|Rosh Hashana 5766/2005 (first day) "The Hungry Villager"
Chassidim tell the story of a villager who travelled to the big city for Rosh Hashana in order to pray. In times not that long ago, villagers were individuals who knew enough to know that they should be in shul on Rosh Hashana. However, the typical villager didn't quite understand everything that went on during the service.
One villager who we'll call Chaim, noticed that during the silent amida people were crying. His initial thought was to look around to see who hit them that caused them to cry. But as he looked around the shul and didn't see a fight taking place, Chaim concluded that they must be crying because they were hungry. After all, services on Rosh Hashana can last a while and Chaim himself was hungry, so he dismissed their tears to hunger.
Eventually the silent amida concluded, and the tears stopped. Why weren't people crying? It must be, Chaim thought, that the city dwellers had placed a large piece of uncooked meat in the cholent. Yes, that must be it -- a big piece of meat in the cholent! Since the meat needed a long time to be cooked, the more time in the pot, the better the quality of the cholent. Therefore, Chaim thought, there's no need to cry, and everyone must be happy realizing that a delicious cholent is coming following services.
However, when it came time for the shofar to be blown, those in shul again began to cry. And once again, Chaim was confused. First the congregants cried during the silent amida -- then they stopped crying. And now, during the shofar blowing, they began to cry again. So Chaim came to the only conclusion possible: True, eventually the cholent WILL be delicious, but who was the strength to wait so long? And with that, Chaim burst into tears.
This Chassidic story is, of course, more than just a story about a simple villager and cholent on Rosh Hashana. Simple people speak from the heart. They don't play games, and don't hide what they're thinking or feeling. Since they speak straight from the heart their words often contain profound spiritual truths -- and lessons that we can take to heart on Rosh Hashana.
Let's analyze our story. In the tale of the villager on Rosh Hashana, the congregation weeps during the silent amida. Chaim believes that they're crying because they're hungry. And do you know what? He's right! But the hunger that those in shul feel on Rosh Hashana isn't a hunger for bread, nor is it a thirst for water.
Just this past Sunday, someone asked me the following question: 'Rabbi, to what do you attribute the exciting growth that our shul has seen in the past year, with so many new members, young families, and outsiders being attracted to what we do here at NHBZ?" While a large part of our success is undoubtedly our fantastic chazan, our friendly and welcoming members and our delicious food -- there's something more. I told the person who asked me the question that people are coming to our shul because they're hungry. They're hungry to know Hashem. And this spiritual hunger is never quite so acute, as it is on Rosh Hashana.
What is Rosh Hashana really about? What, in a nutshell, is the essence of this two day Holiday that draws Jews to synagogue even if they haven't been to shul since last Yom Kippur?
It's certainly true that Rosh Hashana marks the beginning of the New Year, and commemorates the creation of Adam and Chava, the first human beings. We also know that Rosh Hashana is 'Yom HaDin' -- the day of Judgement for all people. On a more basic level, however, the function and goal of Rosh Hashana is; to define and establish the type of relationship that we'd like to have with G-d.
How do we relate to G-d, and how would we like to relate to Him in the coming year? The lowest level of such a relationship is the person who sees G-d as their Master or Boss. To such a person, we're subjects or employees living our lives as Jews out of a sense of obligation and duty. While it's better to get the job done than not to do it at all, the life of the 'subject' or 'employee' of God is relatively tasteless and sterile.
A second and higher level available to us to choose is to relate to Hashem as our beloved parent. We call to Hashem as 'Avinu Malkaynu' in our prayers -- recognizing that while he is our 'Malkaynu' (our King), we should also relate to him as 'Avinu' -- our Father. In a healthy child/parent relationship the children love their parents. Do we have feelings of love for the Almighty? Such feelings are ours to cultivate, and to choose.
The highest level of relating to Hashem is beyond that of dutiful observance, and even beyond that of love. This Rosh Hashana, we can choose to have a fiery passion in our relationship with the Almighty. The Hebrew word for passion is 'cheshek', which means an overwhelming emotional desire. 'Cheshek' is usually only found in the strongest, deepest types of love that we feel for another human being. Someone who experiences this feeling even once in their life is truly fortunate. We can choose to work on creating such feelings about Hashem, as well.
So we're hungry for God. And we're also hungry, because there are many things that each of us needs.
When we look at the words of the tefilos (prayers) on Rosh Hashana, who here doesn't realize that we have something to ask for? Whether we're asking for ourselves, for our children, and grandchildren, our dear friends, Jews in Israel or New Orleans or for anyone who is sufferning, everyone has needs and things to ask for. We all know people who are sick and who need help with their livelihood. Hunger is the common denominator -- everyone needs something, and that awareness of what we're missing is particularly painful on Rosh Hashana.
So the formula, then works like this: we have a need, then we have a hunger, and then the tears on Rosh Hashana come forth the moment we say 'zachraynu l'chaim' -- 'remember us for life' -- in the silent amida.
In the second part of our story, if you remember, the congregation stops crying when they realize that the meat is cooking. Things take time. You can't eat raw meat; you have to wait. So too, instead of tears, we have to rely upon our faith that the redemption will come and our needs will be met. God listens to our prayers, but sometimes the answer is 'not yet.' Answers don't always come as quickly as we'd like -- but then again, G-d is on His schedule, and not ours. Those who wait with faith and patience will be able to enjoy a beautiful, delicious meal.
But the shofar blows, and a new wave of crying begins, and our friend Chaim is amazed. He saw everyone crying because they were hungry, and then they stopped because they realized that they needed to have faith and patience. Now they're crying again during the tekios! Why couldn't they hold on and wait?
The tekiah -- the first long unbroken blast of the shofar -- represents a sigh of love. It's our call to Hashem that stirs up emotions within us, and causes us to desire our Heavenly King and Father. The three medium blasts of the shofar known as the 'shevarim' are Hashem's response to us: He hears us crying out to Him, and then He responds with a call of love back to us. And finally, the 9 short staccato sounds of the shofar known as 'truah' is our response back to Hashem. The Jewish soul cries out to God, unable to hold itself back on this day of Judgement, when Hashem is so close to us.
Chaim the villager sees us crying when the shofar is sounded, and he understands that sometimes logic and intellect just don't work. The previous year has just ended, and it's taken a toll on us. We just can't take it anymore; the exile, sickness, hunger, the tremendous pain that so many people in general and Jewish families in particular have gone through this past year. There was Gaza, and more homicide bombings, a tsunami, hurricanes, and Iraq, and our own personal tzoris. So when the shofar rings out, we burst into tears. Or at least we should.
We're hungry this Rosh Hashana; perhaps more than in recent years. We're hungry for good health, good parnasa (livelihood), and nachas for our children. We're hungry for joy, some good news from Israel and Iraq and the Gulf Coast -- and we're hungry for closeness to Hashem.
We can be confident that if use this Rosh Hashana well and listen to the sound of the shofar that Hashem will notice our hunger. He'll see our tears. And each and every one of us, and our families, will be written and inscribed in the Book of Life