 x 31 in. (57.2 x 78.7 cm). Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Albert A. List, JM 88-72. Photo by Richard Goodbody, Inc. Photo credit: The Jewish Museum, New York / Art Resource, NY.


Hayom Harat Olam: What’s It About? RA B B I DA N I E L & RAC H E L K RAU S

One of the many familiar themes associated with Rosh Hashanah is the idea that Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of the world. Three times throughout the Musaf on Rosh Hashanah we recite – Hayom Harat Olam, Today is the day of creation of the world. Many commentators have suggested that this tefilah is recited three times to remind us of three periods where a new reality was created for the world – the initial six days of Creation, the era following the Great Flood, and the era following Matan Torah – the giving of the Torah at Sinai. Following each of these great events the world was transformed and experienced the birth of a new reality – a renewal. The great mystic the Arizal suggests that Hayom Harat Olam is not referring to the renewals of the past, rather that Hayom – Today – on this day of Rosh Hashanah each and every year, we are given the opportunity to experience a global reset, a worldwide reboot or IOS reboot. Today mankind was created and we celebrate our birthday by looking in the mirror and confronting the truth of who we are without any cognitive dissonance, rationalization or justifications. We confront the good, the bad and the ugly so that we can take pride in the positives in our character and more importantly, we can correct the deficiencies that are inevitably and invariably there as well. We are given the opportunity to re-create ourselves, refresh our relationships with one another and with God, and are granted the ability to create a new reality for our entire world. May each of us be blessed in this coming year to experience that renewal and regeneration, personally, interpersonally, communally and for the entire world.

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Festival prayer book (aka ‘Dragon’s Head Mahzor’). Germany, last quarter of 14th century. The British Library; Oriental 42.

The Musaf service of Rosh Hashanah is unique, with three sections that contain verses that relate to God as our King (Malchiot), the remembrances of the past (Zichronot), and the use of the in prayer and in history (Shofarot). Each of these themes has a profound connection to Rosh Hashanah as a Day of Judgement.


The primary task of Rosh Hashanah is accepting God as our King Rabbi Gedaliah Shor, Ohr Gedaliyahu Moadim, p. 2

A person’s foremost task on this day is to focus on accepting upon oneself the sovereignty of God. The degree to which one accepts God’s reign determines how meritorious he emerges in the day’s judgment. For this reason we do not find mention of personal requests in the Rosh HaShanah liturgy, rather the majority of the prayers focus on honoring Divine Kingship.

Rabbi Yaakov Medan, The Themes of Malchiot, Zichronot, and Shofarot The blessing of Malchiot accepts as a given that everything that God gives us is really a gift from Him; we do not deserve anything at all. Even the most basic elements of our lives – health, for instance – are not to be taken for granted. Everything we have is a result of God’s kindness. Another central point of Malchiot is the blowing of the shofar. The blowing of the shofar expresses kingship in the strongest manner; ..(it appears) in the context of the coronations of Shlomo, Yehu, and others...


In calling upon God to remember the past heroism of our ancestors, we are asking Him to consider those events while judging us. Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, Thoughts for Rosh HaShanah When referring to “remembrance” as applied to God, we must realize that we are merely borrowing a term from our own experience to aid our understanding. Thus, when we mention reminding God of the covenant that He made with our forefathers, we realize that He always “remembers” it. Instead, we are referring to God’s presently activating this idea that is in His constant memory and putting it into action by applying the efforts of our ancestors’ meritorious acts in today’s world … [In our prayers] we say, “For it is You … Who eternally remembers all forgotten things” and “There is no forgetfulness before Your throne of glory.” From this we understand that God always remembers everything, but we immediately add, “May You mercifully remember today the Akeidah (binding) of Yitzchak (Isaac) for the sake of


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his offspring.” This means that while God perpetually remembers everything, nevertheless on Rosh HaShanah He decides to act on the basis of this memory so that the Akeidah will be a mitigating factor enabling a favorable judgment for His children.

Shofarot The shofar creates an indelible impression for the entire year.

Remembered as God’s Beloved Child S.Y. Agnon - A Treasury of Jewish Wisdom for Reflection, Repentance, and Renewal on the High Holy Days This is a beautiful story about a joyous tune used by the Berditchever Chasidim during Rosh Hashanah prayers. How can one be joyous on a day of judgement? Let Rav Israel of Pikov explain: When the pious Rabbi Levi Isaac of Berditchev (18th cent.), and some say his pious son Rabbi Israel of Pikov, of blessed memory, would come to these verses at the end of the Remembrances: And by the hands of your servants, the prophets, it is written, saying, “I will remember My covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant” (Ezek. 16:60), and it is said, “Is Ephraim my precious son…” (Jer. 31:20), he would chant with a pleasant melody sweeter than honey and a special movement. (The reason why is explained by the following story.) My father, of blessed memory, told me: Once a woman came to me, crying bitterly. I asked her: Why are you crying? She replied: My head hurts me very badly. I said to her: But if you cry, your head will hurt even more. She said to me: How shall I not cry? Here the Days of Awe are coming, and I have an only son, and I am afraid that he will not be found meritorious in the time of judgment. I said to her: It is a father’s way to have compassion on his son, especially if he is an only son and precious, as it is said (Jer. 31:20): “Is Ephraim my precious son? Is he my darling child? For as often as I speak against him, I cherish his memory still. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I must have pity upon him, saith the Lord.” (And just like the mother has mercy on her child, God will have mercy on all of Israel, his precious child, on Rosh Hashanah, along with this woman’s child. - C.S.) The melody that the zaddik used to sing is still widespread among his Hasidim.

Shofar. North Africa, Yemen, or India; 19th - early 20th century. Kudu horn: engraved and pierced. The Jewish Museum, New York / Public domain

Rabbi Avraham of Sochatchov, Ne’ot Desheh Vol. I, p. 153

It should have been enough to accept God as King in our hearts. However, this would not leave a lasting impression. Only through the act of blowing the shofar is this feeling able to last and influence us throughout the year.

The blessing of shofarot represents the covenant between God and Israel. Rabbi Yaakov Medan, The Themes of Malchiot, Zichronot, and Shofarot The thrust of the blessing … deals with two topics: the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai and the future redemption. The verses cited from the Torah discuss the giving of the Torah, while the verses quoted from the books of Prophets discuss the future redemption. What do these two themes have in common? ...The relationship between God and the nation of Israel. This relationship is epitomized by two points in history: the giving of the Torah and the future redemption. It seems here that the meaning of the shofar is first and foremost representative of the constant “conversation” between God and Am Yisrael.

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UNETANEH TOKEF This powerful liturgical poem plays a central role in Ashkenazic liturgy. Its central idea, that one can change divine judgement through repentance, prayer and charity is found in the Talmud Yerushalmi. Although the actual text of Unetaneh Tokef was written centuries earlier, it owes some of its popularity due to its association with medieval martyrdom, through the legend of Rav Amnon; and for generations, the hope was that as God considers who to inscribe in the Book of Life, He should first remember the sacrifices generations of Jews have made for His name’s sake. Talmud Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud), Ta’anit 2

R. Eleazar said: Three things nullify the evil decree and they are, prayer, charity and repentance and all three are derived from the same verse (Divrei HaYamim II 7:14), “If My people upon whom My name is called, shall humble themselves and pray,” this refers to prayer, “and seek My face,” this refers to charity, “and return from the their evil ways,” this refers to repentance.

The Legend, R. Isaac of Vienna Sefer Or Zarua 12c.

cited by S.Y. Agnon - A Treasury of Jewish Wisdom for Reflection, Repentance, and Renewal on the High Holy Days

formed. The lords and the archbishop began to demand that he convert to their religion, and he refused to listen to them. And it came to pass, after they had spoken to him day after day and he would not listen to them, though the archbishop himself was urging him, that one day he said to them, “I wish to take counsel and to think about this matter for another three days.” He said this to put them off. And it came to pass, that the moment he had left the presence of the archbishop he took it to heart that he had allowed a word of doubt to leave his lips, as though he needed to take counsel and thought to deny the living God. So he went home, and would neither eat nor drink, and fell sick. And all his near ones and loved ones came to console him, but he refused to be consoled. For he said, “I shall go down to the grave mourning, because of what I have said.” And he wept, and was sad at heart. And it came to pass on the third day, while he was in pain and anxiety, that the archbishop sent after him. And he said, “I shall not go.” And his foe continued to send many and ever more distinguished lords. But Rabbi Amnon still refused to go to the archbishop. Then the archbishop said, “Bring Amnon against his will immediately.” So they hurried and brought him. And he said to him, “What is this, Amnon? Why have you not come to reply to me and to do my desire at the end of the time you set for yourself in which to take counsel?” And Amnon answered and said, “I shall pronounce my own sentence. Let the tongue that spoke and lied to you be cut out.” For Rabbi Amnon wished to sanctify God, because he had thus spoken.

I found a manuscript by Rabbi Ephraim ben Jacob of Bonn (12th cent.) describing how Rabbi Amnon of Mainz came to compose the liturgical poem beginning, “And we shall express the powerful sanctity,” after a misfortune that had happened to him. The manuscript follows:

Then the archbishop answered and said, “No, the tongue I shall not cut out, for it spoke well. But the feet that did not come to me at the time you set I shall lop off, and the rest of the body I shall punish.” Then the oppressor commanded, and they lopped off the fingers of Rabbi Amnon’s hands and his feet. At every finger they asked him, “Will you be converted, Amnon?” and he said, “No.”

This is the story of what happened to Rabbi Amnon of Mainz, who was one of the great men of his generation and rich, and of good family, and handsome, and well-

And it came to pass when they had finished lopping off his fingers, that the wicked man ordered Rabbi Amnon to be laid on a shield, with all his fingers at


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his side. And he sent him home. He was rightly called Rabbi Amnon (“the faithful one”), for he had faith in the living God and lovingly suffered severe afflictions, simply because of one word he had spoken. After these events, the Days of Awe approached, and Rosh Hashanah arrived. Rabbi Amnon asked his relatives to bear him to the House of Prayer just as he was, and to lay him down near the Reader. They did so. And it came to pass, when the reader came to recite the Kedushah (Sanctification), that Rabbi Amnon said to him “Hold, and I shall sanctify the great Name of God.” And he cried in a loud voice. “And thus may the sanctification ascend to you,” that is to say, I have sanctified your Name for the sake of your Kingship and your Unity. And afterward he said, “And we shall express the powerful sanctity of this day.” And he said, “It is true that you are the Judge and Arbiter,” in order to justify the verdict, that those

same fingers of his hands and his feet might rise before God, as well the memory of the entire incident. And he said, “And the seal of every man’s hand is on it… and You remember the soul of every living thing,” for his fate was so decreed on Rosh Hashanah. When he had ended, his own end came, and he vanished from the earth before the eyes of all, for God had taken him. Of him it is said (Ps.31:20): “O how abundant is Thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee.” Three days after Rabbi Amnon had been called to the Academy on High, he appeared to Rabbi Kalonymos ben Rabbi Meshullam (ca.1100) in a dream at night, and taught him the liturgical poem beginning, “And we shall express the powerful sanctity of the day.” And he ordered him to send it to all the Diaspora, to be his testimony and remembrance. Rabbi Kalonymos did so (Or Zarua, Hilkhot Rosh Hashanah).

Feast of Trumpets I. Alexander Gierymski, 1884. Oil on canvas. Painting of Chasidic Jews performing tashlikh (ritual washing away of sins) on Rosh Hashanah, placed on the banks of the Vistula River in Warsaw. Public domain.

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TORAH READINGS Rosh Hashanah, Day I The Torah reading for the first day of Rosh Hashanah tells us of the birth of Isaac. Abraham and Sarah have Isaac after a lengthy struggle with infertility, and they are not the only characters who struggle this way. Rebecca and Rachel, two of the other matriarchs, face similar struggles, as does Hannah, who is the subject of the Haftarah. The Talmud and Midrash ask: Why were the patriarchs and matriarchs barren? This is one of the issues we must consider when studying today’s Torah reading. The readings below explore communal responses to infertility, as well as the name of Isaac, the first Jewish child.




Sometimes, even rationalists like me feel the presence of angels. My wife Lisa and I had struggled to have children into the third year of our marriage. One Friday night, after a long week, we chose to have dinner at home alone. During Kiddush, we heard a knock on the door. Outside was a young Chassidic man with his very pregnant wife. They had gotten stuck in traffic, and had to get off the highway before Shabbat began. After finding their way to the local Reform Synagogue, they got directions to our home over a mile away. We had not prepared for guests, but happily shared our home with our unexpected visitors. Lisa and I felt that taking in unexpected guests was our special obligation; after all, that Shabbat was the Parashah where Abraham and Sarah show exceptional hospitality to three strangers. It turns out that the three strangers who visit Abraham and Sarah are actually angels. It also turns out that the angels are coming to tell the old couple that they will finally have a child. Abraham and Sarah have a son one year later. And, as it turns out, after inviting in unexpected, pregnant guests, Lisa and I had twin boys ten months later. This young couple weren’t angels; but there’s no doubt in our minds that they were malakhim, messengers from God. They arrived with the message that it’s important not just to fill our homes with children, but also to open our homes to guests. They were everyday angels carrying an extraordinary message.


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AND HANNAH WEPT: INFERTILITY, ADOPTION, AND THE JEWISH COUPLE RABBI MICHAEL GOLD Rabbis have cried out from pulpits and in written articles on the desperate need for Jewish children. Hearing a sermon on the low Jewish fertility rate only intensifies the pain for the infertile couple, particularly the couple who care about their Jewish identity and want nothing more than to have children. Mixed in with their sadness is often a feeling of guilt… I recall one incident that particularly reminded me of Hillel’s dictum, “Do not judge your fellow until you stand in his place.” I decided one year on Rosh Hashanah to speak about the importance of having children because they are part of God’s plan for the world. I spoke about the danger that zero population growth presented to the Jewish community … As I prepared my sermon for that Rosh Hashanah, I had in mind one couple in particular, both successful professionals in their mid-thirties. They had two lucrative careers, had recently bought a new home, and were living the suburban good life. Children seemed the farthest thing from their minds. I spoke passionately that Rosh Hashanah about the purpose of a Jewish marriage and the need for Jewish families. It was one of my more successful holiday sermons, and several people requested copies. I was particularly pleased when this couple made an appointment to see me shortly after the holidays. “We need your help,” they told me. “We have been trying unsuccessfully to have a baby for over five years. We have tried every medical test in the book. We want to adopt a baby, but where can we turn?”…

Many of the major characters in the Tanakh struggled with childlessness. Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 20.1 “He sets the childless woman (akarah) among her household/As a happy mother of children (banim)” (Psalm 113:9). There were seven such barren women: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Manoah’s wife, Hannah, and Zion (Jerusalem). Hence the words, “He sets the childless woman (akarah) among her household” apply to Sarah [since we read] “Now Sarai was barren (akarah)” (Gen. 11:30), but the words “As a happy mother of children (banim) also apply to our mother Sarah: “Sarah suckled children (banim)” (Gen. 21:7).

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Covenant and Conversation, “The Miracle of a Child” … Judaism is a sustained discipline in not taking life for granted. We were the people born in slavery so that we would value freedom. We were the nation always small, so that we would know that strength does not lie in numbers but in the faith that begets courage. Our ancestors walked through the valley of the shadow of death, so that we could never forget the sanctity of life. Throughout history, Jews were called on to value children. Our entire value system is built on it. Our citadels are our schools, our passion, education, and our greatest heroes, teachers. The seder service on Pesach can only begin with questions asked by a child. On the first day of the New Year, we read not about the creation of the universe but about the birth of a child – Isaac to Sarah, Samuel to Hannah. Ours is a supremely child-centered faith. That is why, at the dawn of Jewish time, God put Abraham and Sarah through these trials – the long wait, the unmet hope, the binding itself – so that neither they nor their descendants would ever take children for granted. Every child is a miracle. Being a parent is the closest we get to God – bringing life into being through an act of love. Today, when too many children live in poverty and illiteracy, dying for lack of medical attention because those who rule nations prefer weapons to welfare, hostage-taking to hospital-building, fighting the battles of the past rather than shaping a safe future, it is a lesson the world has not yet learned. For the sake of humanity it must, for the tragedy is vast and the hour is late…

K J H I GH H O L I DAY RE AD ER / Rosh H a sh a n a h


LAUGHING AT LOGIC RABBI CHAIM STEINMETZ Why do certain nations thrive, while others disappear? Pundits and historians will tell you about political, economic and military factors. However, our Torah informs us that ethical factors are far more consequential. Powerful nations fall if they are immoral, while weak ones succeed if they maintain moral excellence. The Hebrew word tzachak, meaning to laugh, is employed several times in Parashat Vayera, most notably in relation to the birth and naming of our patriarch Yitzchak [Isaac]. The term is also used when Lot tells his sons-in-law that their home city of Sodom is about to be destroyed. They do not believe him, for his words are “like a joke (kimitzacheik) in their eyes.”


To a social or political scientist, the possibility that a wealthy superpower like Sodom will disappear, or that an elderly couple will produce the future regional superpower seems ludicrous. But this strange outcome is precisely what occurs. Abraham and Sarah have a child, through whom they become the ancestors of Klal Yisrael (the people of Israel). Meanwhile, the mighty city of Sodom is destroyed. The double reference to laughter demonstrates that both events are improbable to the point of being funny. Why were Abraham and Sarah chosen and Sodom condemned? What factor gave rise to one and led to the other’s destruction? The Torah points to hospitality: Abraham invites nomads, who turn out to be angels, into his home and is told of his future as the father of the Jewish people. Lot, too, invites angels into his home and is saved from destruction. But the people of Sodom, who sought to abuse Lot’s guests, are destroyed. Even Lot’s wife, who was half hearted in her hospitality, does not survive. The citizens of Sodom not only act violently toward strangers, they express contempt for justice as well. “Are you, the stranger, going to judge us?” one of the Sodomites asks Lot. Abraham, on the other hand, demonstrates his just behavior by arguing with God over His decision to destroy Sodom. Hospitality and justice elevate Abraham and Sarah to the beginnings of a great nation, while intolerance and misanthropy destroy Sodom. It is “not strength, not might, but God’s spirit” (Zechariah 4:6) that lifts and lowers nations. The moral and spiritual course chosen by a people determines its future.

Sarah Hears and Laughs. James Jacques Joseph Tissot, c. 1896-1902. The Old Testament Series. Gouache on board. The Jewish Museum, New York / Public domain.

The Torah realizes that this sounds funny, but funny is also the name of the first Jewish child, Yitzchak.


Rosh H a sh a n a h / K J H I GH H O L I DAY RE AD ER

Rosh Hashanah, Day II BINDING OF ISAAC: AKEIDAH The binding of Isaac is an extremely controversial biblical narrative. On the one hand, Abraham’s courage and his deep religious faith are extremely inspiring. On the other hand, human sacrifice is ethically abhorrent, and something that the Bible sharply condemns elsewhere. The following sources provide food for thought about this complicated yet important narrative.

A Poetic Point of View “The Akeidah,” a poem by Rabbi Ephraim ben Jacob of Bonn (12th century) In Medieval Europe, Jews were on occasion given the choice between conversion to Christianity and death. The vast majority chose to be martyrs. This text shows how medieval Jews saw the martyrdom of their contemporaries as a continuation of the Akeidah story.

Binding of Isaac. Sculpture by Simon Troger in Brescia, Italy. Ivory and rosewood. Photo by Wolfgang Moroder. CC BY-SA / creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0

O Righteous One, do us this grace! You promised our Father’s mercy to Abraham. Let then their merit stand as our witness. And pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for Thine inheritance. Recall to our credit the many Akeidahs. The saints, men and women, slain for Thy sake. Remember the righteous martyrs of Judah, Those that were bound of Jacob. Be Thou the shepherd of the surviving flock Scattered and dispersed among the nations. Break the yoke and snap the bands Of the bound flock that yearns toward Thee.

Talmud Rosh Hashanah 16a (4th – 6th century)

The following source discusses the centrality of the Akeidah to future Jewish generations. Why do we have the custom to use a ram’s horn for the shofar? God said, blow the horn of ram, so I can remember the binding of Isaac (which was followed by the sacrifice of a ram in Isaac’s place), and I will treat it as if you have bound yourself before me.

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Faith and Morality Rabbi Soloveitchik, Divrei Hashkafa pp. 254-255

I recoil from all talk that goes round and round a single topic: that the observance of mitzvot is beneficial for digestion, for sound sleep, for family harmony, and for social position. The religious act is fundamentally an experience of suffering. When man meets God, God demands self-sacrifice, which expresses itself in struggle with his primitive passions, in breaking his will, in accepting a transcendental “burden,” in giving up exaggerated carnal desire, in occasional withdrawal from the sweet and pleasant, in dedication to the strangely bitter, in clash with secular rule, and in his yearning for a paradoxical world that is incomprehensible to others. Offer your sacrifice! This is the fundamental command given to the man of religion. The chosen of the nation, from the moment that they revealed God, occupied themselves in a continual act of sacrifice. God says to Avraham: “Take now your son, your only one, whom you love, Isaac, etc.” That is to say, I demand of you the greatest sacrifice. I want your son who is your only son, and also the one whom you love. Do not fool yourself to think that after you obey Me and bring your son up for a burnt-offering, I will give you another son in place of Yitzchak. When Sketch for “Sacrifice” Yitzchak will be slaughtered on the altar Jacques Lipchitz, 1946. Ink and and ink wash on paper. – you will remain alone and childless. You All Rights Reserved - Estate of Jacques Lipchitz. will not have another child. You will live your life in incomparable solitude. I want your only son who is irreplaceable. Neither should you think that you will succeed to forget Yitzchak and remove him from your mind. All your life you will think about him. I am interested in your son whom you love and whom you will love forever. You will spend your nights awake, picking at your emotional wounds. Out of your sleep you will call for Yitzchak, and when you wake up you will find your tent desolate and forsaken. Your life will turn into a long chain of emotional suffering. And nevertheless, I demand this sacrifice. Clearly the experience, which was rooted in dread and suffering, ended in ceaseless joy. When Avraham removed his son from the altar at the angel’s command, his suffering turned into everlasting gladness, his dread into perpetual happiness. The religious act begins with the sacrifice of one’s self, and ends with the finding of that self. But man cannot find himself without sacrificing himself prior to the finding.


Rosh H ash a n a h / K J H I GH H O L I DAY RE AD ER

Bereishit Rabbah 65:10

Rabbi Abraham I. Kook, Letter 379

This source underlines the tragic nature of the Akeidah.

Rav Kook has a novel view on this. To him, human sacrifice is a crude, pagan and materialistic version of divine worship. However, human sacrifice has one advantage: the enormous emotional zeal that can be found in paganism, due to direct connection we all make to material objects. So the Akeidah is an attempt to show that one can still find that emotional fervor, even when using the refined, monotheistic divine service.

When Abraham bound his son on the altar, the angels cried, and the tears fell into Isaac’s eyes, and marked them, and when he got old he went blind (from the original tears), and that is why it says “and it was when Isaac got old, and eyes dimmed.”

Talmud Ta’anit 4a This source grapples with the ethical problem with human sacrifice - something the Bible usually associates with pagans. And it is written (Jeremiah 19:5) (God says) “They have also built the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or speak, nor did it come into My mind”…. “nor did it come into My mind” refers to the binding of Isaac.

Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling “Preamble from the Heart” Soren Kierkegaard was a 19th century Danish theologian. In his essay Fear and Trembling, he argues forcefully that the experience of faith is personal, unique and untranslatable, and one that therefore takes precedence over the universal experience of ethics. But what did Abraham? He arrived neither too early nor too late. He mounted his ass and rode slowly on his way. And all the while he had faith, believing that God would not demand Isaac of him, though ready all the while to sacrifice him, should it be demanded of him. He believed this on the strength of the absurd; for there was no question of human calculation any longer. And it was indeed absurd of God, who made this demand of him, and recalled his demand the very next moment.

Eugene Korn, “Tselem Elokim and the Dialectic of Jewish Morality” If so, perhaps the Jewish meaning of the Akeida- is not Kierkegaard’s message of the antithesis of God and ethics at the beginning of the episode. Rather, it is the opposite teaching that comes with the trial’s resolution when Isaac is spared: murder is never a legitimate way to worship the God of Israel because true avodat Hashem entails valuation together with obedience.

That deep addiction to paganism which, to primitive man, was the main ideal [of life], overcoming even parental mercy, and making cruelty to sons and daughters an established institution of the worship of Moloch and the like, is a nebulous outcome of the realization deep within the recesses of man’s heart that the divine is the most precious of all things, and all that is pleasant and loved is naught in comparison to it. When it became necessary for divine illumination to appear in its purity, it was revealed in its mighty splendor in the trial of the Akeida, which showed that fervor and addiction to the divine idea does not necessitate that the perception of the divine should be so covered in shameful trappings as those of pagan [image] worship, where the spark of divine goodness totally loses its way, but it [the same fervor and submission] can also be reached by a pure perception ….. The outstanding novelty is that there is no dimming of ardent devotion when one relates to the divine in this enlightened manner.

Leon Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis Kass argues that in a larger sense, the concept of “sacrifice” is actually the reality of every parent. Truth be told, all fathers devote (that is “sacrifice”) their sons to some “god” or other-to Mammon or Molech, to honor or money, pleasure or power, or, worse, to no god at all. True, they do so less visibly and less concentratedly, but they do so willy-nilly, through the things they teach and respect in their own homes; they intend that the entire life of the sons be spent in service to their own ideals or idols, and in this sense they do indeed spend the life of the children. But a true father will devote his son to-and will self-consciously and knowingly initiate him into-only the righteous and godly ways.

K J H I GH H O L I DAY RE AD ER / Rosh H ash a n a h


Akeidat Yitzchak in Art

Reprinted with permission from Alhatorah.org It is not surprising that Akeidat Yitzchak (Bereshit 22), a story replete with both religious significance and emotional turmoil is a favorite subject of many Biblical artists. The three renderings shown here, the oil painting by Caravaggio, 1; the mosaic from the Beit Alfa Synagogue, 2; and the work by Paolo Veronese, 3; all depict the climax of the story, when Avraham’s

sacrifice is interrupted by the angel. The paintings evoke very different emotions in the viewer, as they differ significantly in their portrayals of each of Avraham, Yitzchak, the angel, and the ram. The contrast between these vivid images also succeeds in raising awareness of some of the ambiguities of the Biblical text and their implications for understanding the episode.

Contrasting Images

Sacrifice of Isaac. Caravaggio, c. 1603. Public domain.

Caravaggio Caravaggio’s painting is the most graphic of the three, filled with both pathos and horror. The three protagonists completely fill the canvas. Avraham stands in the center, one hand grasping the knife, the other holding a clearly terrified Yitzchak by the neck. A very human looking angel grabs onto Avraham’s arm as if to restrain him, perhaps frightened that otherwise he will carry through with the deed. Only the head of the ram makes its way into the painting. It waits by Yitzchak but its gaze is intent on Avraham.

Sacrifice of Isaac. 6th century, Beit Alfa mosaic. Public domain.

Beit Alfa Mosaic The Beit Alfa Mosaic is devoid of all emotion, belying the complexity of the narrative it tells. It relays the three scenes of the story linearly, but out of chronological order. On the viewer’s left the two servants hold onto the donkey. On the right, Avraham raises a small Yitzchak onto the altar, while the arm of an angel stretches outward, the words “‫ ”אל תשלח‬etched underneath. The ram is given center stage as it hangs from a tree by a rope.

Sacrifice of Isaac. Paolo Veronese, c. 1580. Public domain.

Veronese In contrast to the other artists, Veronese chooses to place the altar, here depicted as part of a bigger sanctuary, at the center of his work. To the right, an adult Yitzchak kneels with his arms crossed, perhaps in prayer. Avraham is grasping Yitzchak’s head, but looking upward towards the angel who is attempting to wrest the knife from Avraham’s hand. In the foreground, the ram is depicted peeking out through the shrubbery. On the other side of the shrine, there is only one figure depicted. A man stands with his donkey, facing away from the scene, seemingly unaware of the drama transpiring a mere few feet away.


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Relationship to the Biblical Text The artists’ choices reflect certain ambiguities in the Biblical text and different possible interpretive stances:

Yitzchak’s Age While the mosaic depicts Yitzchak as a young child, Caravaggio renders him as a teenager, and Veronese portrays him as a young adult. Which is closer to the Biblical text? The episode is not dated making it impossible to know with certainty. The opening of the chapter, “‫האֵלֶּה‬ ָ ‫דבָרִ ים‬ ְּ ‫ה‬ ַ ‫ ”וַיְהִי אַחַר‬might connect it to the previous one in which Yitzchak is born and weaned, making Yitzchak a toddler or young boy. In contrast, various Midrashim link the story to the death of Sarah in the next chapter, making Yitzchak thirty seven. Ibn Ezra takes a middle position, suggesting that Yitzchak was a teenager. The ramifications of the different suggestions are significant. Was Yitzchak an active partner in the test? How aware was he of what was taking place? Could he have resisted?

this true of Mt. Moriah? Was there a history of sacrificial worship at the site, and perhaps even an entire sanctuary? Rambam (Maimonides), following Chazal, suggests that the altar “built” by Avraham was previously utilized by Adam, Kayin and Hevel, and Noach, and thus sanctified from time immemorial.

Yitzchak: A Willing Participant? While Veronese sets Yitzchak in a submissive pose, almost as if he were in the midst of prayer, Caravaggio’s Yitzchak is a mask of horror. What was Yitzchak feeling throughout the episode? Was he a willing sacrifice, viewing the act as the ultimate show of devotion, or was he acted upon against his will?

Witnesses to the Event While there are no bystanders present in Caravaggio’s rendering of the episode, Veronese paints a man standing with a donkey in the foreground of his work, presumably one of the two servants who accompanied Avraham. According to the Biblical text, however, these servants did not follow Avraham all the way to the site of the sacrifice. The choice to nonetheless include him raises an interesting issue regarding the story: Were there any witnesses to the event? This relates to the larger question of the purpose of the whole trial: was it intended for Avraham alone, or did it contain a message for the outside world as well? The Altar The altar in the Beit Alfa mosaic is a fairly simple structure, sharply contrasting with the shrine painted by Veronese. The latter suggests that the site of the sacrifice had previous religious significance, and perhaps had served others as a house of worship. Is

Binding of Isaac. Depiction on a ketubah (marriage contract), 1804. The Education Center of the National Library of Israel / CC BY-SA (creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0).

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Haftarah, Day I The Haftarah has a similar theme to the Torah reading, with a child being born to Hannah after years of waiting. Rabbi Yehuda Felix explains how there is a deeper connection between this Haftarah and Rosh Hashanah. Rabbi Yehuda Felix, “Hannah, the Mother of Prayer” Why do we read the story of Hannah on Rosh Hashanah?... What is the concept of Rosh Hashanah? Prayer. On Rosh Hashanah the additional prayer (musaf) is the largest one with the most impact. It includes many additions, including the repeated blowing of the shofar. We want God to hear the sound of our pleadings. Hannah is the one who had the ability to communicate with God with the full range of giving and receiving. Prayer and prophecy. Rosh Hashanah is rooted in prayer. The sound of the shofar itself is kind of prayer, a kind of crying. One of the themes of Hannah’s prayer is kingship, and it is on this day that we crown God as our king. On this day of prayer, right before musaf, the biggest prayer, we read the haftarah, to experience the epitome of prayer – a flow back and forth between us and God – the prayer of Hannah.

Haftarah, Day II Rabbi Mendel Hirsch Consolation and encouragement to Israel.. (in) exile.. (are in) the words of the Prophet in this Haftorah....But these are thoughts which are expressed in so many other speeches of the prophets. The reason why just this chapter has been chosen for the Haftorah for Rosh Hashanah lies deeper. The choice was fixed out of an extremely delicate consideration, out of the deepest feeling of brotherhood. We, who are assembled as members of the House of Jacob before our Father (in heaven), ... all descend from the exiles of the Kingdom of Judah. The ten brother-tribes, who earlier had already set aside the bond of the Torah, … have been missing for thousands of years…. Is it not then a stroke of touching tenderness that the wise arrangers of our Divine Service should have taken care that the sons of Judah – assembled before their God on Rosh Hashanah – after the figures of their great ancestors, Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah, have been called up before their eyes as everlasting shining examples, should also remember in love their missing brethren? For that, they chose this word of the Prophet which, as no other, announces just the future also of these children of the House of Jacob who have been estranged so long. It sees them, how they “come up” to Zion, to God, to our God from the mountains of Samaria..! It shows us Ephraim, from whom the defection started, as God’s “firstborn,” and the Kingdom of Israel coming back to God as one of His children; shows us Rachel weeping for her children – alas, just the tribe of Joseph, coming from her, who were the first in the defection…. Rachel is also our mother, her children are also our brethren, on Rosh Hashanah we remember them, and long for the time of reunion to arrive. … We look forward to the time when they too: v’shavu banim l’gvulam will come back, “as children, to their original home” back to the ground of God’s Torah. That is the thought of reunion and peace which, at the beginning of every New Year, makes the sons of Judah who have remained faithful … hope and pray for the time of their reunion with all their brethren of the House of Israel.


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The shofar ritual stands at the very center of Rosh Hashanah. Yet the meaning of this ritual is enigmatic. What is the message of the shofar? To whom is the shofar speaking? Below you will see a selection of commentaries on the shofar, which discuss elements of this symbolism. As you will see, the shofar is both a wordless prayer and a call to action. It is connected to the present, in declaring Rosh Hashanah as a day of judgment, and at the same time reminds us of the past and looks forward towards the future. The shofar is particularly connected to the Akeidat Yitzchak, because Avraham sacrifices a ram in place of his son Yitzchak; it is for this reason that a ram’s horn is the preferred type of shofar. The simple sounds of the shofar bear a complex message, filled with multiple historical connections. Blowing the Shofar In Preparation for Rosh Hashanah. Michelle Gaynor. Chicago, IL, c. 2018. Reprinted with permission of the artist and Chabad.org.

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Rabbenu Sa’adia Gaon’s Ten Reasons for Shofar Rabbi David Avudraham (14th century Seville) cited in S.Y. Agnon - A Treasury of Jewish Wisdom for Reflection, Repentance, and Renewal on the High Holy Days

1. The first is, because Rosh Hashanah marks the be-

ginning of Creation, on which the Holy One, be blessed, created the world and reigned over it. Kings do the

same, who have trumpets and horns blown to let it be known and heard everywhere when the anniversary of the beginning of their reign falls. So we, on Rosh Hashanah, accept the kingship of the Creator, be blessed. Thus said David: “With trumpets and sound of the

upon his own head … whereas if he had taken warning, he would have delivered his soul.”

5. The fifth reason is to remind us of the destruction

of the Temple and the battle alarms of the foe, as it is said (Jer. 4:19): “Because thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the horn, the alarm of war.” When we hear the sound of the ram’s horn, we beseech God to rebuild the Temple.

6. The sixth reason is to remind us of the Binding of

Isaac, who offered himself to heaven. So ought we to be ready at all times to offer our lives for the sanctification of his Name. And may our remembrance rise before Him for our benefit.

7. The seventh reason is that, when we hear the blow-

horn about ye before the King, the Lord” (Ps.98:6).

ing of the ram’s-horn, we fear and tremble and bend

2. The second reason is that, since Rosh Hashanah is

fect of the ram’s horn, which causes shaking and

the first of the ten days of teshuvah, the ram’s horn is blown to announce their beginning, as though to warn: Let all who desire to turn in teshuvah, turn now; and if you do not, you will have no reason to cry injustice. Kings do the same: first they warn the populace in their decree, and whoever violates the decrees af-

our will to the will of the Creator – for such is the eftrembling, as it is written (Amos 3:6): “Shall the horn be blown in a city, and the people not tremble?”

8. The eighth reason is to remind us of the great Day

of Judgment, that we may all fear it, as it is said (Zeph. I: 14-16): “The great day of the Lord is near, it is near

ter the warning complains unheeded.

and hasteth greatly… a day of the horn and alarm.”


9. The ninth reason is to remind us of the gathering

The third reason is to remind us of our stand at

the foot of Mount Sinai, as it is said (Exod. 19:19):

of the dispersed of Israel, that we may passionately

“The voice of the horn waxed louder and louder,” in

long for it, as it is said (Isa. 27:13): “And it shall come

order that we may take upon ourselves that which

to pass in that day, that a great horn shall be blown;

our forefathers took upon themselves when they said

and they shall come that were lost in the land of As-

(Exod.24:7): “We will do and obey.”


4. The fourth reason is to remind us of the words of

10. The tenth reason is to remind us of the revival of

the prophets, which were compared to a ram’s horn,

the dead, that we may believe in it, as it is said (Isa.

as it is said (Ezek.33:4-5): “Then whosoever heareth

18:3): “All ye inhabitants of the world, and ye dwellers

the sound of the horn, and taketh not warning, if the

in the earth, when an ensign is lifted up on the moun-

sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be

tains, see ye; and when the horn is blown, hear ye.”


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ASPECTS OF THE SHOFAR A Call From the Heart Talmud Yerushalmi, Ta’anit 2:1 “Why do we blow [the shofar] using horns? To say: Relate to us as if we are bellowing like animals before You.”

Rav Mosheh Lichtenstein, “The Human Dimension of Shofar” When we think about shofar blowing, we intuitively imagine a primal cry that breaches the boundaries of language and makes it unnecessary to spell out the message in clear-cut and precise terms.

Repentance Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance 3:4 Even though the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a Biblical decree, it hints at something, i.e., “Wake up, sleepers, from your sleep! And slumberers, arise from your slumber! Search your ways and return in teshuvah and remember your Creator! Those who forget the Truth amidst the futility of the moment and are infatuated all their years with vanity and nothingness that will not help and will not save, examine your souls and improve your ways and your motivations! Let each of you abandon his wicked ways, and his thoughts which are no good.”

Akeidat Yitzchak Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 16a Says R’ Abahu why do we blow with the horn of a ram? Said the Holy One: blow before me with a ram’s horn in order that I remember for you the binding of Isaac son of Abraham, and I will consider it as if you bound yourselves before me.

Blowing the Shofar on the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. 1971. Digital image of photograph by Uzi (full name not provided by Israel Sun Ltd.) / Israel Sun Ltd., from the Judaica Collection of the Harvard Library, Harvard University.

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Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, 32 When Abraham came from Mount Moriah, Samael [Satan] was furious that he had failed to realize his desire to stop Abraham’s sacrifice. What did he do? He went off and told Sarah, “Oh Sarah, have you not heard what’s been happening in the world?” She replied, “no.” He said, “Your old husband has taken the boy Isaac and sacrificed him as a burnt offering, while the boy cried and wailed in his helplessness [lit., for he could not be saved].” Immediately, she began to cry and wail. She cried three sobs, corresponding to the three Teki’ah notes of the Shofar, and she wailed three times, corresponding to the Yevava, staccato notes of the Shofar. Then, she collapsed and died. Abraham came and found her dead, as it is said, “Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to bewail her.”

Redemption Tanna debe Eliyahu Zutta 22 “… It is the shofar that the Holy One, blessed be he, is destined to blow when the son of David, our righteous one, will reveal himself, as it is said (Zech. 9:14): “And the Lord God will blow the horn.” It is also the shofar that the Holy One, blessed be he, is destined to blow when he leads the exiles of Israel into their land, as it is said (Isa. 27:13): “And it shall come to pass in that day, that a great horn shall be blown; and they shall come that were lost in the land of Assyria, and they that were dispersed in the land of Egypt; and they shall worship the Lord in the holy mountain at Jerusalem.”...

Evoking Mercy Vayikra Rabbah 29:3 Rabbi Yehuda son of Rabbi Nachman opened and said, “God ascends in acclamation (lit. in truah), The Lord in the call of the shofar” (Psalms 47:6). In the moment when the Holy Blessed One sits on the Throne of Judgement, He ascends with (the intention of) judgement. What happens? At the time when Israel takes their shofarot and sound them before the Holy Blessed One, then God stands up from the Throne of Judgement and sits on the Throne of Mercy, … and then He is filled with mercy and has mercy on them, and switches their treatment from the attribute of judgement to the attribute of mercy.

Willard Fineberg Blowing the Shofar at Mount Zion Temple. Israel, 1956. Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest.

Shofar for the Sabbath Yemenite Jew. Between 1934 and 1939. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA / Public domain


Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur Maurycy Gottlieb Vienna, 1878 Public domain

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- S.Y. Agnon — A Treasury of Jewish Wisdom for Reflection, Repentance, and Renewal on the High Holy Days



27 28


Reminiscence: An American Farmer - Shishim Shenot Hayyim







Yom Kippur Day: The Temple Service


- Nachmanides, Commentary to Leviticus 16:8


- Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, On Repentance - Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Collected Writings

Maftir Yonah


Introduction to Yonah


- Beit Yosef, Orach Chaim 622:2:1 - Radak on Yonah 1:1:1 - Jerusalem Talmud Makkot 7a:1

- Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance

- Abarbanel Yonah 2

- Mishnah Yoma 8:9

- Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 24:11






- Ezekiel 18:23

“Please, God, I Have Sinned” Does That Make Any Sense?

- Rambam, Laws of Repentance 1:1

- Rabbi Joseph B. Solovietchik, Man is Vulnerable

- From Tefillah Zakah, instituted by Rabbi Avraham Danzig, 18th century Vilna


- Proverbs 28:7


- Mishnah Yoma 8:9

Do You Forgive Me? Should I Forgive You? The Concept of Mechilah

- Psalms 32:5

- Rambam, Guide for the Perplexed, III:46




- Shemuel 2 12:13


My Problem with Kol Nidrei

- Halakhic Man, Rabbi Joseph B. Solovietchik - Rav Kook, Orot Hateshuvah

- S.Y. Agnon — A Treasury of Jewish Wisdom for Reflection, Repentance, and Renewal on the High Holy Days

Kol Nidrei: The Power of Our Words


- Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 56b:3


- Chovot HaLevavot 7:4, Bachya ibn Pakuda, 11th century Saragossa

Teshuvah: A Guide for the Newly Observant Jew 34



- Talmud Bavli Rosh Hashanah 17b - Radbaz, Metzudat David Zimra, Mitzvah #11

NEILAH - Rambam Hilkhot Tefillah 1:7 - Mishnah Berurah 623:3



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The Importance of Protecting

HEALTH ON YOM KIPPUR S.Y. Agnon — A Treasury of Jewish Wisdom for Reflection, Repentance, and Renewal on the High Holy Days During the epidemic, God preserve us, the pious Rabbi Shalom of Belz (19th cent.) announced that all who felt faint ought to eat and drink as much as they needed. (Rav of Spinka, Orhot Hayyim) Where the law allows a sick man to eat, and he does not wish to, that is a foolish kind of piety, of which it was said, “And surely your blood of your lives will I require” (Gen. 9:5). It is also said, “Be not righteous overmuch” (Eccles. 7:16); so the sick man is fed against his will. (Mateh Efrayim) The Gaon Rabbi Hayyim of Brisk (19th cent.) used to be lenient with the sick in the matter of eating on Yom Kippur. He was asked, “How is it that the master is so lenient when it comes to Yom Kippur?” Said he, “Not that I am lenient when it comes to Yom Kippur, but that I am strict when it comes to saving a life.” (Oral communication by Rabbi Samuel Bialoblotzki)

During a Cholera Epidemic When there was a cholera epidemic in 1848, Rabbi Israel Salanter posted announcements in all the Houses of Prayer of Vilna on the eve of Yom Kippur, urging the people not to fast on that holy and awesome day, and to cut short the recitation of the liturgical poems of the day, and to go walking in the fresh air. After the Morning Prayer on Yom Kippur he took a roll in his hand and stood on the pulpit and after making the blessing ending “who creates various kinds of foods,” ate the roll before the eyes of the entire congregation, that the people might see him and follow his example for much is permitted where there is mortal danger, and the life of a single person was dearer in his eyes than all the wealth in the world. (Ir Vilna)

Festival prayer book (mahzor). North Africa, 15th century. Initial-word panel decorated with penwork and pen-flourishing at the beginning of the section for Yom Kippur. The British Library; Oriental 5600.

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KOL NIDREI The Kol Nidrei service is the high point of the entire high holidays. What is puzzling is that the words of this service are dry and legalistic, and have been subject to centuries of controversy. Below there is a selection about the history of the controversy, and the differing perspectives of Rabbi Steinmetz and Cantor Berson on this prayer.


and forgiveness from the Holy One, blessed be he, in which we plead with him to forgive us for the iniquity of our vows. Such is the version (Shibbole ha-Leket, No. 317) quoting from Rav Hai Gaon (10th-11th cent.). Rabbi Jacob Tam (12th cent.) also introduced changes in the popular version. The custom of reciting Kol Nidre has already spread into every country. It is the Ashkenazic and Sephardic custom to say it in Aramaic, and the custom in the Balkans and in Italy to say it in Hebrew.

S.Y. Agnon — A Treasury of Jewish Wisdom for Reflection, Repentance, and Renewal on the High Holy Days Rav Hai Gaon bar Nahshon Gaon (9th cent.) wrote..: “We do not annul vows either on Rosh Hashanah or on Yom Kippur, and we have not heard that our rabbis ever did so. You too ought to be strict like us, and not depart from the practice of the academies.” (Kol Bo; see Tur Orah Hayyim, No. 619) The same is true of Rabbi Isaac Alfasi (11th cent.) and Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (12th cent.), who omitted any discussion of Kol Nidrei from their decisions, for it seems they thought it ought not to be said at all. Rabbi Isaac ben Sheshet Barfat (14th cent.), too, wrote in a responsum on the subject of Kol Nidrei that it is best not to say Kol Nidrei at all, and that such was the custom in Catalonia. (Bet Yosef, Tur Orah Hayyim, No. 619) But since the custom had become rooted in the people and it was hard to uproot it, a few of the sages changed the version slightly, so that the prayer might be less like an annulment than a plea for pardon

Festival prayer book (aka ‘Dragon’s Head Mahzor’). Germany, last quarter of 14th century. Initial word kol (all) inhabited by dragons and hybrids, at the beginning of Kol Nidrei for Yom Kippur. The British Library; Oriental 42.


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It is that moment when you feel the intensity and excitement. It is the most solemn night of the entire Jewish year. You watch as men, women and children somberly file into the sanctuary. Your mood is heavy with the gravity of the moment as you contemplate the high stakes and the profound effects this evening holds for the year ahead. A sea of white kittels immerses you. The Chazzan, the Parochet, and the Sifrei Torah are also draped in white. A hush descends upon the room as the Chazzan and Rabbis ascend the bimah accompanied by prominent members of the synagogue tightly hugging the holy Sifrei Torah. They stand at either side of the Chazzan as he slowly raises his head heavenward and begins

of composers beyond the Jewish community. Composers began to use the tune in various instrumental pieces. Many of these works featured the cello as the chosen instrument (such as in Max Bruch’s concerto for cello, Op. 37) to express and emote a human cry. In the 20th century Kol Nidrei also found its way to the arts and popular culture. The first Jazz Singer movie (1927) featured Kol Nidrei davening as representing the pull of tradition in the conflict between devotion to Judaism and assimilation into American society. Paired with this emotional tune, one would expect an equally emotional text, perhaps an opening beseeching God to inscribe us in the Book of Life. Yet, compared to this poignant melody, the text that has become the nom de plume of this evening is rather mundane. It is not even a prayer. It represents a legal formula for the annulment of certain types of vows – the actual meaning of Kol Nidrei (all vows).

Kol Nidrei reminds us that words uttered have the power to bind us even after they leave our tongue. to utter the hauntingly emotional, ancient tune which, like nothing else, represents the inauguration of the holiest day of the year, Yom HaKippurim. It doesn’t matter where you are or where you came from. You know this tune augurs the start of the most holy day of prayer and introspection. The Kol Nidrei tune is one of the oldest in Jewish musical liturgy. It traces back to at least the early Middle Ages and is therefore often referred to as “MiSinai” (melodies from Mount Sinai) together with other canonic High Holy Day melodies. The tune is an amalgam of musical motifs, but the most recognizable is the iconic opening kopfmotiv (head-motif). This melody has been loaded with the profound spirit of Yom Kippur and the emotions evoked by repentance. In the late 19th century, this haunting tune traversed the sanctuary threshold when it caught the attention

Why then were these lyrics chosen to be the ones chanted at the opening of the holiest day of the year? This question has been answered in different ways. I would like to offer an additional idea that has guided me throughout my career as a Chazzan. The answer is that words have power. Kol Nidrei reminds us that words uttered have the power to bind us even after they leave our tongue. As we enter the day of Yom Kippur, we will spend the next 25 hours employing our words to acknowledge our sins, express our regret for our actions, make commitments to correct our behavior in the year to come, and finally, to beg for forgiveness. We will recount the Yom Kippur service with words that replace the actions in the Beit Hamikdash. We will open the gates of Heaven with our words. May the words we use and all our prayers be accepted by the Almighty and may we all be granted a Shanah Tovah Umetukah.

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Kol Nidrei should have disappeared a long time ago. From its introduction in the 800s, it was sharply opposed for the next 400 years by Rabbinic authorities who saw it as a meaningless gesture. In the 1100s, a debate emerged over which vows, future or past, Kol Nidrei refers to. And in the 19th century, because of anti-Semitic claims that it enabled Jews to violate oaths, many reformers (and even, for short time, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch) removed Kol Nidrei from the service. Kol Nidrei is a problematic prayer.

What my overly intellectual perspective had missed is this: that the little things, the aromas, tastes, colors, and melodies, are a powerful way of conveying the content, the great ideas I so love. So why is Kol Nidrei still part of the service? Only because of the melody. There are moving tunes, both in the Ashkenazic and Sephardic tradition, for Kol Nidrei. No matter what, Kol Nidrei is here to stay because the tunes are majestic and awe-inspiring. This was my problem with Kol Nidrei. I was trained in Lithuanian-style Yeshivot to think about serious Jewish content, about Talmudic texts and theological sources; Kol Nidrei is the opposite of that. Kol Nidrei is a ritual that hangs by less than a thread of hair, with an inferior Halakhic pedigree, and is only preserved because of its tune. It bothered me that Kol Nidrei is religious fluff, all musical culture and minimal religious content. So why did it find a place of honor leading off the Yom Kippur liturgy? Frankly, contemporary Judaism is overstocked with religious fluff. There was an advertisement many years ago from a yeshiva in Jerusalem that had a picture of a bagel, lox, and cream cheese sandwich with the caption: “Is this the culmination of 3,000 years of Jewish history?” This sadly is all too often the case,

with Jewish identity reduced to the soundtrack of Fiddler on the Roof, brisket, and satin kippahs. This superficial cultural Judaism offers no rationale for continuity, and no true link to spirituality. Because of this, I saw content and culture as antagonists. To me, bagels, lox, and cream cheese Judaism was the opposite of the Judaism that nurtured me in Yeshiva. And even the melodies like Kol Nidrei were just superficial enhancements, pleasant but ultimately unimportant. But I was wrong. Culture is important too. Melodies, foods, even jokes have a role in preserving Judaism. In the language of Halakha, we call these elements a minhag, or a custom. Minhag is about the little distinctive cultural touches that make observance more fascinating. Rabbi Maimon (the father of the Rambam) wrote about the importance of respecting customs like eating donuts (sfinj) on Chanukah. Indeed, it is often the customs, with their distinctive tastes, aromas, colors and melodies that inspire us, in ways we are not fully aware of. What my overly intellectual perspective had missed is this: that the little things, the aromas, tastes, colors, and melodies, are a powerful way of conveying the content, the great ideas I so love. Culture can create an emotional connection unavailable in the world of ideas. And this is the power of Kol Nidrei, the power of singing the same song as our grandparents, even if the words are obscure. And even the intellectually inclined among us should never overlook it. In 1913, a young intellectual decided to convert to Christianity. As a final farewell to Judaism, he decided to go to Yom Kippur services. But after listening to Kol Nidrei, he left a transformed man. In the years that followed, this man, Franz Rozensweig, became a prominent Jewish philosopher, and inspired many others to make their journey back to Judaism. Ironically, a great intellectual was drawn back to Judaism by Kol Nidrei, a prayer that is more melody than meaning. And even today, otherwise alienated Jews show up for Kol Nidrei, drawn in by the inspiring melody. Now, if we could only teach these alienated Jews how to love the content, to engage the ideas of Judaism as well...


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REMINISCENCE: AN AMERICAN FARMER SHISHIM SHENOT HAY YIM ISRAEL KASOVICH Israel Kasovich was on a Jewish farming settlement in Connecticut in the 1920s I will never forget the beautiful scene that took place during Kol Nidrei. The quorum assembled in the house of one of the farmers. The house was surrounded by trees; the windows were open, and a soft, refreshing breeze was blowing. The menfolk looking very healthy stood in one room, wrapped in their prayer shawls, while the women stood in the other with sunburnt faces and white dresses. The sad and pleasant Kol Nidrei melody flowed into the silence of the night. It seemed as though nature itself was listening to the song of the eternal wanderer, who had at last found a place to rest his head. I remembered the Kol Nidrei that my forefathers had chanted hiding in dark cellars in Spain. There they poured forth their hearts before their God. Their groaning and moaning were contained in the damp, cold earth, until such time as the Inquisitors came and drew the miserable folk out of the bowels of the earth into the beautiful sunshine-and cast them into the fire. Only then could a Jew freely cry the powerful words, “Hear, O Israel.” The cantor lifted his voice and chanted Kol Nidrei for the third time. I seemed to awake from a terrible dream. I saw a beautiful world lying before me. The birds under the window were assisting the cantor with their song, and Heaven and the earth, those witnesses of all that had happened to the people of Israel, were joining in song. Our creator, Thou art eternal, and Thy folk Israel is eternal.

Jewish Soldiers at Yom Kippur Military Service Germany, between 1914 and 1918. World War I.

Minyan, De Aar Yom Kippur South Africa, 1900. Public domain.

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The Importance of Requesting and Offering

INTERPERSONAL FORGIVENESS Teshuvah cannot bring atonement from God unless One has first received forgiveness from his fellow man. Mishnah Yoma 8:9

Yom Kippur atones for transgressions between a person and God, but for a transgression against one’s neighbor, Yom Kippur cannot atone, until he appeases his neighbor. Thus R. Eleazar ben Azariah expounds the text, “From all your sins before the Lord shall ye be clean”: For transgressions between a person and God, Yom Kippur atones, for transgressions against one’s neighbor, Yom Kippur cannot atone, until he appeases his neighbor. R. Akiva says, Happy are you, Israel! Before whom are you purified, and who purifies you [of your transgressions]? Your Father Who is in heaven. For it is said, “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean”; and it is also said, “The ‫‏‬ritual bath‎ of Israel is the Lord”; even as a ritual bath purifies the unclean, so does the Holy One, Blessed be He, purify Israel.

From Tefillah Zakah, instituted by Rabbi Avraham Danzig, 18th century Vilna Tefillah Zakah is a prayer recited in many communities before Kol Nidrei. What is notable about it is that each person voluntarily offers forgiveness to anyone who may have offended them, to enable everyone to be fully forgiven by God on Yom Kippur. Master of the universe! I hereby forgive anyone who has angered or vexed me, or sinned against me, either physically or financially, against my honor or anything else that is mine, whether accidentally or intentionally, inadvertently or deliberately, by speech or by deed … any member of the Jewish people; may no one be punished on my account.


DO YOU FORGIVE ME? SHOULD I FORGIVE YOU? THE CONCEPT OF MECHILAH RABBI ELIE WEINSTOCK Growing up, before Yom Kippur, our teachers would remind us that we need to ask each other forgiveness. Yom Kippur is a Day of Atonement for sins between people and God, but we each must ask those we may have wronged for forgiveness. This led to what I call the “Are you

mocheil me? I am mocheil you” exchange. It may have been a little formulaic, but this was the most effective and fastest way to ask for forgiveness from people – especially so as to avoid getting bogged down with whatever the specific transgression was and to say it aloud. We refer to Yom Kippur as a day of selichah, mechilah, and kapparah – forgiveness, pardon, and atonement. What’s the difference between these terms? Forgiveness is granted for sins committed by mistake. Pardon is granted for sins committed on purpose. Atonement is the wiping away of any vestige of sin; we get a clean slate. Kapparah is the unique purpose of Yom Kippur. We should always try to correct our mistakes or misdeeds. On Yom Kippur, we have the special privilege of


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being granted atonement if we utilize the day properly. I’d like to explore the concept of mechilah a little more deeply. In addition to being examined in connection with Yom Kippur, the Talmud discusses mechilah in the context of damages. The Mishnah in Bava Kamma (92a) states: Despite the fact that the assailant who caused damage gives to the victim all of the required payments for the injury, his transgression is not forgiven for him in the heavenly court until he requests forgiveness from the victim…And from where is it derived that if the victim does not forgive him that he is cruel? As it is stated: “And Abraham prayed to God; and God healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his maidservants; and they bore children” (Genesis 20:17). It is not enough to compensate the injured individual. One must ask for mechilah. The Gemara expands on this: The Sages taught: All these sums that in the previous mishnah they said one is liable to pay for humiliating another are the compensation for his humiliation, for which there is a set amount. But for the victim’s pain caused by the assailant, even if the assailant brings as offerings all the rams of Nebaioth (see Isaiah 60:7) that are in the world, which are of the best quality, his transgression is not forgiven for him in the heavenly court until he requests forgiveness from the victim… Rashi explains that one needs to be explicitly pardoned since the victim continues to worry and feel aggrieved about their suffering. One must ask for forgiveness because of the pain the victim feels at present. Rabbi Menachem Meiri understands the need to explicitly ask for forgiveness is because of the pain felt at the time of the injury. Asking for forgiveness is required for what was felt in the past and not related to the victim’s present state.

This presents us with two models of mechilah.


According to Rashi, asking for forgiveness is to alleviate the victim’s current state of discomfort and to alleviate their present emotional state. Mechilah is a form of emotional reconciliation.

2. According to the Meiri, asking for forgiveness is a form of compensation for the past. Mechilah is a form of repayment for a debt.

This leads to some interesting questions which may impact whether one must actually ask for mechilah. For example:

• Does one need to apologize for anguish that has been forgotten? • Is forgiveness effective if the victim expresses absolution, but does not genuinely feel it? • What if a victim forgives quickly for a semi-forgotten offense, and then later regrets doing so, after recalling the acute pain that was felt? • What if forgiveness was granted under false pretenses? For example, what if one claims an intentional slight was unintended? • What if the victim grants a perfunctory, general mechilah (as described at the beginning of this article) in response to an unspecific request, not realizing that the perpetrator actually committed a genuine offense, for which significant appeasement would be needed? All of the above scenarios can be analyzed using the views of Rashi and Meiri. At the end of the day – or, more accurately, by the time Yom Kippur ends, we learn from mechilah that we must take our interpersonal interactions seriously. If Jewish law is willing to analyze mechilah so deeply, it behooves us to fully examine our past interactions and resolve to make them as positive as possible.

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The concept of repentance is the subject of much discussion. It is seen by Bachya ibn Pakuda as a way of asking God for forgiveness, while others associate it with acts of penance and even self affliction. The Rambam and Rav Soloveitchik see it as a method of personal transformation. Rav Kook takes this a step further, and sees teshuvah as being larger than repairing sin, and being the very force which inspires personal growth. Ezekiel 18:23

Is it my desire that a wicked person shall die?—says the Lord God. It is rather that he shall turn back from his ways and live.

Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance 2:2 | What is repentance? The sinner shall cease sinning, and remove sin from his thoughts, and wholeheartedly conclude not to revert back to it, even as it is said: “Let the wicked forsake his way” (Is. 55.7); so, too, shall he be remorseful on what was past, even as it is said: “Surely after that I was turned, I repented” (Jer. 31. 19). In addition thereto he should take to witness Him Who knoweth all secrets that forever he will not turn to repeat that sin again, according to what it is said: “Say unto Him.… neither will we call any more the work of our hands our gods” (Hos. 14.3–4). It is, moreover, essential that his confession shall be by spoken words of his lips, and all that which he concluded in his heart shall be formed in speech. 2:4 | Among the paths of repentance is for the penitent to:

a) constantly call out before God, crying and entreating;

b) to perform charity according to his potential;

c) to separate himself far from the object of his sin;

d) to change his name, as if to say “I am a different person and not the same one who sinned;”

e) to change his behavior in its

entirety to the good and the path of righteousness; and

f) to travel in exile from his home.

Exile atones for sin because it causes a person to be submissive, humble, and meek of spirit. 2:9 | Teshuvah and Yom Kippur only atone for sins between man and God; for example, a person who ate a forbidden food or engaged in forbidden sexual relations, and the like. However, sins between man and man; for example, someone who injures a colleague, curses a colleague, steals from him, or the like will never be forgiven until he gives his colleague what he owes him and appeases him. [It must be emphasized that] even if a person restores the money that he owes [the person he wronged], he must appease him and ask him to forgive him. Even if a person only upset a colleague by saying [certain] things, he must appease him and approach him [repeatedly] until he forgives him. If his colleague does not desire to forgive him, he should bring a group of three of his friends and approach him with them and request [forgiveness]. If [the wronged party] is not appeased, he should repeat the process a second and third time. If he [still] does not want [to forgive him], he may let him alone and need not pursue [the matter further]. On the contrary, the person who refuses to grant forgiveness is the one considered as the sinner. 7:3 | A person should not think that repentance is only necessary for those sins that involve deed such as promiscuity, robbery, or theft. Rather, just as a person is obligated

to repent from these, similarly, he must search after the evil character traits he has. He must repent from anger, hatred, envy, frivolity, the pursuit of money and honor, the pursuit of gluttony, and the like. He must repent for all [of the above]. These sins are more difficult than those that involve deed. If a person is attached to these, it is more difficult for him to separate himself. In this context, [Isaiah 55:7] exhorts: “May the wicked abandon his path and the crooked man, his designs.” 7:4 | A baal teshuvah (one who has repented from his sins) should not consider himself distant from the level of the righteous because of the sins and transgressions that he committed. This is not true. He is beloved and desirable before the Creator as if he never sinned. Furthermore, he has a great reward for he has tasted sin and yet, separated himself from it, conquering his [evil] inclination. Our Sages declared: “In the place where baalei teshuvah stand, even the completely righteous are not able to stand.” The level of baalei teshuvah transcends the level of those who never sinned at all, for they overcome their [evil] inclination more.

Mishnah Yoma 8:9 One who says, “I will sin, and then repent, I will sin [again], and then repent,” will not receive an opportunity to repent; [for one who says] “I will sin, and Yom Kippur will atone,” Yom Kippur will not atone.


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On Yom Kippur, during the Musaf service, we re-enact the Avodah - the Service of the High Priest in the Temple. The centerpiece of the Avodah is the declaration of the High Priest, drawn literally from the Mishnah in Yoma: “Ana Hashem, chatati, aviti, pashati lefanecha ...” Translation: “Please, God, I have sinned, I have done wrong, I have rebelled before You...” This is the way the Mishnah taught the High Priest - and us - to confess before God when we are about to do teshuvah - repentance. There is one word in this declaration that seems out of place: “Ana,” “Please.” Please, God, I have sinned, transgressed, rebelled? Better, for sure, to say: “I’m sorry, God, I have sinned...” Rav Soloveitchick, in one of his most memorable shiurim, addressed himself to this seeming malapropism. He said that we tend to take our ability to repent for granted. We assume that it is built into the God-human relationship. God loves us as a father or mother and, therefore, when we make a mistake we can confess it, apologize for it and promise never to do it again, and God will forgive us. Said the Rav, it isn’t that simple. Teshuvah is not a human right; teshuvah is a privilege. Teshuvah is an act of grace on the part of a loving God to give us another chance; not to say that if you sinned there is no possibility for correction, or, as the Prophet says: “Hanefesh hachoteit hi tamut - the soul that sinneth shall die.” (Ezekiel, 18:4)

On the contrary, our rabbis insist that the gates of repentance are never closed. We always have a right to enter them. But we have to ask permission. We don’t barge into Yom Kippur and say: OK, God. Here I am again. I’m ready to repent - and then beat our breasts and say all the right things with all the sincere feelings. No, we need permission to invoke God’s grace and say I am sorry, I admit, I’ll try better the next time, please forgive me. That permission is in the word: “Ana,” “Please.” Please, God, let me do teshuvah. Take me back. Give me another chance, a clean slate and an opportunity to make up for the things that I may have done wrong and the good things that I failed to do. Ana; Please! That is why the High Priest introduces his confession as he does. And, says the Rav, since our confession is modeled after that of the High Priest, we have to do the same.. And so he instructed us to insert the word, “Please” into the beginning of our confession service all nine times that we confess on Yom Kippur and in all our Selichot services. We begin the confession with the words “E-loheinu v’e-lohei avoteinu, tavo lefanecha tefillateinu...” Our God and the God of our fathers...(Koren Machzor, Mincha, Erev Yom Kippur, bottom of page 25). The Rav teaches us to insert the word “Ana,” “Please,” immediately after the word “avoteinu” “our fathers” as we begin our request. We then say: “Please, let our prayer come before you... for in truth, we and our fathers have sinned.” The instruction of the Rav to amend our text is important because most machzorim do not have the word “Ana” in their text, although some put it in parentheses. The Rav, in effect, corrected what he saw as an error of omission in our texts, and it makes perfect sense. For the High Priest of old and for us today, teshuvah is not a right, but a privilege. Whenever we begin our confession we have to ask God’s permission: Ana - Please! May God grant us this privilege this year and in the years to come.

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THE FOUR STEPS OF TESHUVAH Chovot HaLevavot 7:4, Bachya ibn Pakuda, 11th century Saragossa The author of the Chovot HaLevavot sees teshuvah as similar to the way one offers an apology to someone you have offended. He divides teshuvah into four actions, each of which is meant to fix man’s relationship with God. The essential components of repentance are four:

• That he should regret the past sins he committed. • That he abandon and turn away from them. • That he confess them and beseech forgiveness for having committed them. • That he take on himself with heart and soul not to repeat them.

1. Regret is a sign that the sin is disgraceful in his eyes, as written: “He who knows will return and regret and leave a blessing behind him” (Yoel 2:14)...... We ourselves can see in relationships between human beings, that when one who wronged his fellow shows regret for having wronged him, this will

be the strongest factor for his fellow’s granting him forgiveness.

2. Abandonment (of sin) is a sign

of his firm faith in reward and punishment, as written: “The wicked shall give up his way, and the man of iniquity his thoughts, and let him return to the Lord, who shall have mercy upon him, and to our God, for He abundantly pardons” (Yeshaya 55:7). ... Similarly we can observe among human beings, that if one has wronged his fellow, and along with expressing regret, ceases to wrong him, then it will be proper to forgive him and overlook the misdeed.

Day of Atonement Buckle. Lviv, Ukraine, 1839. The National Museum in Warsaw. Photograph by Zev Radovan. Courtesy of the Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

3. Beseeching forgiveness

demonstrates submission and humility before God, and confession of one’s sin is a ground for forgiveness, as written: “he who confesses and renounces them will obtain mercy” (Mishlei 28:13).


…. Similarly we can observe among human beings, that if one wrongs his fellow, and afterwards humbles himself towards him, and admits that he sinned against him and wronged him and beseeches forgiveness from him, and the fellow recognizes that he truly regrets the wrong he committed, the fellow will not refrain from forgiving him and will overlook the wrong-doing, and the grudge in his heart against him will be removed.

4. The resolution not to repeat

[the sin] reflects his understanding of the wickedness of his deed and the gravity of his sin, as written, “If I have committed iniquity, I will do no more” (Iyov 34:32), ….And similarly we can observe among human beings that when one who wronged his fellow takes on himself not to wrong him again, and demonstrates that he regrets and abandons his sin and confesses it, this will complete the grounds which lead to forgiveness and removal of his iniquity, and cancelling the punishment from him. When the penitent combines these four components along with their conditions, …. the Creator will forgive the sinner his iniquity, and overlook his transgression.

Teshuvah: A Guide for the Newly Observant Jew Adin Steinsaltz, ed. and trans. by Michael Swirsky (New York: Free Press, 1987), 3-4. Broadly defined, teshuvah is more than just repentance from sin; it is a spiritual reawakening, a desire to strengthen the connection between oneself and the sacred. The effectiveness of teshuvah is thus frequently a function of one’s sense of distance from the sacred. The greater the distance, the greater the potential movement towards renewed connectedness. As one Jewish sage put it, A rope that is cut and re-tied is doubly strong at the point where it was severed.... All forms of teshuvah, however diverse and complex, have a common core: the belief that human beings have it in their power to effect inward change.


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TESHUVAH: REINVENTING YOURSELF Halakhic Man, Rabbi Joseph B. Solovietchik In this fascinating passage, Rav Soloveitchik articulates a vision of teshuvah as a recreation of one’s identity. Rav Soloveitchik explains that understanding of our past and our vision for our future are fundamental to our identity. If we change our attitude to our past and our vision for the future, we change who we are. Here there comes to the fore the primary difference between the concept of repentance in Halakhah and the concept of repentance held by homo religious (i.e., a person who is deeply religious, but not guided by Halakhah). The latter views repentance only from the perspective of atonement, only as a guard against punishment, as an empty regret which does not create anything, does not bring into being anything new. A deep melancholy afflicts his spirit. He mourns for the yesterdays that are irretrievably past, the times that have long since sunk into the abyss of oblivion, the deeds that have vanished like shadows, facts that he will never be able to change. Therefore, for homo religious, repentance is a wholly miraculous phenomenon made possible by the endless grace of the Almighty. But such is not the case with halakhic man! Halakhic man does not indulge in weeping and despair, does not lacerate his flesh or flail away at himself. He does not afflict himself with penitential rites and forgoes all mortification of body and soul. Halakhic man is engaged in self-creation, in creating a new “I.” He does not regret an irretrievably lost past but a past still in existence, one that stretches into and interpenetrates with the present and the future. He does not fight

the shadows of a dead past, nor does he grapple with deeds that have faded away into the distance. Similarly, his resolve is not some vacuous decision made with regard to an obscure, distant future that has not as yet arrived. Halakhic man is concerned with the image of the past that is alive and active in the center of his present tempestuous and clamorous life and with a pulsating, throbbing future that has already been “created.” There is a living past and there is a dead past. There is a future which has not as yet been “created,” and there is a future already in existence. There is a past and there is a future that are connected with one another and with the present only through the law of causality – the cause found at moment A links up with the effect taking place at moment B, and so on. However, time itself as past appears only as “no more” and as future appears as “not yet.” From this perspective repentance is an empty and hollow concept. It is impossible to regret a past that is already dead, lost in the abyss of oblivion. Similarly, one cannot make a decision concerning a future that is as yet “unborn.” Therefore, Spinoza (Ethics IV, 54) and Nietzsche (in Geneaology of Morals) – from this perspective – did well to deride the idea of repentance. However, there is a past that persists in its existence, that does not vanish and disappear but remains firm in its place. Such a past enters into the domain of the present and links up with the future. Similarly, there is a future that is not hidden behind a thick cloud but reveals itself now in all its beauty and majesty. Such a future, drawing upon its own hidden roots, infuses the past with strength and might, vigor and vitality. Both – past and future – are alive; both act and create in the heart of the present and shape the very image of reality. From this perspective we neither perceive the past as “no more” nor the future as “not yet” nor the present as “a fleeting moment.” Rather past, present, future merge and blend together, and this new threefold time structure arises before us adorned with a splendid unity.

Rav Kook, Orot Hateshuvah 5:5 | Even if a person consistently stumbles, damaging his righteousness and ethical behavior, this does not damage his fundamental perfection. A person’s fundamental perfection is found in his longing and desire to achieve perfection, a desire which is the foundation of teshuvah, and which continually governs his path in life. 5:3 | The world is guaranteed to come to full repentance. The world is not static; it continues to develop. True, complete development must bring about total physical and spiritual health, which will bring with it the light of the life of teshuvah.

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Beginning at the Mincha prior to Yom Kippur and through all of the prayers of the day, we recite the confession (viduy). This is a part of teshuvah; one must articulate what one did wrong before being able to change a behavior and seek forgiveness. Below is a selection of sources on the importance of viduy.

Psalms 32:5

Then I acknowledged my sin to You; I did not cover up my guilt; I resolved, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and You forgave the guilt of my sin.

Proverbs 28:7

He who covers up his faults will not succeed; He who confesses and gives them up will find mercy.

Shemuel 2 12:13

David said to Nathan, “I stand guilty before the Lord”. And Nathan replied to David, “The Lord has remitted your sin; you shall not die”.

Rambam, Laws of Repentance 1:1

All of the commandments in the Torah: whether they be the positive commandments, or the negative commandments; if a person transgressed any of them, whether he did so intentionally, whether he did so unintentionally, when he repents and returns from his sin - he is obligated to confess before God, blessed be He, as it says (Numbers 5:6-7), When a man or a women does any of the sins of man...and he shall confess his sin that he committed... - this refers to a verbal confession.

Introspection - 5733, 1972. Will Barnet (1911-2012) © VAGA at ARS, NY. Screen print on paper, 32 1/2 x 41 15/16 in. (82.6 x 106.3 cm). Commission: Mr. and Mrs. Albert A. List New Year’s Graphic Fund, JM 32-73. Photo by Richard Goodbody, Inc. Photo credit: The Jewish Museum, New York / Art Resource, NY.




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TORAH READINGS Yom Kippur Day: The Temple Service It is a Temple service that is both disturbing and awe inspiring. Two goats are chosen together to be sacrificed on Yom Kippur. Lots are drawn to decide which goat is to be sacrificed “for God” and which one is “for Azazel.” The one designated “for God” is sacrificed, and its blood is brought into the Holy of Holies. The other one, designated “for Azazel,” is sent far away into the wilderness, ultimately to be pushed off a cliff. This unusual service inspires awe, because it is the one time a year that the High Priest enters the Holy of Holies. (The Holy of Holies is where the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the two tablets with the Ten Commandments was placed.) This moment symbolizes the unique closeness between man and God on Yom Kippur. Yet at the same time, a goat is sent to the Mount Azazel. Avi Deror, 2010. CC BY-SA / creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0 Azazel, the wilderness. This is unique to the Temple service in that an animal is sacrificed outside of the Temple. While that may not seem like much, in the times of the Temple, it was forbidden to sacrifice outside of the Temple, and outside sacrifices were usually to idols and demonic forces. The “Seir L’Azazel,” the goat that is sent to Azazel, has provoked much commentary. Here are several commentaries, from Rambam, Nachmanides, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik. Note the dramatically different views of Rambam and Nachmanides, as well as Rav Soloveitchik’s attempt to find a less mystical interpretation of the Ramban. In addition, note the very different views of Rav Hirsch and Rav Solovietchik on the topic of the lots.

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Rambam, Guide for the Perplexed, III:46 Inasmuch as the he-goat that was sent forth into the wilderness served wholly to atone for great sins, so that there was no sin-offering of the congregation that served as atonement in as great a measure as that goat, which was as it were the bearer of all the sins, it was not to receive at all such treatment as being slaughtered or burnt or sacrificed, but had to be removed to as great a distance as possible and sent forth unto a land that is cut off, I mean one that was separated from habitation. No one has any doubt that sins are not bodies that may be transported from the back of one individual to that of another. But all these actions are parables serving to bring forth a form in

the soul so that a passion toward repentance should result: We have freed ourselves from all our previous actions, cast them behind our backs, and removed them to an extreme distance.

Nachmanides, Commentary to Leviticus 16:8 This commentary is controversial, and has sparked much commentary of its own. The Ramban suggests that the goat sent to Azazel is actually there to appease Satan, so he will not offer negative attacks on Yom Kippur.. See Rabbi Soloveitchik’s commentary on this Ramban, quoted in the following text.


… Now the Torah has absolutely forbidden the acceptance of (angels) as deities and all service to them. But the Holy One, blessed in He, commanded that on Yom Kippur we send a he-goat in the desert to the celestial minister who rules in the desolate places, and the desert is what is fitting for Samael (another name for Satan - C.S.) because he is its master, and from the emanation of his power comes destruction and desolation. For he is the source of power of the stars of the sword, blood wars, quarrels, wounds, plagues, division and destruction, ….Now the intention regarding the he-goat that is sent to Azazel is not that it is an offering from us to Samael, heaven forbid! Rather, our intention should be to fulfill the will of our Creator Who commanded us to do so. The parable to shed light on this matter would be that it is like one who makes a feast for the king and the king commanded the man making the feast, “Give a portion to my servant So-and-so.” In such a case it is clear that the person making the feast is not giving anything of his own to that servant, nor is he dealing with him for the sake of enhancing his honor; rather, it is considered that the host of the feast is giving everything to the king, and the king is giving a gift to his servant, and this one (the person making the feast) is simply observing the command of the king, and out of respect for the king he does all that he has commanded him. However, the king, out of consideration for the host of the feast, wished that all the king’s servants benefit from the feast, so that they should all speak in praise of the host and not in his disparagement….And this is the reason for the casting of lots on the goats as well. – For if the priest were to sanctify them verbally “for Hashem” and “for Azazel,” it would seem as if he were performing a service to Azazel and vowing an offering to his name. Instead, to avoid conveying this impression, (the priest) would stand the two he-goats before Hashem, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting for both of them were a gift for God. And therefore, i.e., because it is not an offering to Samael, we do not slaughter it altogether as would be done to a sacrifice, but rather “send it into the desert.”


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THE SCAPEGOAT Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, On Repentance In this passage, “And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for Azazel,” the Almighty revealed the great mystery of the quality of mercy which is operative on the Day of Atonement. Go and see the feelings of sorrow, of disappointment, of frustration and of distress that man endures, not through devotion to the Almighty but for the sake of petty human cupidity, financial covetousness, and the craving for honors. Then go and see this man as he gets to a state of terrible isolation, when society turns its back upon him, when his children are contemptuous of him, and his grandchildren are alienated from him, when he feels impoverished, neglected and abandoned - and not as the result of excess devotion to God. A man who all his life studies the Torah and faithfully serves God will not feel ignored and isolated even when he grows old. This terrible feeling of alienation and loneliness usually overcomes man due to an excessive pursuit of futile vanities. The spiritual anguish, despair and frustration endured by man are not the

cause of the empty vanities to which he devoted his life – the Almighty accepts him as though the anguish he now felt was due to his devotion to God. It is seen as an offering to the Almighty and not, as it was in truth, an offering to Satan…...Although sacrifices were made here, they were directed to Satan rather than to God. On the Day of Atonement the scapegoat (Seir le’Azazel) “intercedes,” which demonstrates the fact that on this day the Almighty also accepts sacrifices of the type made to Satan, sacrifices that are made outside the Temple as well as those offered inside it. We have here a sacrifice which ends up in the breakage of limbs through attempting, unsuccessfully, to scale high cliffs. Had the goat not climbed to such heights, it is possible that not all of its limbs would have been broken. The scapegoat represents the sacrifice made unintentionally, the suffering endured not for God’s sake. All year round, when an individual makes sacrifices that are not for God’s sake, they are rejected; but on the Day of Atonement the whole of Israel offers up just such a sacrifice to Azazel and it is accepted. When a Jew comes to the synagogue on the Day of Atonement and says, in the language used for the High Priest’s confession, “I have sinned, I have trans-

The scapegoat symbolizes man who suffers because of his own failures. If he feels remorse and has second thoughts of repentance because of them, these failures are then regarded as a sacrifice offered up to God. consequence of the “lot for the Lord” but of “the lot for Azazel.” The special measure of grace, of the divine quality of loving-kindness of the Day of Atonement, then intercedes and rules that all those sacrifices offered up by man to Satan which he regrets on the Day of Atonement and repents – these must all be regarded retroactively as if they had been cast as a “lot for the Lord” and the Almighty receives them as if from the beginning they were meant for Him. A penitent who has suffered much because of his sins and now comes broken and downcast before the Almighty – after he has been abandoned and isolated be-

gressed, I have acted perversely,” and he is wracked by suffering as he says this and this anguish is due to a sense of spiritual emptiness and disaster which are related to acts of sin and are not consequent upon his devotion to God – on this day the Almighty accepts such suffering as a qualified sin-offering His sins are considered atoned for and he can now “repurchase” himself and make a new start in life The scapegoat symbolizes man who suffers because of his own failures. If he feels remorse and has second thoughts of repentance because of them, these failures are then regarded as a sacrifice offered up to God.

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Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Collected Writings Volume II, Page 108-9

In front of them stands an urn containing two lots, both of the same size and made of the same material. One of these lots says “for God,” the other “for Azazel.” The High Priest steps up to the animals, reaches into the urn and draws for one animal the lot “for God’’ and for the other the lot “for Azazel.” And so these two animals stand together at the same spot, face in the same direction and are identical in every respect. But how diametrically opposed are their destinies. The animal marked “for God” will become an offering. Its blood immediately assumes a symbolic role of atonement and consecration. It is received in the vessel of the Sanctuary and is borne into the Holy of Holies. There, in the Holy of Holies before the Ark of the Covenant of the Law, it is symbolically consecrated by being sprinkled toward it and then toward the curtain of the Ark and toward the altar. The animal marked “for Azazel” does not meet its death as an atonement offering. It remains alive and intact, it remains standing erect, untouched while its companion is being offered as a sacrifice. However “the man of its fate” has been prepared for it in advance. When the atonement of its companion which died as an offering has been completed, the animal that has not become an offering is turned over intact, in the fullness of life, to the man who leads it away from the Sanctuary into the open, to a high rock. There it stands, alive, free and erect. But then, suddenly, it topples backwards; it hurtles down a precipice behind it, of which it was not aware. These are the symbols of the two paths between which we are to choose. It is the eloquent, solemn and forceful proclamation of the great principle by which the whole Law of God, and our own consecration, stands and falls; namely, the principle of free will, the freedom given to every one of us to decide his own future, the freedom to mark ourselves, of our own free will, either “for God” or “for Azazel.” … These are the two paths between which every one of us must choose. The urn stands before each one of us. Each one of us has the same opportunity to choose either the path “for God” or the path “for Azazel”.


Let no one blame his standing, his material circumstances or his position in life, if he has chosen the path “for Azazel”. Whether a man is endowed with grace or not, whether strong or weak, rich or poor, living in whatever time or whatever place, no outside influence should ever have an impact so compelling as to override his free will. Each one of us is placed in the entrance of the Sanctuary, facing the Sanctuary, and is handed both of the two lots…

These are the two paths between which every one of us must choose ... Each one of us has the same opportunity to choose either the path “for God” or the path “for Azazel”. Rabbi Joseph B. Solovietchik, Man is Vulnerable The two male goats were identical… but their fates led them in opposite directions, as determined by chance (goral) decisions, entirely beyond their control. The casting of lots decreed which was to go Lashem, to be sacrificed within the Temple, and which to Azazel, to be cast out of the camp of Israel, ignominiously to be destroyed. The secret of atonement is thus indicated in the ceremonious casting of the lots. It reflects the basis for the penitent’s claim to forgiveness, that his moral directions were similarly influenced by forces beyond his control, that his sinning was not entirely a free and voluntary choice. Only the Almighty can evaluate the extent of human culpability in situations which are not entirely of man’s making. Only God knows to what extent a man was a free agent in making his decisions. The Avodah is thus a psychodramatic representation of the penitent’s state of mind and his emotional need. Only by entering such a plea can man be declared “not guilty.” Yom Kippur is in this respect like Purim, both involving a goral. The compelling intrusion of the unknown and irrational is basic to man’s existential condition and it is precisely this weakness which qualifies him to receive God’s compassionate forgiveness on Yom Kippur.


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At the climax of Yom Kippur, we read the famous, yet thoroughly baffling, story of Yonah. The Book opens with God sending Yonah as a divine messenger to the huge Assyrian metropolis of Nineveh. The city had descended to a level of decadence that was simply intolerable, and destruction was imminent. Only immediate repentance would bring about a reprieve. Yonah, however, does not want to undertake this mission, and he attempts to flee from God. He books passage on a ship which will carry him far away from Nineveh, but a sudden storm threatens to tear the ship apart. The sailors cast lots, and Yonah is tossed into the sea, where he is swallowed by a whale. From the belly of the whale, Yonah cries out to God in anguish and despair and pleads for deliverance. God answers Yonah’s prayer. The whale spits him out onto the shore, and he sets off at once for Nineveh, where his message is greeted with consternation. The people don sackcloth and repent, and the city is spared. The question begs to be asked - Yonah was undoubtedly a very holy man if God granted him the gift of prophecy. How then and why did he refuse to serve as the messenger of God? Our Sages tell us that Yonah was concerned for the welfare of the Jewish people. If the people in the city of Nineveh repented their wretched ways, God would forgive them. The inhabitants of Nineveh would, in the future, become the enemy of the Jewish people, destroy the Temple, and exile the Jews. This particular Haftarah is read at Mincha time, as the sha’arei shamayim, (Gates of Heaven) are preparing to close. It is meant to highlight the conflict between Yonah and God and encourage us to rethink our relationships with both God and ourselves. We are about to enter the precious final moments of the holiest day of the year. Why read the Book of Yonah? What lessons are we meant to derive from this story in these final climactic moments of Yom Kippur? Is it only meant to present us with another example of disaster avoided through timely repentance or is it meant to show us the power of repentance itself? Is

there a deeper significance in the central theme of the story, which revolves around Yonah’s attempt to extricate himself from his mission? The commentators explain that Yonah certainly had no illusions about thwarting the divine plan. If God wanted to warn Nineveh that only repentance could save them, He undoubtedly would. However, Yonah had such an overpowering love for the Jewish people that he could not bear to be the agent of their misfortune. In desperation, he resolved to flee so that God’s will would be fulfilled through some other channel. Jonah was fully aware of the magnitude of his act and the dire consequences he would probably suffer for his disobedience, but the alternative was unbearable.

In our own lives, we sometimes bend the rules to suit our convenience. We fall into the trap of “situation ethics,” seeking a middle ground between our desires and the dictates of our Creator. We rationalize. We equivocate. We compromise. Like Yonah, we seek to escape the strictures imposed on us by our innermost conscience.

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God chose not to send a different messenger to Nineveh. Instead, He sent storms and whales to force Yonah to return and accept his mission. The message to Yonah was very clear, and it resonates down through the ages to reach us every Yom Kippur. Yonah had no right to weigh the pros and cons of obeying God’s command. He did not have the option of deciding whether or not to obey. If he was commanded to go to Nineveh, then that was what he was obliged to do, and no amount of rationalization could change it. In our own lives, we sometimes bend the rules to suit our convenience. We fall into the trap of “situation ethics,” seeking a middle ground between our desires and the dictates of our Creator. We rationalize. We equivocate. We compromise. Like Yonah, we seek to escape the strictures imposed on us by our innermost conscience. But in actuality, as Jonah discovered so painfully, it is not for us to make value judgments. Furthermore, the Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik explained that the story of Yonah teaches us a pro-


found lesson: concern for humanity. While the sailors of the storm-tossed ship cry out to their gods in fear, Yonah descends into a deep sleep – an escape of sorts. He is even criticized by the captain who asks him ‘how can you sleep so soundly? Arise call to your God! Perhaps he will pay us mind and we will not perish!” The captain’s call is, in a sense, a wake-up to understand one’s role in the world. One’s responsibilities to his fellow man. Can we sleep soundly while others suffer? Do we slumber? Do we remain silent? Yom Kippur is not just about the individual. The story of Yonah is read on Yom Kippur because it demands of us to think of the other. We pray for the entire world. And this year in particular, our prayers for the entire world have greater resonance for all humanity as we continue the fight to gain control of COVID-19. Let us each consider, like Yonah, what we can do for our community and what we can contribute to humanity. Like Yonah, today we must immerse ourselves in honest introspection and calculated soul-searching.

Jonah and the Whale. Carlo Antonio Tavella, mid 17th century. A powerful storm scene incorporating a genre subject and the dramatic biblical story of Jonah and the whale. Royal Museums Greenwich / Public domain.


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Beit Yosef, Orach Chaim 622:2:1

HaShem and promised in his heart to fulfill His com-

...[The reason we read] maftir Yonah is because it has in it the measure of the power of teshuvah.

mand regarding Nineveh. But he was comforted in his realizing that the people of Nineveh were worship-

Radak on Jonah 1:1:1

because his call, they would not be steadfast in their

There isn’t even mention of Bnei Yisrael?! One can explain that this is written as mussar to Israel, that a gentile nation who aren’t from Israel do a full teshuvah with one rebuke, and Israel receive many rebukes and do not return from their wickedness...Also to teach that God has mercy on all those who repent, regardless of which nation they are from.

Jerusalem Talmud Makkot 7a:1 It was asked of Wisdom, “What happens to the sinner?” Wisdom answered, “Evil pursues the wicked!” It was asked of Prophecy, “What happens to the sinner?” Prophecy answered, “The sinful soul shall perish!” It was asked of Hashem, “What happens to a sinner?” Hashem answers, “Do teshuvah and he will be forgiven!”

Abarbanel Yonah 2 The truth of the matter is that Yonah regretted fleeing

pers of nothingness and, so, even if they did teshuvah repentance— after a few days, they would leave their righteousness and return to their evil.

Pesikta D’Rav Kahanna 24:11 .... Reish Lakish taught: The people of Nineveh did a liar’s repentance. What did they do? R’ Chunyah in the name of R. Shimon ben Chalafta taught: They stood the calves inside and their mothers outside. And these were crying inside and these were crying outside. They said, if you do not have mercy on us, we will not have mercy on them... “And let each person turn from his evil way”: R. Yochanan taught that what was in hand, they returned, and what was used in construction or a tower, they did not return.

Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 56b:3 One who suppresses his prophecy. Like Yonah ben Amitai, Rebbe Yonah says Yonah was a true prophet... at the time that God told him, “Get up and go to Nineveh...” Yonah said, “I know that the non-Jews are close to repentance and I will go and prophecize to them and they will repent and God will come and hurt

Scenes from the Story of Jonah. Étienne Delaune, 1569. Engravings on paper. The Jewish Museum, New York / Public domain.

the ‘enemies of Israel.’ What should I do? Run away.” And Yonah got up to run to Tarshish...

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THIRTEEN MIDDOT Attributes Of Mercy

Our modern Yom Kippur service is replete with repetition, from phrases, to entire sections, but none as frequent as The Thirteen Attributes of Mercy which is declared twenty-six times. The source of these attributes is Biblical, and is God’s self-description, in response to Moses’s request to gain an understanding of His glory (Exodus 34:6). Rabbi David ben Zimra, the RADBAZ, accurately notes that the text states to perform before me, and not to recite before me. The intention is not an incantation, but rather a personal transformation. Rabbi Moshe Cordovero in his book Tomer Devorah describes how each of these attributes of God can be actualized within our own character.


Were it not explicitly written in the verse, it would be impossible to say this, as it would be insulting to God’s honor. The verse teaches that the Holy One, Blessed be He, wrapped Himself in a prayer shawl like a prayer leader and showed Moses the structure of the order of the prayer. He said to him: Whenever the Jewish people sin, let them act before Me in accordance with this order. The verse continues: “The Lord, the Lord,” and it should be understood as follows: I am He before a person sins, and I am He after a person sins and performs repentance, as God does not recall for him his first sins, since He is always “God, merciful and gracious” (Exodus 34:6). Rav Yehuda said: A covenant was made with the thirteen attributes that they will not return empty-handed, meaning that if one mentions them, he will certainly be answered, as it is stated in this regard: “Behold, I make a covenant” (Exodus 34:10).

Radbaz, Metzudat David Zimra, Mitzvah #11

The verse states: “And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed” (Exodus 34:6). Rabbi Yohanan said:

Moshe’s prayer was not accepted just because he mentioned God’s Attributes. What the Sages meant when they said that “a covenant was sealed with the Thirteen Attributes, that we will not be left empty-handed,” and when they said that “we learn that God wrapped Himself up like a chazzan and said that ‘whenever the Jewish people act like this, I will pardon them,’” the intent is that they should act in accordance with His Attributes, not merely mention them verbally [italics added]


the Heavenly judgment that was written for each person on Rosh Hashanah is sealed, whether for good or for bad.

Talmud Bavli Rosh Hashanah 17b

Rambam Hilkhot Tefillah 1:7 So, too, they instituted a service to be recited after the afternoon service, close to sunset, but only on a fast day, the purpose being to add petitions and supplication on account of the fast. This Service is called “the Closing” [service]—an allusion to the fact that the sky is closed to the sun which is at that hour of the day invisible—this service being recited near sunset.

Mishnah Berurah 623:3 In the Neilah prayer we ask that God “seal” us instead of “inscribe” [us in the Book of Life]. For during Neilah

One should make a great effort to motivate himself during this prayer, for it is the culmination of both the Ten Days of Teshuvah and of Yom Kippur, since one’s fate is decided by the sealing of the judgment. And if not now, when? Therefore, even if one is weak from fasting, nevertheless he should strengthen himself to pray with pure and clear thoughts, and to take upon himself the commitment to do teshuvah sincerely and truthfully. For one who comes to purify himself is assisted by Heaven [Yoma 38b] and will be sealed in the Book of Good Life.



Morning Prayers Ernest Kathelin Second half 19th century Public domain

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What Do You Have When You Have Nothing?


Where is God? Ayeh M’kom K’vodo? 54

A Halakhic Approach to Suffering


Why Thank You is Not Enough







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What Do You Have When You Have Nothing? RA B B I C H A I M S T E I N M E T Z

Since the middle of March the world has wrestled with a disastrous pandemic. Like everyone else, loss, grief and uncertainty has struck our community. We have lost beloved family and friends, and the economic situation has had a difficult impact on so many of us. And all of us sit at home frustrated, unable to go about our ordinary lives, unable to shake hands or hug someone from outside of our own household. During some of the more difficult moments in these last few months, I have thought about a question I discussed in a Rosh Hashanah sermon a few years ago. What happens when you lose some of the most precious things in your life? What do you still have? At a time when it feels like so much is slipping out of our reach, it is important for us to remember that the most significant things in life can never be taken away from us. My mother was sixteen when she was sent to the Kolozsvár Ghetto. There, as she and her family were stripped of their remaining possessions, she experienced her first taste of the torture the Nazis would inflict on her. Men were taken out at night by Hungarian guards and members of the Gestapo, and a flame was held to their feet to get them to reveal the whereabouts of any gems or gold they might have hidden. From that point on, things only got worse. She was deported from the ghetto to Auschwitz, then sent to a labor camp a few weeks later, and finally, towards the end of the war, escaped while on a death march. Those first moments of freedom must have been frightening for my mother. How does a 17-year-old girl look forward to life without a home, a country, a single possession? What do you have when you have nothing? As my children were entering their teens, I would emphasize to them the contrast between their childhood and my mother’s. I used to think of this contrast only in one direction, as in how much more my children have than their grandmother did at their age: freedom, security, and material comfort. Now, I think there is another contrast: my children’s generation, with all of its material advantages, still struggles with resilience and character. The generation of survivors, the people who had nothing,

who had every reason to emotionally collapse, exhibited remarkable character. If you asked these survivors the question: “What do you have when you have nothing?” The answer would be: “You have a lot.” The Roman orator and statesman Cicero wrote: Omnia mea mecum porto - I am carrying all my things with me. Rav Azriel Hildesheimer, at the opening of the Berlin Rabbinical Seminary in 1873, related this quote from Cicero to a Talmudic passage that says “Blessing rests only on a thing which is hidden from sight.” Rav Hildesheimer explains that “the only blessing is that which is invisible, that is, of the spirit and the idea,” and that the lesson of Jewish history is that “the scorned, sold and mortgaged Jewish servant, who has been driven out at the whim of others, was continuously reminded, again and again, that his only true belonging was that which he carried with him constantly, which no one could separate him from.” This lesson is what I learned from my mother’s example: the greatest gifts are the ones you carry in your heart. These survivors, these penniless, unfortunate, persecuted refugees possessed something invaluable: their heart. And that is all that mattered. But what do you carry in your heart? First of all, you carry your education with you; nothing could be more practical. Kohelet (4:13) writes: “Better to be a wise

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and poor youth, than a foolish and well established elder statesman.” In the end, wisdom is the most valuable commodity, and education has always been a Jewish priority.

The wandering Jews of Europe needed an asset they could monetize anywhere; and so they relied on their education to support themselves whenever they had to find a new home.

A perfect example is the Jewish interest in medicine, a field Jews still dominate today. Dr. Avram Mark Clarfield offers an anecdote that underlines how unusual the Jewish dominance of medicine is:

But the lesson of Omnia mea mecum porto refers to more than education. It reminds us that the mindset we carry determines our happiness. This lesson, one that was stressed by the Stoics, finds expression in the Mishnah that says “Who is the mighty one? He who conquers his impulse...Who is the rich one? He who is happy with his lot.” Strength and wealth are primarily a matter of mindset. When facing challenges courage is more important than strength; in everyday living, contentment is more important than wealth.

Several years ago, while talking to a group of physicians in an Edinburgh hospital, we got to discussing which nation had the monopoly on first-class medical research. “It’s clearly the Germans,” offered a Scottish physician. “Why?” I asked. “Because the authors of most of the articles in the most prestigious American journals all have names like Levine, Glickman, Berliner and Feinstein--obviously all of German origin.” I smiled to myself.

This lesson is what I learned from my mother’s example: the greatest gifts are the ones you carry in your heart. These survivors, these penniless, unfortunate, persecuted refugees possessed something invaluable: their heart. And that is all that mattered. This keen interest in medicine goes back to the Middle Ages. Joseph Shatzmiller in Jews, Medicine, and Medieval Society, tells of countries where less than 1 percent of the population was Jewish, yet Jews were over 50% of the doctors. Clearly, education was important to Jews, and in particular, medical education. Some have speculated that this is because that “by providing Jewish practitioners with a craft they could “carry” with them whenever they had to leave their homes and establish themselves in a new place, the practice of medicine also eased the harsh circumstances that stemmed from imposed migration (evictions and expulsions).”

All of us would nod our heads in agreement when hearing these lessons. However, this is not the way we actually live. An abundance of material comfort doesn’t diminish material desires, but on the contrary, makes us more materialistic. The Talmud sees the wealth the Jews took out of Egypt as a corrupting influence, and the motivating cause behind the Golden Calf. Similarly, material success has reoriented the way Americans think. Tim Kasser notes that contemporary Americans think that the “goods life” is the path to the “good life.” This mistake leads to a great deal of unhappiness. Kasser notes multiple studies that show that the more materialistic someone is, the less happy they are likely to be. That is why the lesson of the Mishnah is so significant: How many people actually are happy with their lot? The experience of having nothing teaches us how to be grateful for everything. One of my mother’s favorite sayings was “hunger is the best cook.” She said that the food she ate right after being liberated was the best meal she ever ate in her life, because the overwhelming hunger she experienced at the time brought out the best in the bland food she ate. With the right outlook, any piece of food is exceptional; and the mindset of one who has nothing sees life as a gift, not a given. Beyond education and mindset, the final (and most important) item to carry is: values. (Before discussing this further, it needs to be noted that for a Jew, faith in God is a given, a spiritual oxygen that sustains us every day. And faith is an all-encompassing value, and all other values are just a commentary on faith. But what are those other values?)


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David Brooks, (based on The Lonely Man of Faith by Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik), coined terms for the two types of virtues a person can have: “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues.” Some virtues are about work: can you compete? Are you pragmatic? A good leader? A financial wizard? Other virtues are about the types of accomplishments people speak about at a funeral: Did you volunteer? What type of father were you? Were you idealistic? I would point out this contrast between the domains of “resume” and “eulogy” is not just about virtues; it is about priorities and values, about the content and purpose of life. This lesson is found in Jeremiah (9:22-23), who inspires the Mishnah in its comments on the worthiness of strength, wisdom and wealth: Thus says the Lord: Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty man glory in his might, Nor let the rich man glory in his riches; But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the Lord. Jeremiah offers a harsh appraisal of human success. Do the resume virtues of wisdom, strength, or wealth matter? No, they are not important. What matters are the values love, justice and righteousness; what matters are eulogy virtues, which are a blueprint to the meaning of life. For this reason, Rambam at the end of his great philosophical work, The Guide for the Perplexed, offers an exposition of this verse in Jeremiah, because he sees these values are the very purpose of our lives. Love, justice and righteousness are most compelling when you experience them directly. These eulogy virtues matter because we intuitively understand that they endow our lives with meaning. Dr. David Pelcovitz told me a powerful story about a 9-year-old girl that illustrates how inspiring eulogy virtues are. A 9-year-old girl, encouraged by her mother, started to volunteer by visiting an elderly woman who had lost most of her eyesight. One day, while chatting with the young girl, the woman explained that she could recover

her eyesight if she would have a small operation; but because she was on a fixed income, she lacked the resources to pay for this expensive procedure. Inspired to action, the girl went home and told her mother that she was going to do a fundraiser to pay for the elderly woman’s operation. The mother smiled at her daughter’s good intentions, but assumed, like most parents, that her daughter’s naive dream would soon disappear. The next day, the girl went to school and began to raise money. She went from class to class, from teacher to teacher, and at the end of the day, after all the change had been exchanged into bills, the girl had a grand total of 83 dollars. She took the thick envelope stuffed with singles, and ran off to her elderly friend. Not knowing much about contemporary medical economics, the girl announced to her elderly friend that she had raised the money for the operation! So, the young girl and the elderly woman took a short walk over to the local ophthalmologist’s office. The doctor examined the elderly woman, and said yes, she is a candidate for the procedure, and he can do it right away. At that point, the young girl chirps up and says that she will pay for the procedure, and produces the envelope with the 83 dollars. The doctor performs the operation. The girl comes home, and reports to her mother the day’s events. The mother is mortified; she assumes that her daughter has somehow misled the doctor. She runs to the doctor’s office to apologize, and to negotiate a way to pay him the balance. As the mother continues to talk, the doctor cuts her off in the middle, and opens his jacket. In his inside pocket is the envelope, stuffed with singles; he had not put the cash away. He told the mother that this envelope was far more precious to him than any amount of money, because this envelope reminded him of the goodness of humanity and why he became a doctor in the first place. This is a story about values: the values of a mother, a daughter and a doctor. They all understand the lesson of Omnia mea mecum porto, that it is what you carry in your heart that matters; and if your heart is filled with love, justice and righteousness you have everything you need. And if there is one lesson I want my own children to remember it is this: what you need most in life cannot be put in a suitcase. Just carry your education, carry your character, and carry your values, then you will have everything you need.

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A Halakhic Approach to Suffering RA B B I H A S K E L LO O KS T EI N

Based on a lecture of Rav Soloveitchik published in the Torah U’Madda Journal, Vol 8, 1998-99.

On Rosh Hashanah 2001, I preached a sermon entitled, “An Halakhic Approach to Suffering.” I was attracted to that subject because my sister, Dr. Nathalie Friedman, of blessed memory, was losing a six and-a-half year battle with cancer during the summer of 2001. Her suffering was very much on my mind. I had no way of knowing that on September 11, exactly one week before Rosh Hashanah, our entire world would change due to the monstrous attack of 9/11. Today, humankind all over the world, confronts an evil that has caused unimaginable suffering for masses of people, in the form of the coronavirus pandemic and the efforts to mitigate it. I have been thinking about this subject all summer and it prompted me to return to my sermon of nineteen years ago and reformulate it. I hope the Rav’s message will be helpful to all of us as we confront the various kinds of evil and suffering which are besetting us right now and which are inevitably faced by all of us in our personal and national lives. I. What is the Halakhic approach to tragedy and suffering? The subject is often raised when personal tragedy occurs. It gains particular relevance, however, in the suffering through which our world is going and has gone for over half-a-year. Does God play a role in this natural evil? Is He responsible for it or, at least, for not preventing it? The question is not new, nor can it be adequately answered. But I found an approach that Rav Soloveitchik presented almost sixty years ago at a symposium on Religion and Mental Health. I think that approach can be instructive for us on this difficult, sad and frightening Rosh Hashanah. There are basically two religious, Jewish approaches to the problem of suffering. The first approach

is metaphysical. It essentially denies evil entirely. The Book of Job is fundamentally a refutation of evil in the world. What the book says, in effect, is that if Job really understood the world he would come to terms with evil and he would understand that it doesn’t exist. This is clearly expressed in God’s oration to Job near the conclusion of the book. “And God answered Job out of the whirlwind.” “Who is this who gives dark counsel with words devoid of understanding?” “Where were you when I created the world?...” “Did you ever command the morning to arrive?...” “Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Have you seen the portals of darkness?”

“Declare if you know it all!” This metaphysical approach of Judaism says that our understanding is limited. If we had God’s understanding we would realize that evil in the form of suffering and tragedy does not exist. And, furthermore, if we had eschatological vision, we would see this even more clearly. The Talmud (Kiddushin 40b) teaches: “To what are the righteous compared in this world? To a tree standing in a place of tahara (ritual purity) but whose branches overhang into a place of tum’ah (impurity). Cut off the branches and the tree stands entirely in tahara. Similarly, God brings suffering on the righteous in this world so that they might inherit the future world…” The Rav explains that this approach is embarrassed by evil and so it responds by disposing of it.


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Human suffering is an illusion. A fuller understanding would show that suffering, tragedy and evil do not actually exist. Our sages actually codified this approach into the Halakha of prayer. In the morning, we quote a verse from Isaiah:

‫יוצר אור ובורא חשך עשה שלום‬ ‫ובורא רע‬ “I form light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil.” But the way our sages formulated this in our morning prayers introduces a subtle change.

‫‫יוצר אור ובורא חשך עושה שלום‬ ‬‫הכל‬ ‫ובורא את הכל‬ “God who forms light and creates darkness, who makes peace and creates all things.” The word “ra” – “evil” – was replaced with the word “ha-kol” – “all things.” In the perspective of totality, evil vanishes. Those familiar with Plato’s dialogue, Phaedo, will recall that Plato quotes an oration delivered by Socrates on the day of his execution, saying the same thing. “Death is nothing,” he says, “but the deliverance of man from the cave, from the valley of shadows. Death is an ascent to the heights from which many behold the ideas, the true Being… the real, true, genuine Being.” The same idea is articulated by Rambam at the conclusion of The Guide to the Perplexed. During life, the soul is, as it were, limited by the body and bodily needs. At death, the soul is liberated and enabled to live a purely spiritual existence - ‫נהנה‬ ‫ מזיו השכינה‬- basking in the Divine presence. So death is not evil.

Such a metaphysical approach, the Rav says, “has worked miracles with our people whose history is a continuous tale of martyrdom and suffering.” The Jewish community found, in this metaphysic of evil, relief, hope and courage. However, such an approach, the Rav writes, does not bring solace and comfort to a human being who finds himself or herself in crisis, facing the monstrosity of evil either in the historical arena of war and terrorism (or rioting, burning and looting) or in the personal arena of illness. The Rav acknowledges something very interesting: “I can state with all candor that I personally have not been too successful in my attempts to spell out this metaphysic in terms meaningful to the distraught individual who floats aimlessly in an allencompassing blackness, like a withered leaf on a dark autumnal night, tossed by wind and rain. I tried but failed, I think, miserably, like the friends of Job.

II. And so there is another approach to Judaism. We might call it the pragmatic approach of Halakhah. This approach is interested in pragmatic man, his body and soul, his day-to-day activities, his small, narrow world, unrelated to metaphysics. The pragmatic Halakha acknowledges boldly the reality of evil and accepts the absurdity of evil. It faces it squarely and does not try to explain it away. The Halakhot of mourning exemplifies this realistic approach. Death is not the liberation of the human being to some kind of an ideal existence. Death is

terrible, monstrous, absurd. One tears one’s garments in the face of death. One sits on the ground for seven days and denies oneself bodily comforts in a total expression of mourning and bereavement. If the pragmatic Halakhah had agreed with the metaphysical approach then why tear clothing? Why sit shiva? Why recite a berakha “Barukh dayan ha-emet?” The pragmatic Halakhic approach faces evil and suffering squarely, in all of its poignancy and absurdity. In summary, says the Rav, the Halakhic ethic of suffering rests upon three propositions: First, evil does exist, and it is bad. The world in which we live is not free from deformities and inadequacies. People develop illness, suffer accidents, are in the wrong place, at the wrong time. None of this makes sense but it is a reality and it is indisputable and it must be faced honestly. One must never acquiesce in evil. When illness strikes it must be attacked with the best scientific tools and personnel available. When enemies or terrorists assault us from without or from within they must be opposed with all the political and military force which we can muster. Suffering is not good and it should be overcome by every effort we can summon. There have been religious views that did not agree with this. They maintain that if a person gets sick that’s what God wants and we shouldn’t fight it. Judaism firmly rejected that approach. The same is true of poverty. As Tevya said: “It is not a blessing to be poor;” one should avoid it at all costs. The same is true of resistance to terror, to

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persecution, and to anti-Semitism. The Halakhah has never been able to accommodate a philosophy of passive resistance to evil. Rather, we are commanded “to fight evil in the manner in which our forefather, Jacob, engaged in combat with the mysterious antagonist on a dark night on the other side of the river.”

‫הבא להרגך השכם להרגו‬

What is the difference between equanimity and dignity? Rav Soloveitchik suggests that equanimity is a psychological term, while dignity is a religious category. Dignity comes from our relationship with God. We are created b’tzelem E-lokim – in the image of God. We are able to commune with God, to reach Him in the most personal and intimate way in prayer and in a life of mitzvot. This is part of the


start every berakha with the words “Barukh ata Hashem” – Blessed are you O’God. “You” is in the second person singular, the familiar, the close, the intimate. And then we always change to the third person singular in the rest of the berakha: “ha-motzi lechem min ha’aretz” – who brings forth bread from the earth. Or “she’asa li kol tzorki” – who has provided for all of my needs. This grammatical shift from

Halakhah expects us to accept suffering in dignity, a dignity which reflects our understanding that in our relationship with God and the world we have to be able to live with the tension between victory and defeat, accomplishment and withdrawal, achievement and helplessness. “If someone comes to kill you,” says the Talmud, “rise up early in the morning and kill him first.” In the fight against Amalek – root evil – prevention, interdiction and eradication are mandated. They are just as essential as are inoculations against polio, chemotherapy against cancer and vaccines against Covid-19. Evil, therefore, exists and it is bad. Evil must be fought persistently and heroically. But what happens when we lose the battle? At that point, the pragmatic Halakhah instructs us to accept defeat with dignity and humility. The Rav stresses the word dignity rather equanimity. Mental health professionals advise us to resign ourselves to an evil that we cannot defeat, with stoicism and equanimity. The Halakhah prescribes dignity.

glory of a human being of whom the Psalmist says: “You have made him only a little less than the angels.” It indicates our potential for achievement, accomplishment, control of the world and, yes, extensive power. However, as soon as we experience the fullness of this power and accomplishment, as soon as we achieve victory, as it were, in our relationship with God, we have to be able to withdraw and recognize that, as close as we are to the angels, we are also, in the words of Abraham, afar va’efer – dust and ashes – when compared to the Almighty. There is a strange confirmation of this tension between power and powerlessness, victory and defeat, achievement and withdrawal in every berakha that we make. We

the second person to the third person reflects the intimacy and the withdrawal within the space of a single blessing pronounced over food, over a mitzvah, or over an experience. Rambam, in his Yad ha-Chazakah, summarizes this tension in describing the essence of the love and fear of God. “When a person contemplates His great and wondrous works and creatures…, he will immediately love Him, praise Him, glorify Him and long… to know His great name. But when he ponders these matters he will recoil, frightened, and realize that he is but a small creature, lowly and obscure, endowed with slight and slender intelligence, standing in the presence of Him who is perfect in knowledge (Hilkhot Yesodai HaTorah II:2). In conclusion, the dignity of the


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human being and his or her divine character assert themselves, on the one hand, in triumph and power and, on the other, in defeat and failure. This dialectic, which is so closely related to our acceptance of an evil that we cannot overcome, is taught to us through many of the mitzvot. For example: kashrut is a way of saying that we have a right to enjoy the world fully except that there are limits beyond which we may not go. We can have almost everything but there are certain things which we may not enjoy. Possession and withdrawal! In the world of carnal pleasures, Judaism has always considered sexual activity to be a mitzvah and a very important part of a marital relationship; but there are limits and rules concerning which we must accept defeat and denial – it is to be enjoyed only in marriage, and, even in marriage, only in accordance with the rules of niddah and mikvah. Embrace and retreat! Shabbat is another example. God said to us “Rule over the earth and conquer it,” which we do six days a week. “Ach et shabtotai tishmoru” – “However, keep my Shabbat.” Enjoy the world, exploit it, and rule over the entire earth, but on Shabbat, withdraw, restrain yourselves, and accept the fact that the world doesn’t belong to us, but to God. All of this, says the Rav, is encapsulated in the thrilling and

frightening story of Akeidat Yitzchak – the binding of Isaac. Abraham had it all, ‫וה׳ ברך את‬

‫אברהם בכל‬. “And God blessed Abraham with everything,” especially the blessing of a son for whom he longed. Isaac was his heir, his future, his continuity. With his birth, Abraham had reached the pinnacle of achievement, accomplishment and power. And just at the moment when he reached it, God commanded him to offer Isaac as a burnt offering on “a mountain that I shall show you.” And Abraham rose early in the morning to do God’s bidding. At the moment of reaching the pinnacle, Abraham knows how to withdraw and how to accept defeat. In the end, there was no sacrifice, there was no tragedy, but Abraham was prepared to accept tragedy, not with equanimity, but with dignity, with the understanding that in our relationship with God there will always be a tension between victory and defeat, achievement and withdrawal. What, then, is an authentic Jewish approach to suffering? Rav Soloveitchik suggests that there are two. The metaphysical approach essentially denies the existence of suffering and evil. This may be adequate or even consoling as we look at the broad sweep of history. However, for the individual human being who experiences pain, anguish, suffering and evil, whether

historical or personal, the pragmatic Halakhic approach is of greater help. It consists, first of all, of a realistic acceptance of evil. Second, it urges us to prevent it or overcome it to whatever extent possible and to take every measure available to us to fight it and defeat it. Finally, when we cannot defeat it, the pragmatic Halakhah expects us to accept suffering in dignity, a dignity which reflects our understanding that in our relationship with God and the world we have to be able to live with the tension between victory and defeat, accomplishment and withdrawal, achievement and helplessness.

‫ה’ נתן וה’ לקח יהי שם ה’ מבורך‬ “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the Name of the Lord.” We learn to do this through the world of mitzvot, with kashrut, taharat ha-mishpacha and Shabbat. We understand it in the Biblical narrative of Abraham and Isaac. And then we hope that this way of life will help us to deal with personal tragedy and national calamity, individual suffering and universal evil, with the dignity that is the blessing of humanity, created in God’s image. Let us hope that the old year with its terrible excesses of evil, suffering and tragedy will end and that the New Year will usher in a period of health, happiness, peace and blessing for us, for all Israel, and for all humankind. Amen.

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Where is God? Ayeh M’kom K’vodo? RA B B I E L I E W EI N S TO C K

It is a question we often ask – especially in difficult or challenging times: Where is God? It is a question we ask each and every Shabbat: Ayeh m’kom k’vodo? Where is the place of God’s glory? The answer is simple. Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere. In all seriousness, what does it mean to seek the place where God’s glory can be found? Furthermore, think of the paradox of asking God to identify the place to find His glory. It is bad enough we don’t know, but we make matters worse by drawing attention to our ignorance. The question of ayeh m’kom k’vodo is typical of the complex relationship we have with God. We turn to God in times of need, but don’t recognize God when we get what we want. With regard to faith, it is something to have, but it is difficult to articulate. A number of years ago, I attended a meeting for 40 Orthodox rabbis in Orlando, Florida. One session was devoted to the rabbis in the room sitting in a circle, each weighing in with the greatest need facing their community. The issues ranged from trying to get more volunteers for committees, to increasing membership, to adding more meaning to Judaism. The last rabbi said, “I find it interesting that no one felt that God is an issue that warrants attention in the Modern Orthodox community.” I have been thinking about this idea ever since.

It is not just in our Modern Orthodox community where God has a tough time. The Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey conducted in 2014 found that 63% of the US population is absolutely certain in their belief in God. Another 20% are fairly certain with 5% saying they just believe without the certainty. That’s 88% overall. For Protestants, the numbers are 66, 25, and 4 for 95% in total. Evangelicals were 88, 10, and 1 for 99%, and Catholics were 64, 27, and 5 for 96% in total. How about the Jews? The percentage of those with absolute faith is 37%, while another 27% are fairly certain with 14% just believing. That’s just 78% in total, significantly less faithful than the average American and adherents of other religions. Why is this so? What happened to the nation described as ma’aminim bnei ma’aminim, believers who are the children of believers? The issue was addressed by Rabbi Joseph Lookstein in the late 1960s or early 1970s in a sermon entitled “Looking for God in the Right Places.” It was “not intended to be a theological essay. Our concern is with a practical matter of faith.” The sermon is directed to the period in which it was delivered, but the sentiment is relevant today. Rabbi Lookstein stated: The God of the philosophers will not do. He is too impersonal. Even the Ein-Sof, the ineffable deity of the mystics, cannot satisfy. He is too vague. Nor, dear young people, will Zen Buddhism or similar oriental cults resolve the anguish, the fright, and the despair of modern man…It is futile to look for God in the wrong places.” As time goes by, there seem to be more and more wrong places. Rabbi Norman Lamm, in his Faith and Doubt, describes what he calls “excused doubt.” Today, more than ever, people do not believe as in the past, and Jewish law has responded by not holding people as accountable for lapses in faith as in earlier times. In a similar vein, Dennis Prager notes that, nowadays,


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people are just not theologically, intellectually, and emotionally prepared to deal with all the unjust suffering in the world. He posits that, nowadays, maybe we’ve had it too good for too long.

of God’s glory? Where in complex times do our lives reflect an awareness of the Divine?

Have the past six months of the Covid pandemic turned people more towards faith? The Pew Research Center studied this as well. The results were mixed. Some people have become more religious and others less so. Unsurprisingly, as with faith, Jews are less religiously awakened than other groups during these times.

1) We find God within the Jewish people. We are evidence of God’s existence.

Throughout the High Holiday liturgy, we loudly declare our belief in God, King of the Universe. We declare, “V’ata hu melech keil chai v’kayam – You, God, are the everlasting King!” We proclaim “Aneinu Answer us, Lord!” and call out to God to show us mercy and compassion. During this period, we don’t have a problem communicating our relationship with the divine. But what about the day after? Where is God in our lives then? Is God not at the very foundation of our lives? As committed Jews, we may not all behave exactly the same, but our Judaism all originates from God. How can we minimize or ignore our Divine

Our very identification as Jews attests to God’s presence. Our faith is expressed by our very existence. We are m’kom k’vodo, proof of God’s presence. connection? It is not all right for Judaism to be devoid of the Divine. We must find a way to make relevant our relationship with God. It is essential to our living as engaged Modern Orthodox Jews. During the High Holidays, it is appropriate to pay attention when we ask the question: Ayeh m’kom k’vodo - Where is God’s presence found? We should begin the New Year by exploring what God means to each of us. Ayeh m’kom k’vodo? Where is the place

God is actually right in front of us in three ways.

Charles Murray is the sociologist who wrote the oftquoted and respected book, “The Bell Curve.” Four years ago, in an article in Commentary Magazine entitled, “The Jewish Genius,” Mr. Murray concludes that there is only one way to possibly explain the exceptionalism of the Jews: “They are God’s chosen people.” Murray’s conclusion is shared by other writers and thinkers throughout history. Mark Twain and John Adams are but two of those who saw Divine Providence in our survival as a nation. Charles Murray is not Jewish! The others aren’t Jewish. Unfortunately, Jews don’t talk this way! We don’t think that way anymore. It is considered too “parochial” and “particularistic.” Our problem is that we know we are Jewish; we just aren’t sure what being Jewish means to our faith in God. The late Shlomo Carlebach, reflecting on his years of visiting students on college campuses around the world, recounted: I ask students what they are. If someone says, “I’m a Catholic,” I know that he’s a Catholic. If they say, “I’m a Protestant,” I know that she’s a Protestant. If they say, “I’m just a human being,” I know that’s a Jew. We need to acknowledge what others recognize in us: God. Our very identification as Jews attests to God’s presence. Our faith is expressed by our very existence. We are m’kom k’vodo, proof of God’s presence. 2) Ayeh m’kom k’vodo is not a question. It is a statement. We find God in our struggle with the questions of faith. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks notes that faith in God is strengthened through questioning and rigorous debate. There are no shortcuts, and it is good to be challenged. He describes leaving university for study in a rabbinical seminary in Israel. The highest form of praise there was, “du fregst a gutte kasha – you’re asking a good question.” The best thing for our faith is to ask and confront.

K J H I GH H O L I DAY RE AD ER / S er mons

Rabbi Sacks quotes American playwright Wilson Mizner: “I respect faith. But doubt is what gets you an education.” He then comments: To ask is to believe that somewhere there is an answer… Far from faith excluding questions, questions testify to faith – that the world is not random, life is not chance. Ayeh, the very act of asking and struggling to find God, is m’kom k’vodo, where God is found. God is in us, and God is to be found within our struggle with our doubts to understand. 3) God is found in connecting with other people. The Talmud (Shabbat 127a) states:

‫אמר רב יהודה אמר רב גדולה‬ ‫הכנסת אורחין מהקבלת פני שכינה‬ Welcoming guests is more important that communing with the Divine. We learn this from Avraham, who interrupted talking to God to greet the angels who came to visit him. Responding to the needs of others supersedes one’s Divine service. The transformative event in Martin Buber’s life was a knock at the door. He had been upstairs in his room fully engaged in a deeply religious moment, when there was a knock at his front door downstairs. He was taken out of his spiritual reverie and went down to see who was at the door. It was a young man who had been a student and a friend, and who had come specifically to speak with him.

Buber was polite with the young man, even friendly, but he was also hoping to soon get back to his meditations. The two spoke for a short time and then the young man left. Buber never saw him again because he died shortly thereafter in World War I. Later, Buber learned from a mutual friend that the young man had come to him that day in need of basic affirmation, had come looking for guidance. He had not recognized the young man’s need at the time because he had been concerned to get back upstairs to his prayers and meditation. He had been cordial, but he had not been fully present. That’s when Buber realized how potentially artificial the mystical high can be. This story highlights the difference between a God experience and being in a relationship with God. Having a God experience is, at its core, all about you. It is selfish. Being in a relationship with God, like being in a relationship with a person, comes with responsibilities. What is a responsibility? It comes from a combination of the words able and respond. When we think about God, if it doesn’t open us up to hearing the call to duty, if it doesn’t increase one’s ability to respond, it is having an experience, but it is not encountering God in a real relationship. This is how Judaism expects us to make God a real part of our lives. A relationship with God is as much, if not more, about increasing love and sensitivity towards others than it is about the spiritual experience – as lovely as it is. Rabbi Lookstein concludes his sermon with this thought:


Is it not strange that our search for God ends with man? God is king, but his throne is in our hearts…A paraphrase of [R.] Yehuda Halevi seems to sum up our thought: I have sought Thy nearness; With all my heart I call Thee, But going out to meet Thee I found You dwelling in me As we affirm God as ruler of the world during the High Holidays, we must also embrace that God must be prevalent and pertinent in our religious lives. The core relationship with God need not be on a high mountaintop, poring over the great truths of the universe. We have a very accessible relationship with God. We can find God when we fully appreciate who we are as the Jewish people. We find God as we struggle with the questions of faith. And we find God when we recognize the supreme value in responding to others. If we are successful, we will have invited God to play a role in our religious identities. We will have shown that God is a very real and relevant force in our lives all the time in the same way we proclaim throughout our liturgy. Maybe we’ll even increase the Jewish faith numbers in the next Pew poll. And when we say the Kedushah, we will have a new, deeper understanding of the question of ayeh m’kim k’vodo: Hinei m’kom k’vodo! Right here in front of us, as part of our lives in the real world, rests the glory of the Living God.


S er mons / K J H I GH H O L I DAY RE AD ER

Why Thank You is Not Enough RA B B I M E Y ER L A N I A D O

During this challenging time, it is so difficult to appreciate what it is that we do have. With so much uncertainty and stress, our focus is on what we are lacking and what we are afraid to lose. How can we shift our mindset, and the culture within our homes, to start this new year with a more positive perspective, one of genuine gratitude for what we have been blessed with? How can we instill genuine gratitude in our children? We teach them to say “thank you,” but this often remains as a superficial expression of politeness. Unfortunately, without more depth, these children may perceive the world in mechanistic terms. They may say: “If I want a cookie, I need to say ‘please,’ and if I want another, either now or in the future, I need to say ‘thank you.’” This should be of no surprise since we call these “the magic words.” We tell our children to “just say the magic word” as we hold the toy or candy in front of them, and by so doing, they can get whatever they want. As these children grow older, they may become more adept, learning how to use a larger cadre of “magic words” to get what they seek. While this will help them achieve success in some areas, it may lead to egocentrism and entitlement, believing everything is there for them, if they just say “the magic words.” What we would like is for these words to reflect a genuine expression of gratitude. Before continuing, we need to first define gratitude. Its root is the Latin gratia, meaning favor or goodwill, “not compelled by legal right (Merriam-Webster).” The receiver of this gratis experiences the equivalent of the Hebrew hanun (favor), and hessed (kindness) - the feeling that they are incurring more benefit than one deserves or expects, to which the response should be hoda’ah (thankfulness/acknowledgment). This is a two-part progression as noted by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California. First, in recognizing that one has obtained a positive outcome, and that this positive outcome came from an external

source. This is increasingly more difficult in the “Me Generation” or “iGeneration,” those born between 1980 and 2000. This group has been taught to focus on the self, and that the world is theirs for the taking. Dr. Jean Twenge in her book Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled--and More Miserable Than Ever Before presents her studies which show this generation having an overinflated sense of self. Therefore, how can one expect someone from the “Me Generation” to even begin the process towards expressing gratitude? They believe it was theirs for the taking. Why is this negative? One can be a great scientist, doctor, lawyer, businessman, or any other profession without having a sense of gratitude. So, why should gratitude be a value that we seek to instill within our children? Dr. Emmons and Dr. Stern make a compelling case in their article “Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention.” They wrote: “Gratitude has one of the strongest links to mental health and satisfaction with life of any personality trait—more so than even optimism, hope, or compassion.” If we want our children to experience the “higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism,” then we need to teach them to be grateful. This is not to mention the benefits of improved and strengthened relationships and collaboration. So, how do we teach our children to recognize that the world does not owe them? It is not just through teaching them to say “please” and “thank you,” because as important as these words are, if used alone, they risk becoming a tool, a coin in a vending machine. These words need to be expanded to elaborate on why our children are thankful. This may be the reason why the Thanksgiving offering of the Todah is obligatory. One may think that a Thanksgiving offering should be voluntary and brought only when one feels emotionally grateful, but according to numerous Jewish commentators and legalists, it is mandatory. The same is true with the blessing birkat haGomel which is recited to acknowledge God’s hessed after surviving one of four

K J H I GH H O L I DAY RE AD ER / S er mons

scenarios: surviving a journey at sea or through the desert, being released from prison or recovering from a severe illness. This blessing is not only thematically connected, but also takes the place of the korban (Tur Oreh Hayyim 219). Since the Gemara in Berakhot 54b says there are four who must recite this blessing, and, as we learn from the Tur, it is in place of the Thanksgiving offering, then these same scenarios would necessitate a korban Todah, and vice versa.

As important as these words are, if used alone, they risk becoming a tool, a coin in a vending machine. Alongside the animal offering, the person must bring forty loaves of bread. There are four different types of loaves, one of each is given to the Kohen. This leaves the individual with thirty-six loaves. These loaves, along with the meat of the sacrifice, must be eaten before the next morning. Each loaf was the volume of over forty-three eggs, about the size of three egg cartons. How long would it take you and your family to eat 36 loaves of bread equal to the volume of 129 cartons of eggs?! Is it even conceivable to consume that much bread in the one-day time limit? The Abarbanel, commentating on the Torah’s description of the korban Todah, expresses that he thinks it is not possible, and that is exactly the point. This large volume of food forces one to invite others to share in the meal. As Abarbanel articulates: “They will ask each other what is his Thanksgiving offering for? And he will relate to them the miracles and wonders that were done with him... (Abarbanel Vayikra 7:11)” With this understanding, Rashi’s comments become clearer. Rashi, in his comment on the same source, connects the korban Todah with Psalms 107, thereby making the connection between the offering and verbally recounting God’s deeds. The Psalm states: “VeYizbehu zibhhei Todah - and they shall slaughter sacrifices of thanksgiving, viSaperu maAsav beRina - and they shall recount of His deeds with joyous song.” The person brings the sacrifice and then praises God. The mandatory nature of the offering compels an individual to find a reason why they are thankful, beyond the ritual of saying “thank you” or simply bringing an offering. With the shared meat, extra loaves, and short time-limit for its consumption, one


must invite guests who will be ever curious: “Why are you celebrating?” The individual holding the festivities, knowing this, will have to prepare some thoughts or maybe even a speech to present to his guests. This exercise forces us to articulate that which we are grateful for, the undeserved blessing we received from God and others. Similarly, the birkat haGomel must be said in public so that we can respond to those who ask, “Why are you saying Gomel?” While not as powerful as explaining why one is hosting a banquet, the process should cause one to articulate why they are thankful, developing genuine gratitude. A study by Emmons and McCullough in their article “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life,” demonstrates that a weekly journaling schedule to note specific reasons why one was grateful led to participants feeling more grateful and optimistic. The reason is that participants needed to find specific experiences to express in writing. That is the message of the korban Todah. To develop genuine gratitude, we need to specify precisely why we are grateful. This is even before the appreciation is felt. The exercise of writing necessitates the enumeration of specific circumstances we should appreciate. Creating regular routines, whether verbally or written, teaches children to be appreciative. That is why it is important to create gratitude routines. Too often, children hear their parents complaining: “I can’t believe they didn’t give me X or do Y for me.” That just furthers the feeling of entitlement. Instead parents should say: “Wow, look at what X has done. I am so grateful.” That conveys that one is receiving more than deserved, and it is appropriate to articulate that realization. When sitting around the table for a weeknight or Shabbat dinner, a parent can ask their children to tell them to share something good that happened that day. My wife, Talia, and I have a weekly gratitude routine during Havdalah, within the haslihenu section, where we ask for God to help us out. We take a moment to express to each other what we are grateful for. When we have guests, we ask if they would like to share. We have found that this instills in us a favorable feeling towards God and others. We hope that our daughter Adina, seeing this ritual every Saturday night, will recognize the blessings we have and feel genuine gratitude.


RESOURCES R e sou r ce s / K J H I GH H O L I DAY RE AD ER

Procession of the Law Solomon Alexander Hart 1845 Jewish Museum London / Public domain

K J H I GH H O L I DAY RE AD ER / R e sou r ce s


An Order Of Service For Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur For Those Worshiping At Home 61 C O M P I L E D BY RA B B I H A S K E L L O O K S T E I N

Thought Provoking Questions on the High Holiday Torah Readings




R e sou r ce s / K J H I GH H O L I DAY RE AD ER

An Order Of Service For Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur For Those Worshiping At Home CO M P I L E D BY RA B B I H A S K E L LO O KS T EI N

The following is an outline for an abbreviated service for those who wish to pray at home in this era of Covid-19. I have included page numbers from the Koren Machzor for easier identification. I have also provided some suggestions for expanding the service somewhat and enriching it, while still not overextending it.


The Penitential Psalm - L’David


Morning Blessings



Pesukei d’Zimrah

F R I D AY, S E P T E M B E R 1 8

a. Barukh She’amar 301-303 b. Ashrai through Barukh Hashem l’olam amen v’amen 327-335

Mincha A full Mincha without Kaddish 13-39 Candle Lighting at 6:40 pm


Nishmat through the Silent Amidah 343-395 Follow instructions in the Machzor regarding the different order of the prayers for Shabbat and a weekday 355

Ma’ariv | First Night

Avinu Malkeinu (omit on Shabbat)

Add Mizmor Shir l’Yom haShabbat 49

Torah Reading

Barukh ata A-donai through end of Amidah Add V’Sham’ru, on the first night, Shabbat

First Day Second Day

53 - top of 83 65


467-471 and top of 475 737-741 and middle of 743

On Shabbat, add Vayechulu paragraph after Amidah





First Day Second Day

477-481 745-749

The Penitential Psalm - L’David




Before dinner, recite kiddush being careful to begin with Yom haShishi (for Shabbat)



At dinner, after the Motzi and the eating of challah dipped in honey, slice an apple, dip it in honey, recite the blessing over it, take a bite and then recite the prayer Yehi ratzon 107

The Silent Amidah


There is no repetition of the Amidah, but you might want to say

S AT U R D AY- S U N D AY, S E P T E M B E R 1 9 - 2 0


515-549 771-803

Unetaneh Tokef First Day Second Day

565-569 809-811


Psalm of the Day On Shabbat On Sunday

First Day Second Day

bottom of 259-261 255

First Day Second Day

649-651 883-885

K J H I GH H O L I DAY RE AD ER / R e sou r ce s



Mincha Follow the Machzor from Ashrai through the Amidah and Aleinu


Kol Nidrei will be on Zoom from The Main Synagogue at 2:30 pm Candle Lighting before 6:25 pm


Ma’ariv From Barukh ata A-donai through the Silent Amidah


Suggested Prayers following the Amidah a. Ya’aleh b. Amnam Kein c. Ki Hineh Ka-chomer

125-127 145-149 151

Shema Koleinu Viduy (confession)

Mahzor (Festival Prayer Book) Printer: Anton Schmid. Date & Place: Book - Vienna, Austria; 1823. Cover - Italy, first half 20th century. Medium: Silver - pierced, repousse, traced, engraved, and cast; ink printed on paper. Jewish Museum Collection / Public domain.

Kiddush before lunch First Day Second Day Mincha

655 889 893-933

(Omit Avinu Malkeinu on Shabbat) Candle Lighting for Second Day after 7:34 pm


a. E-loheinu

middle of 165 through bottom of 167

I strongly recommend adding the prayer that takes up all of 169. It is a reminder of how we should all be thinking about ourselves, our lives and our world on Yom Kippur and hopefully - throughout the year. One can say it in Hebrew or English not only tonight but - as I shall note - in Shacharit, Musaf and Mincha tomorrow. b. Al Chet

end of first paragraph, 173-179

Avinu Malkeinu




The Penitential Psalm - L’David



Ma’ariv | Second Night Follow the order for the First Night, however: • omit the portions for Shabbat • add the section for Havdalah in the Amidah and in the Kiddush


M O N D AY, S E P T E M B E R 2 8

Shacharit 75 107

The Psalm for the second day of the week


The Penitential Psalm - L’David



R e sou r ce s / K J H I GH H O L I DAY RE AD ER

Morning Blessings


a. E-loheinu

Pesukei d’Zimrah a. Barukh She’amar


b. Ashrai through Barukh Hashem l’Olam Amen v’Amen 537-545 c. Nishmat through the end of the Silent Amidah


(Omit all Shabbat additions} There is no repetition of the Amidah, but you might want to say

L’E-l Orech Din


Shema Koleinu

first paragraph on 679

Viduy (confession) a. E-loheinu

middle of 681 through end of

Viduy (confession)

second paragraph - Hirshanu - 683

in its entirety, 949

I recommend, again, the beautiful prayer from last night and this morning b. Al Chet


everything but last paragraph, 953-959

Mincha Torah Reading


Haftarah (entire Book of Yonah)


Silent Amidah


There is no repetition of the Amidah but one should add Shema Koleinu top paragraph, 1069

I recommend, again, the inspiring and humbling

Viduy (confession)

prayer suggested last night middle of 683 to middle of 685

a. E-loheinu

b. Al Chet

I recommend, again, the very meaningful prayer from the last paragraph of Page 1073 almost to the end of Page 1075.

687-693, to end of second paragraph

Avinu Malkeinu


Torah Reading

727-735 and 737



This passage from Isaiah contains the prophet’s interpretation of the true purpose of our Yom Kippur Fast. Ashrai


bottom of 1071 - first three paragraphs 1073

b. Al Chet

end of first paragraph, 1077-1083

Neilah Ashrai

Silent Amidah (no repetition of the Amidah) 1113-1135 Viduy (short confession) not including last two paragraphs 1179 Avinu Malkeinu




Shema (once)



Barukh Shem (three times)


There is no repetition of the Amidah, but you might want to say

Hashem hu... (seven times)


Silent Amidah

a. Unetaneh Tokef


b. The beautiful prayer of the Kohain Gadol after he emerged from the Holy of Holies and prayed for all the things that are most precious to us. May this prayer be answered favorably for all of us.


c. Shema Koleinu

middle paragraph 945

Ma’ariv Barukh ata A-donai through end of the Amidah 1203-1233 Aleinu The Penitential Psalm - L’David

Next year in Jerusalem, please God, or, at least, back in shul!!!!!

G’mar Chatima Tova!

1243-1245 1249

K J H I GH H O L I DAY RE AD ER / R e sou r ce s


Thought Provoking Questions on the High Holiday Torah Readings RA B B I DA N I E L A N D RAC H E L K RAU S

ROSH HASHANAH, DAY I 1st Aliyah / Rishon What does it mean that God remembered? Does it imply that He forgot? Can God forget? Every single verse in the first Aliyah has active verbs:

‫פָ ַק֥ד‬ ּ = remember, ‫ = וַיּ֧ ַע ַׂש‬He did, ‫תלֶד‬ ּ֨ ֵ ַ ‫ = ו‬she gave birth, ‫ = וַיִּקְרָ ֨א‬and he called, ‫ = ו ַ ּ֤י ָמָל‬and he


Is there a reason to emphasize all the action?

2nd Aliyah / Sheni Is laughter a weakness or a strength?

3rd Aliyah / Shelishi When self-reflecting on Sarah’s directive to banish Yishmael and Hagar, Avraham was upset

‫בנֹֽו‬ ְּ ‫ = עַ֖ל אֹו ֹד֥ת‬about his son. In the

very next verse, when God inserts Himself into the conversation he refers to Yishmael as ֙‫בע ֵינ ֶ֙יָך‬ ְּ ‫אַל־י ֵרַ ֤ע‬ ‫ = ע ַל־ה ַּ֣נ ַע ַר‬don’t be distressed over the lad. Why does God respond with a different term? What is the difference? The text refers to ‫ה֑ם‬ ָ ָ‫בע ֵינ ֵ֣י אַבְר‬ ְּ =

Hagar and the Angel in the Desert. James Jacques Joseph Tissot, c. 1896-1902. The Old Testament Series. Gouache on board. The Jewish Museum New York / Public domain.


R e sou r ce s / K J H I GH H O L I DAY RE AD ER

that the idea was bad in the “eyes of Avraham.” And God responds with another reference to the eyes, ֙‫בע ֵינ ֶ֙יָך‬ ְּ ‫ = אַל־י ֵרַ ֤ע‬don’t be distressed in your eyes. What can be learned from the repletion of the word eyes?

4th Aliyah / Revi’i In describing where Hagar sat, the ֶ ׁ‫ת‬ ּ֨ ֵ ַ ‫תלְֶך֩ ו‬ ֵּ ַ ‫ו‬ verse states, ‫שב לָּ֜ה מ ִּ֗נ ֶג ֶד‬ = she went and sat opposite. What insight can we extract from the description of how and where Hagar sat? The verse states that Hagar lifted her voice and cried and the very ַ ‫ש‬ ְ ׁ ִּ ‫וַי‬ next verse says that ֮‫מ֣ע אֱלֹהִים‬ ֒‫ = אֶת־קֹ֣ול הַנַּעַר‬God heard the voice of the lad. What are we meant to understand from the raising of her voice, but God hears and responds to the boy’s voice.

5th Aliyah / Chamishi How does Hagar’s reaction to her son’s situation differ from Sarah’s reaction to her son’s situation? What coping tools and strategies can be extracted from their respective responses?

6th Aliyah / Shishi

ROSH HASHANAH, DAY II 1st Aliyah / Rishon The pasuk uses the phrase “֔‫וְלְֶ֨ך־לְָך‬,” “go for yourself” in the mandate to Avraham to take Yitzchak to be sacrificed. These words were in the initial call to Avraham when he embarked on his monotheistic life journey. Why does the Torah employ this phrase, sending reverberating echoes to Avraham? The pasuk states, ‫שנ ֵ֤י‬ ְ ׁ ‫ק֞ח אֶת־‬ ּ ַ ִּ ‫וַי‬ ‫בנֹ֑ו‬ ְּ ‫ח֣ק‬ ָ ְ ‫“ נְע ָרָ יו֙ אִּתֹ֔ו וְאֵ֖ת יִצ‬And he took his two young men, and his son Yitzchak with him.” The word ‫ בן‬appears 9 times over this Torah reading, why does the Torah need to incessantly repeat that Yitzhak was his son?

2nd Aliyah / Sheni When Hashem calls to Avraham in the first Aliyah, Avraham responds ‫ה ִּנ ֶ֣נ ִּי‬, “here I am.” In this Aliyah, when Yitchak calls to Avraham, Avraham responds in the identical manner, ‫ה ִּנ ֶ֣נ ִּי‬. What is the significance of Avrahams identical response to both God and Yitzchak?

God’s presence with Avraham was ּ ְ ִ ‫ה֣ים ע‬ ִ ֹ ‫אֱל‬ evident to Avimelech; ֔‫מָך‬ ‫שׂה׃‬ ֽ ֶ ‫ת֖ה ֹע‬ ּ ָ ַ‫שר־א‬ ֶ ׁ‫א‬ ֲ ‫ב ֹכ֥ל‬ ְּ = Avimelech told Avraham, “God is with you in all that you do,” how does one become a person who embodies a visible presence of God?

The phrase ‫דֽו‬ ָּ ‫ח‬ ְ ַ ‫ה֖ם י‬ ֶ ‫שנ ֵי‬ ְ ׁ ‫ו ַ ּֽי ֵלְכּ֥ו‬, “the two walked together,” appears twice in this Aliyah. Why does the Torah emphasize their walking together?

7 th Aliyah / Shvi’i

3rd Aliyah / Shelishi

Why does Avraham plant a tree at the culmination of the promise forged between himself and Avimelech?

When about to sacrifice Yitzchak, an angel calls out to Avraham to stop and not to harm Yitzchak. Having been asked directly by

God Himself to sacrifice Yitzchak, why does Avraham heed to the directive of an angel? Why doesn’t God Himself tell Avraham not to harm Yitzchak?

4th Aliyah / Revi’i When blessing Avraham that his children will be “as many as the stars and as many as the grains of sand,” the pasuk ends, ֔‫וְי ִרַ ׁ֣ש ז ַרְ עֲָך‬ ‫בֽיו‬ ָ ְ ‫שע ַר ֹאֽי‬ ֥ ַ ׁ ‫“ אֵ֖ת‬and your children will inherit the cities of their enemies.” How does this blessing fit as part of the overall blessing of children and specifically in the aftermath of this test of Avraham? In the last pasuk of this Aliyah, the verse states, “֙‫הם‬ ָ ָ‫שב אַבְר‬ ָ ָ ׁ ‫ ”ו ַ ּ֤י‬and Avraham returned, why is this in singular form? Shouldn’t it read, ‫ וישבו‬and they returned, both Avraham and Yitzchak?

5th Aliyah / Chamishi This Aliyah sets the stage for the next part of history and the next link in Jewish history, the birth of Rivka. Why is this section necessary to include in the Rosh Hashanah reading in the aftermath of the harrowing story of Akeidat Yitzchak?

Enjoyed this Reader? For extra copies, contact Riva Alper at riva@ckj.org or visit ckj.org to view digitally.

K J H I GH H O L I DAY RE AD ER / R e sou r ce s


3rd Aliyah / Shelishi After describing the process of atoning for the sins and absolving the people of their sins, the verse continues, ‫א֣הֶל מֹועֵ֔ד‬ ֹ ְ‫שה֙ ל‬ ֶׂ ֲ ‫וְכֵ֤ן יַע‬ ‫תֽם׃‬ ָ ‫מ ֹא‬ ְ ‫בתֹ֖וְך ֻט‬ ְּ ‫ת֔ם‬ ּ ָ ִ‫שׂכֵ֣ן א‬ ֹ ‫ה‬ ַ Aharon will do the same for the “tent of meeting which abides with the people in the midst of their impurity.” Why was it necessary to add “in the midst of their impurity”? This entire process is to absolve impurity, what does the text want us to understand?

1st Aliyah / Rishon What is the connection between ‫ ּכ ַ ֹפּרֶ ת‬, the term used for the cover of the Ark, and Yom Kippur? Why would the ark covering and the name of the day share the same root word? Why was it necessary to mention the death of Aharon’s two sons in describing the holy work Aharon was to perform?



Aliyah / Sheni

What is the significance of two identical goats? Why would a lottery be the mechanism for designation of the goats; one for God and one for Azazel?

need to change clothes. What can we learn from the emphasis on the clothing worn?

5th Aliyah / Chamishi

Each Aliyah has ended with the phrase ‫בּיתֹ֔ו‬ ֵ ‫בעַ֣ד‬ ְ ‫בע ֲדֹו֙ ּו‬ ַּֽ ‫פֶ֤ר‬ ּ ִ ‫ – וְכ‬why does each Aliyah end with this same phrase?

The one who escorts the goat to Azazel and the one who burns the remains of the other offering are both instructed to “wash their clothes, rinse the body in water and afterwards can come in to the ָׂ ‫ב‬ ְּ ‫ח֥ץ אֶת־‬ ַ ָ‫בג ָ ָד֔יו ו ְר‬ ְּ ‫ב֣ס‬ ֵּ ַ ‫יְכ‬ camp,” ‫שרֹ֖ו‬ ‫מחֲנ ֶֽה‬ ּ ַ ֽ‫ה‬ ַ ‫מ֑י ִם וְאַחֲרֵ י־כֵ֖ן יָבֹ֥וא אֶל־‬ ָּ ‫ב‬ ַּ , why do these individuals have to change, bathe and only then return to the camp? What is the significance and symbolism of that process?

4th Aliyah / Revi’i

6th Aliyah / Shishi

Why does the text emphasize that Aharon had to place both hands on the goat? ‫ת֣י י ָ ָד֗יו‬ ֵּ ‫ש‬ ְ ׁ ‫ה ֹר֜ן אֶת־‬ ֲ ַֽ‫מְ֨ך א‬ ַ ‫ס‬ ָ ְ‫ו‬

What is the symbolism of the goat sent to Azazel and why are we ֹ ‫ש ּלַ֥ח‬ ַ ׁ ְ‫ל‬ specifically told ‫אתֹ֛ו לַע ֲז ָאז ֵ֖ל‬ ‫בֽרָ ה‬ ָּ ‫מ ְד‬ ִּ ‫ה‬ ַ to send the goat specifically to the wilderness?

֘‫שע ִיר‬ ָ ׁ‫ה‬ ַ ‫ע ַל־ ֹר֣אׁש‬ The Torah emphasizes in both the first and fourth aliyot about the clothing that Aharon wore and the

Why is Yom Kippur referred to as ‫בתֹ֥ון‬ ָּ ‫ש‬ ַ ׁ ‫ב֨ת‬ ַּ ‫ש‬ ַ ׁ , the Shabbatot of all Shabbatot? We do not observe Shabbat in a way that reflects the rituals or practices performed on Yom Kippur, so why would this day be characterized as ‫בתֹ֥ון‬ ָּ ‫ש‬ ַ ׁ ‫ב֨ת‬ ַּ ‫ש‬ ַ ׁ?


Thank you to all those who contributed to this reader and made this publication possible.


Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz and Rabbi Meyer Laniado

Content Contributors Rabbi Elie Weinstock Rabbi Haskel Lookstein Rabbi Daniel Kraus Rachel Kraus Cantor Chaim Dovid Berson


Copy Editing

Leonard Silverman Riva Alper Joe Bierman Dina Farhi Esther Feierman

Layout & Image Curation Talia Laniado


The Print House

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