Read Rabbi Silverman's Kol Nidre sermon HERE
My comments on Sukkoth
We speak of the lulav and etrog as the quintessential symbols of Sukkoth in the Torah (along with the sukkah building!) I will review some of their symbolism. Some of these may sound familiar, but I am hoping you learn at least one theory that is new.
A Midrash tells that the lulav and etrog remind us of the features of the human body, which we must consecrate to God, The lulav is the spine, with its myrtle shaped like the eyes and the willow shaped like the lips. The etrog is shaped like the heart and so it reminds us, in shaking, that we must stir ourselves in heart, eye, and lips to see the wonder and miracles of God, and we must stand straight and proud in our Judaism.
Another Midrash, which I always find confusing, reminds us of each item having or not having fragrance and taste. Fragrance stands for good deeds and taste stands for study. The palm has taste but no scent, the myrtle has fragrance but no fruit, the willow has neither and etrog has both. Thus, these are the four different kinds of Jews–the scholar with few deeds, the doer with little study, the nebbish Jew with neither learning nor deeds, and the person with both learning and good deeds. On Sukkoth, when we bring all these species together as one, we band all Jews together to meld together one another’s strengths.
The Sfat Emet, a Hasidic commentator, tells us that there are masculine and feminine sides of God in the symbolism of these objects. The lulav represents the male and the etrog, the breast– the female side of God! When we shake it 18 times we are enlivening the sacred union between masculine and feminine aspects in God and restoring the proper balance of justice and mercy... Now I bet you didn't know that one!
Here’s another one: Each object represents a letter in the name of God. The etrog is the yud, the lulav is the vav, the willow one heh (think of the two branches bending) and the myrtle, another heh (three branches bending but the last one is a period). Thus, we are grasping and attaching ourselves to the name of God.
Finally, Adam and Eve also held a lulav and etrog, but for all the wrong reasons. The sin they committed with the tree of knowledge was none other than the etrog tree! After Yom Kippur, every Jew has five days in which sin is not accounted of us in the new year. Each free day is allotted for a service, with five services counted from Yom Kippur. But on the sixth day, Sukkoth, we become accountable again. What better way to come before God with same fruit Eve and Adam sinned with, but this time to consecrate the branch and fruit in a mitzvah before God at Sukkoth.
When we absorb all of these associations we understand it as the refinement of two things. On one hand, the refinement in the God head itself. The other is the refinement of the soul within us. I am not big on how we can influence and control the God Head. But I am hopeful that we will internalize those interpretations that advise we refine our heart, mind, lips and eyes; that we try to balance both learning and good deeds, and that we aggressively take on the 'evil inclination' of the snake within us to become better people.
Come on out to shake the lulav and etrog this year! Shake yourselves up! May the lulav and etrog stir us and awaken us to these challenges and let us say: Amen
Can you believe it? Another Rosh Hashanah is on its way in just a few short weeks. The sounding of the shofar is by far the most pervasive symbol of Rosh Hashanah. What are some of its associations? Here is a sampling…
The Torah tells us that Rosh Hashanah is a Yom Truah, a day of sounding the shofar. Interestingly the Torah tells us that Rosh Hashanah falls on the first day of the seventh month, and never refers to Rosh Hashanah as New Year’s Day. Why was the shofar sounded on the first day of the seventh month? Perhaps to usher in the special ten day period of the days of Repentance and return before the Day of Atonement.
In days of yore, trumpets were sounded to organize a community. We see this as the Israelites march through the wilderness for forty years. The first long note, Tekiah, was for the purpose of convening the people together. The long short notes of staccato the Teruah was a signal for them to march and do battle. Our rabbis teach that the three broken notes, Shevarim, represent the weeping or brokenness of prayer Yevava. Therefore, the sounding of the shofar telegraphs to the Jewish people to convene, to weep and pray, to allow yourself to sense remorse and regret, and to march and do battle with your “evil inclination,” so that you may achieve a greater purity this coming year.
An ancient Midrash notes that Yevava, the broken crying, is also the sound of gentile mothers mourning for the likes of Sisera the Canaanite general that was killed when he fled the battle. On Rosh Hashanah we must be sensitive even to the suffering of strangers and even to the sufferings of those who are our enemies. Like the famous prophet on Yom Kippur, Jonah, we have to cultivate sensitivity and sense of responsibility even for our enemies.
According to Avot 5:9, the ram of the Binding of Isaac (Akedah) was created at twilight at the end of the 6th day of creation. This was, in a sense, the very beginning of history as human consciousness was experienced for the first time. A famous Midrash in Midrash Pirke de Rebbi Eliezer mentions that neither horn of the ram slaughtered in place of Isaac went to waste. The first horn was used to proclaim the giving of the Torah. The second horn was to be given to Elijah to use in gathering together all the Jews at the time of the Messiah. With this we see the shofar reminds us not only of creation, but of Revelation and Redemption, and thus represents the broadest sweep of all of Jewish religious history.
The shape of the shofar reminds us that we must bend our will heavenward. It is thought that its shrill and piercing gevaldik sound will scare away any evil demons or forces that might wish us harm. This is the superstitious reason why we sound the shofar—to scare away the evil forces and the prosecuting angels who are making a case against us!
Other well-known associations accompany the horn of the ram which appears in the story of Isaac’s near sacrifice. According to some traditions, it was during the days of Teshuva and around the time of the autumn equinox that this test for Abraham took place. It was the horn of the ram stuck in the thicket and its bleeting that indicated to Abraham that God could not want the sacrifice of his son. Isaac was saved in the nick of time. Some say the sight and sound of the shofar blasting in every Jewish community at once makes a powerful petition heavenward. God, in hearing the shofar and in seeing the horn, will remember the ram and will remember the time that our ancestor Isaac (our very first-born Jew) was spared and given a new lease on life. On Rosh Hashanah, we, like Isaac, are on the altar. The prayer book in the Netane Tokef prayer says it well: “Who shall live and who shall die? who by fire and who by sword?" Each of us, a little Isaac, shall be "let off the hook" too, when God, through the sight and sound of the shofar, remembers his mercy to the first Isaac.
Of course much of this imagery, in a sense, argues that we can influence God in a ritual manner, and this is the reason we sound the blast. But it’s Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon's (Rambam's) view of the shofar that resonates with us the most: The shofar is an alarm clock. It tells us it’s time to wake up spiritually. It tells us to dust off the lethargy and the apathy. It tells us it’s time to forgive and empathize more, love more, and observe Torah more. That, for many of us, is the shofar’s most important association.
Each year, at home in my morning prayer, I sound the shofar, beginning the month of Elul (30 days before Rosh Hashanah). I take my time and playfully sound long Tekiot. After all, I have to be ready for my big-time gig on the first day of Rosh Hashanah!
My dog, Charlie, thinking himself a fire house mascot, immediately begins to howl. The shofar should spur us to howl as well–to howl for those who are in distress and are hungry. It calls for us to convene, to repent, to do battle with our destructive inclination, to be mindful of the precariousness of our lives and God’s effort for leniency, and to pray for the welfare of all of Israel and all of mankind. It incites us to bend our wills and our inclinations to do even better as Jews and as menschen this coming year, and let us say, Amen.
The High Holidays represent a special time to connect with the Jewish community. We share in observing the beginning of the Jewish year with Jews worldwide. And at the ENJC, as the seats fill in our sanctuary, we are thrilled to see those we meet with at synagogue meetings and social events, members of our shul that perhaps we haven't seen since this time last year, extended family members, and we welcome our newest members as well.
While this is a time of merriment, it is a time of reflection as well. We look at our actions of the past year and formulate resolutions for the year to come. This is a time to connect with our Jewish identity, to celebrate changes and plan ahead. So why not resolve to become more involved with your Jewish community in the coming year?
If you have pre-school or school-aged children, bring them to Tot Shabbats, Junior Congregation and Youth Group events. While you’re at it, have a say in what they’re learning and doing in Religious School and come to our Education meetings.
If you’re interested in how our Jewish history, customs and beliefs affect our daily lives, participate in our Adult Education programs. You can also come to Ritual meetings and take part in the decisions that affect how we, at the ENJC, follow the traditions of our faith.
Do you follow Israeli politics, or are you interested in Israeli culture? Come hear speakers, do some Israeli dancing, enjoy Israeli foods, and while you’re at it, get involved with the Israeli Advocacy and Cultural Affairs committee.
If you enjoy our programming– our holiday celebrations, Chavurah Dinners, golf outings, fantasy sport leagues, Paid-Up Membership Dinners and Casino Nights–join Men’s Club or Sisterhood, where you are also welcomed to join their boards and committees. And of course you can be a part of the Community Relations and Fundraising committees of the ENJC as well.
If you are proficient with computer graphic software, our communications outlets would welcome your involvement with the Bulletin, Weekly Update and ENJC.org website.
And if you are concerned about the welfare of our congregants, please consider joining the Chesed Committee.
These and many more opportunities await you at the ENJC. You can choose to simply participate, or you can be involved behind the scenes. But please resolve to be more involved in all that the ENJC has to offer in the year ahead. We’re so happy to see you in shul for the High Holidays, and look forward to seeing you, your families, and all our new members throughout the year.
On behalf of my family, I would like to wish all L’Shannah Tovah, a healthy and happy New Year!
This article originally appeared on ENJC.org in November, 2015
A QUICK TALMUDIC THOUGHT
I was recently teaching a class and asked the question: "What makes Shabbat holy, restful, peaceful and uplifting?"
My students mostly said that as part of creation, G-d instructs us that the seventh day of the week (Shabbat) should be holy. In the Kiddush prayer that we chant on Friday night, it ends with "Blessed are you G-d, who sanctifies Shabbat....” As is my minhag and custom, trying to always teach in a positive and interactive manner, I complimented all of them and confirmed that all of their answers were "spot on" and beautiful.
I then offered them an explanation shared with me by one of my many teachers who offered the following insight. Shabbat, in of itself, is not really holy as it can be like any other day of the week. In actual fact, it is our actions and committment to G-d that elevates this seventh day of the week to a day of holiness and sanctity! What am I referring to exactly? All other days of the week, we may eat dinner in the kitchen with our cell phones ringing and beeping, everybody rushing to make the next appointment, music and TV blaring in the background, etc. On Friday/Shabbat evening, we can choose to have our dinner in the dining room with a beautifully arranged table, a special and sumptuous dinner, the chanting of the Kiddush, reciting the blessings over the candles, challah and the washing of our hands. Singing beautiful z'mirot and so much more. Consequently, it is our actions that elevate Shabbat to a level of holiness and sanctity.
I am quite sure that we are all enjoying the more relaxed pace of the summer months, time to spend more quality time with family and friends.
As our Religious School continues it's growth, I am more than pleased to report the we have been able to fill THREE new positions for the upcoming new school year. For the first time in many years, we will have multiple classes requiring two teachers per class! This is obviously quite exciting and in point of fact, if the numbers remain the same going forward, we will need to build/create a few new classrooms. l would like to extend our gratitude to Frank Brecher, Melissa Kurtz, Helaine Schwartz and Karen Schweitzer who were so helpful in the interviewing process of numerous candidates to fill the various teaching positions.
During the summer months, with regular attendees traveling, our Shabbat services need your participation. Friday nights and Shabbat mornings are so warm and friendly and take place in our Bet Midrash. I encourage you to come on down and experience these uplifting and enjoyable services. Services during the summer months are generally shorter as we obviously have no Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebrations.
We have decided this year to have THREE separate Junior Congregation services during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which will undoubtedly enhance the quality and result in more meaningful services for all of our children. There will be separate services for Pre-Gan & Gan, Alef thru Gimmel and finally Daled & Hay. In addition, the leaders of these different services will be able to have a greater degree of control due to the reduced number of children in each service.
I wish you all an enjoyable and safe summer!