Past Weekly Shabbat Message
Jewish Heritage
Rabbi Dovid Saks
(Torah Portion Nitzavim) L'Shana Tova to You and Yours!

There are times when it is important to take a step back and assess the difference between our observances and those of the rest of the world so that we recognize, appreciate and are grateful for what we have and what we are all about. Two cases in point:

While I was studying at the Milton Eisner Yeshiva in Scranton Pennsylvania, a non-Jewish kitchen worker was informed that we would be observing Rosh Hashana - the Jewish New Year – in the evening. After services, the students and guests made their way down to the dining hall for the Yom Tov meal. Every so often this worker came into the dining hall to observe how we were celebrating the holiday.

He finally went over to one of the students and said, “I have a question to ask you.” The first thought that came to the student’s mind was that he was going to ask, why the apple, honey, raisins in the Chalah etc? But that was not on this person’s mind. He was awestruck, “Where is the booze, the party favors, celebration and music? I was expecting to witness a lively New Year’s party.”

The student then explained to him what the Jewish New Year is all about, to which he commented, “I am sure your resolutions last much longer and are more meaningful than ours because of the circumstances we are in when we make ours!”

A number of months later as the festive holiday of Purim approached, this worker got wind that the upcoming celebration sounded more like the ones that he was used to. He observed how Purim was celebrated with a delicious meal, lots of drinking and lively dancing to loud music, costumes etc.

Again, he called over one of the students and commented, “I have never been to a party where alcohol was consumed and everyone is happy and dancing with each other, without fights, brawls, cursing, or lewd behavior. I must say, ‘You guys got it right!”

As a matter of fact - we do have it right - and that is only because we proceed through the instructions we received from High, and do not rely on our personal preferences and leanings in how to celebrate our new year.

It is intriguing that the name associated with our day of judgment - Rosh Hashana, the fact that it is the day of our Divine judgment, and that the Shofar is used for the blasts – are all not mentioned overtly in the Torah. It is only through our Oral Tradition that we know this information. Yet amazingly every single Jew is in agreement with all these aspects and characteristics of the holy day.

How is it possible for a tradition to go uninterrupted since it was mandated at Mount Sinai 3327 years ago? The answer is, through our tenacious nature. Our stubbornness is not only a failing of ours it also serves us well for the survival of our laws and traditions. Rosh Hashana is a serious time; our entire year is dependent and based on our conduct, prayers and thoughts during theses days.

One tip to help maximize the effectiveness of our service over Rosh Hashana is to focus on G-d – that He is the King who is in charge over everything. When we devote ourselves to G-d, to His Kingdom and to His wishes, everything else falls into place – for He knows what’s best for us.

Starting with the beginning of Rosh Hashana and continuing through Yom Kippur, we insert four statements beseeching G-d for life during the silent devotion prayers – the Amidah.

It is interesting that if one forgets to recite these statements, it does not hinder the completeness of the prayer, and one does not have to repeat the recitation of the Amidah prayers.

We also change the ending of two blessings in the Amidah during these ten days of Repentance.

Everyone agrees that if one forgot the special blessing of Hamelech Hakodosh - “the Holy King” saying instead the regular blessing, the Amidah prayer has to be repeated from the start.

We see from this rule that the most integral aspect of these holy days is our recognition that G-d is the Holy King, for an omission of this information requires a total correction of the prayers, whereas if we forget mentioning our particular needs and hopes it does not jeopardize the effectiveness of our prayers.

This demonstrates clearly that during this time G-d is looking for our loyalty, commitment and realization - that He rules!

With this approach, we can have confidence that G-d will inscribe us in the book of life filled with all the blessings we need!

Wishing you a most enjoyable and uplifting Shabbat!
                    Rabbi Dovid Saks