Posted by: Subway Conductor | September 20, 2020

Rosh Hashanah Day 1

There is an interesting situation with the Torah reading for Rosh Hashanah. When I was working as a Reform rabbi, I thought that the Torah reading for Rosh Hashanah was the Akeida – the binding of Isaac. Since in most Reform congregations, there is only one day of Rosh Hashanah, instead of reading the Torah portion for the first day they read the portion for the second, which is the Akeida. In thinking about a sermon for Rosh Hashanah, it was always a question of finding a theme connecting Rosh Hashanah to the Akeida. But, the question is, when there was only one day of Rosh Hashanah what was the Torah portion? Of course, there’s a difference of opinion. The Mishnah states that the portion for Rosh Hashanah is that section which we read as the Maftir from the Book of Numbers. But, the gemara states that there were two opinions. The first opinion is that of the Mishnah. The second opinion was that the portion is the one that we read here today “And G-d remembered Sarah.” The Akeida was not read on Rosh Hashanah until it was established that there were two days and it became the reading for the second day.

Why is the portion telling of Sarah’s giving birth to Isaac the portion for Rosh Hashanah? The connection is precisely in the first words “G-d remembered Sarah.” Remembering is one of the three themes of Rosh Hashanah. In the Musaf we find these three themes in the sections – malchuyot, zichronot, and shorarot – kingship, remembrance, and shofar.

Which of these themes is primary?

G-d’s kingship is certainly central to Rosh Hashanah. We began our service today with the word hamelech – the king. The word melech – king is inserted in many places in the service. Our acceptance of G-d as the king who judges the world on Rosh Hashanah is what makes this the yom hadin – the day of judgment.

Shofarot is also a central theme of the day. In the Torah, this day is not called Rosh Hashanah. It is not even called the Day of Judgment. It is called the “day of sounding the shofar”. What is the main mitzvah of Rosh Hashanah? It is hearing the shofar. The shofar is also connected with the theme of G-d’s kingship. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks the former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth said in a derasha I heard him give, Lord Sacks said, “I have met the queen. And when the queen comes into the room, they announce her arrival with trumpets.” The blowing of the shofar accompanies G-d as king.

The other theme, the zichronot, is remembering. The argument for this theme is today’s Torah reading (also the Haftarah reading, which is about Hannah and how G-d remembered her with a child) and the fact that in the liturgy the name for this holiday is yom hazikaron– the day of remembrance. In the middle blessing in the Amidah, the conclusion is “Blessed are You O Lord Who sanctifies Israel and the Day of Remembrance.” Think of the kiddush that we said last night which has the same conclusions. The Haftarah blessing also calls this yom hazikaron – “the day of Remembrance.” G-d remembers us on Rosh Hashanah, He remembers all our deeds, He remembers the covenant with Israel. Just as He remembered Sarah on Rosh Hashanah.

There is a reciprocal aspect to this remembering. Just as G-d remembers, so we must remember. Remembering is the first step in doing teshuvah, in improving our lives.We must make an inventory of our deeds, asking what did I do that I wish I had not done? Whom have I offended that I must seek their forgiveness? But perhaps even more important than the question, what did I do that I wish I had not done is the question what did I not do that I wish I had. This is a more challenging question. One that demands an even deeper search of our memory. But one that, if we can answer it, will have a greater effect on our lives.


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