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To "be observant" means more than just "to watch"

Sequencing Judgment and Atonement

Sequencing Judgment and Atonement

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Sequencing Judgment and Atonement
To "be observant" means more than just "to watch"

Since it is nearly Rosh Hashanah, we should be concerned with how to best prepare ourselves. A recent student asked: "Why is Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement? Shouldn't it be reversed--first atone and then be judged?" Then he answered his own question: This is a sign of G‑d's greatness and kindness to us. First He makes a Day of Judgment when we focus on our shortcomings. Only after this does G‑d give us a day of atonement to fix ourselves. The final ultimate judgment only comes after. Is this the Jewish source for procrastinating or what? To G‑d I am pouring out my soul...connecting my soul to G‑d through my prayer

The Haftorah of the second day of Rosh Hashanah focuses on Hannah, a childless woman. Through her holiday prayers in the Sanctuary at Shiloh, she was blessed to bear the Prophet Shmuel (Samuel). Eli, the high priest, watched Hannah's fervent prayer. He believed she was intoxicated, not from alcohol, but from spiritual energy. Since it was Eli's duty to help Jews maintain proper spiritual intentions, he asked her, "How long will be your drunkenness?" Hannah answered, "I am pouring out my soul before G‑d,"--I am not drunk. I am connecting my soul to G‑d through my prayer.

This Haftorah is read on Rosh Hashanah because it is on this day that Hannah's prayers were answered. In fact, it is her type of prayer that G‑d desires. Let's examine the prayer of Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment. We place our requests before G‑d. We pray for our spiritual well being, asking for help in our observance of the commandments, and we pray for our physical needs, for the well being of our children, our health, and our livelihood.

Yet Rosh Hashanah is also the day we acknowledge and crown G‑d as King over every aspect of our lives. How does one crown a king and accept his kingship? By humbling oneself before the king, nullifying oneself until becoming unconcerned with personal needs. The Lubavitcher Rebbe asks, if this is the case, why do we spend so much time on Rosh Hashanah praying for our own necessities? Material blessings are given in order to serve G‑d in the best way

A Jewish person's prayer for physical well-being is not for the sake of leading a self-serving life of luxury. A Jew prays to G‑d to grant his or her physical needs as an integral part of establishing G‑d as our Lord. Material blessings are given in order to serve G‑d in the best way. Making G‑d our King means not limiting His dominion to the synagogue or to the time while we are doing a mitzvah. We need to make G‑d King in every aspect of our lives and every place in the world. This is the reason we ask G‑d for our physical needs: everything, even the most mundane physicality, should be a dwelling place for G‑d. On Rosh Hashanah, we ask for G‑d's help to fully serve Him.

Hannah exemplified this intent in her prayer. She vowed that if G‑d would give her a son, she would dedicate his life to Divine service. Hannah was not asking for a child just to fulfill her maternal needs, but rather to show her commitment to G‑d's kingship. This is the model for our holiday prayers. We ask for our physical needs, and even if we are primarily concerned with them for selfish reasons, the essence of our prayer is an outpouring of the soul, longing to connect to and serve G‑d. Just as Hannah was answered on Rosh Hashanah, so should G‑d fulfill all of our requests for a good and sweet year.

In my recent travels abroad, I met a young man named Richard who told me that a simple analogy was enough to help him put aside all of his worldly concerns, and wholly dedicate himself to Judaism. He said, 'What is the difference between belief and faith?' Remember that man who used to jump over 20 parked cars with his motorcycle? Belief is believing he will do it. Faith is getting on the motorcycle behind him. Before the High Holidays, each Jew person is being asked to have faith in Torah. This year, do not be an observer. Get on the bike!

Shabbat Shalom and L'Shana Tova.
May every Jew be written and signed for a good and sweet new year!


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Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter is a co-founder, executive director and featured teacher of Ascent-of-Safed.
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