|September 11, 2010
Rosh Hashanah First Day
I Samuel 1:1 - 2:10
My intent dear reader, is to examine the relationship between the Torah portion and the haphtarah and place them in the context of the special themes of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy.
The Torah reading for the first day is concerned with creation and remembrance. And it challenges us on the day of creation, the birthday of the world, on the day of the beginning, to reflect on the nature of the covenants, commitments or promises that we make. Just as God remembered Sarah so too will God remember us.
The haftarah is connected to the Torah portion because just as God remembers Sarah and Hannah and reveals himself to them so too will our prayers be heard if we pray with an open heart. This is one of the great themes of the musaph service, remembrance.
Let's put these stories into a historical context: The Torah reading reflects a period of history which took place several hundred years prior before the Exodus. A rough estimate would be around 1400 B.C.E. The actual reading of the Torah for Rosh Hashanah was probably instituted around the time of Ezra sometime between 532 and 520 B.C.E.
The incident described by the Haftarah occurred around 1100 B.C.E. and was one of the earliest Haftarot to be read. My guess is that it most likely became linked to the holiday around the 2nd century C.E. perhaps earlier. In other words the haftarah was linked to Rosh Hashanah during Roman times perhaps as late as the Bar Kokba rebellion in 135 C.E.
The Haftarah focuses on the circumstances leading up to the birth of Samuel. Samuel was one of our great biblical figures, second only to Moses. He embodied all of the decision making institutions that existed at that time. He was a judge, prophet, Priest and finally Kingmaker. The story of his birth parallels the birth of Isaac in the Torah portion.
The haftarah raises an interesting question for me (at least) because it challenges the nature of the commitments that parents attempt to make for their children. To what extent can the choices we make, which embody our hopes and our commitmetns be followed by our children? How in a world of relative free choice can one insure the continuity of future generations?
Back to the haftarah. In either the aftermath of the destruction of the 2nd Temple (70 C.E.) or of the Bar Kokba rebellion (135 B.C.E.) life could have been a lot more stable and prosperous for our people. Judaism was in the process of being re-formulated in the absence of a Temple and priesthood and at stands to reason that our ancestors wanted God to remember them and either rebuild the Temple, (restore us as in days of old) or at least improve the quality of their lives. We wanted God to intervene and rescue us like he rescued Isaac.
At that time our ancestors felt the Temple had been destroyed as a result of their lack of faith and poor behaviors. Our people had been judged and were being punished. It makes sense that Ezra or his followers chose to teach through a special Torah and Haftarah reading that God will remember (zichronot) even after the Temple's destruction and will reveal himself (shofrot) again.
The Torah and haftorah reflect two of the three great themes of the day. The third theme, Malchuyot is implied in the Torah reading but is overpowering in the Musaph service.
This is the day the world was created,
This day is the birthday of creation, a reminder of the first day. Its observance is a law for the house of Jacob ordained by the god of our fathers. And this is a day of decree for all nations; war or peace, famine or abundance. Every single creature stands in judgment: life or death. Who is not called to account on this day? The record of every human being is set before you. His work and his ways, his designs and desires.
I remember learning that when the Reform movement was being formed, its leaders considered substituting the creation story as the reading for the first day of Rosh Hashanah. They wanted to place more emphasis on God's kingdom and our world.
In a sense Rosh Hashana provides the moral imperative for us to be guardians of the earth (shomrei ha haretz). It also challenges us to consider the nature of our relationships to our friends, family, people and members of the global community. It seems we are challenged to be responsible to the world.
To remember and see God's presence everywhere
This week's Haftarah commentary was written by
Rabbi Charles Simon,
Executive Director of the FJMC and author of
"Building A Successful Volunteer Culture: Finding Meaning in Service in the Jewish"
Jewish Lights Publishing.
Translation of the Haftarah may be found here: http://www.jtsa.edu/PreBuilt/ParashahArchives/jpstext/
Saturday, September 4 was the 6th yartzheit for my dad. I went to shul, said the kaddish at all 3 services and heard the "El Maleh" read in his name. My hebrew isn't the best, but I've learned enough that I can almost translate as I'm hearing it. "May their memory endure as an inspiration for deeds of charity" (ba-avur sheb'li neder etayn tz'dakah b'ad hazkarat nishmato) always strikes me as it is being said.
In less than 2 weeks, on Yom Kippur, those of us who have lost parents, siblings or just stay in will say the memorial prayer, Yizkor, with the line: "In loving testimony to (the deceased) I pledge charity to help perpetuate the ideals important to (the deceased)" (Ba-avur sheb'li neder Etayn tz'dakah ba-ado.)
Some people will sponsor a breakfast or kiddush but the prayers refer to a donation. When the Talmud refers to Tzedakah, it doesn't necessarily include the upkeep of the institutions of prayer. That is understood as a community responsibility. Your synagogue dues are like taxes, you've got to pay them, but its a rare person who sends the government more money than requested.
But tzedakah is an extra. You can decide where it goes. We've been doing some wonderful and unique things with the Unraveller and hope that you find it worthy of your support. Many of the Unravellers have had multiple sponsors. Each sponsor receives the same credit even if there are more of them in a particular week. There have only been 2 weeks in the last 48 that have lacked a sponsor. Yasher koach (great strength) to all our donors.
While it's a bit early to say it in the Torah and Haftarah cycle, at the end of the year I think it's totally appropriate to wish our donors the traditional congratulation on the end of a book, "Hazak Hazak, ve'nitHazek" (Be strong. Be strong. And let us strengthen each other.)
Next year the Unraveller will expand its focus beyond the weekly haftarah. We will unravel a host of different topics designed to answer all types of questions. It should be exciting.
Please consider the Unraveller as you make your last Tzedakah gifts of 5770 and your first gifts in 5771.
Vice President, Programming and International Affairs, FJMC