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Jewish Heritage
Rabbi Dovid Saks
(Torah Portion Nitzavim/VaYailech) Tradition, Tradition!

The Talmud records a conversation between the Romans and Rebbe Yehoshua.

The Romans asked: “From where in the Written Torah do we see that G-d will bring the dead alive and that G-d knows the future?”
Rebbe Yehoshua answered, that both are hinted at in a verse in this week’s Portion. “G-d said to Moshe, behold you will lay with your forefathers and then get up.”
The Romans examined the verse and retorted, ‘perhaps, when the Torah states “and then get up”, it is not referring back to Moshe and to resurrection of the dead, rather it is the beginning of the next phrase in the verse, which speaks of the nation sinning in the future.”
Rebbe Yehoshua responded, “Okay, at least you have an answer to part of your question, for the verse clearly indicates that G-d knows the future!”

The Steipler Rav, Rabbi Yaacov Y. Kanievski o.b.m. wonders: The Romans asked two questions and Rebbe Yehoshua left one question unanswered!

The Steipler explains: The Romans, who don’t believe in our Oral tradition, asked Rebbe Yehoshua where these concepts appear in the Written Torah.

Rebbe Yehoshua was able to show a clear proof from the Written Law that G-d knows the future. The Romans rejected it because he did not find a proof to their other question.

Rebbe Yehoshua understood that deep down the Romans would reject any proof that he would bring from the Written Law due to their lack of belief in the Divinity of the Torah. He therefore felt it pointless to show them that the Torah openly stated both concepts.

In contrast, the Jews, due to their firm belief in the veracity of the Written and Oral Tradition, do not need to find these concepts written explicitly in the Written Torah in the first place, for the Oral Tradition is equal to the Written Tradition.

The upcoming Day of Judgment, is an excellent example of our alliance to and reliance on our Oral Tradition.

Ask anyone, which holiday will be observed next week? They will without doubt respond, ‘Rosh Hashana!” Yet if one would search the entire Torah he will not find the name of this holiday listed as Rosh Hashana. The Torah refers to it only as, Yom Teruah – the day of Blasts.

Where did the holiday get its name Rosh Hashana from? It is from our Oral Tradition. There is an entire tractate of the Talmud called Rosh Hashana which discusses the laws associated with the holiday of Rosh Hashana.

Furthermore, in conjunction with the Torah’s account of the holiday it is not explicitly written that Rosh Hashana is the Day of Judgment or that the instrument used to sound the blasts is the Shofar – ram’s horn. These are only known to us through the exegesis of our Oral tradition.

We eat special foods on Rosh Hashana, such as sweet apple dipped in honey, round/raisin Challas, the head of a fish, cooked carrots and many additional symbolic foods that are eaten accompanied by prayers of hope for a sweet new year. All these foods have their basis in the Talmud, in family and communal customs and traditions - which are major components of Judaism.

The custom of reciting Tashlich at a body of water on the first afternoon of Rosh Hashana (or at a later date) began during the medieval times. It is based on a verse in the prophet Micah, “And cast (Tashlich) into the depths of the sea all their sins.” It symbolizes our hope that G-d will dismiss our sins on this Day of Judgment.

Our holiday laws, prayers, tunes, traditions and customs that we share in common, weave us all together into a unique and distinct group whose common goal is to beseech the Almighty to be merciful in judgment and grant us all a sweet, blessed, successful, healthy and peaceful New Year!

Wishing you a restful, peaceful
 and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks