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Freitag, 19. September 2014

Thoughts4Elul from Rabbi Sacks - The Future of the Past / The Cry via ArchBishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

]Symbolic food of the Jewish holiday Rosh HaSha... Symbolic food of the Jewish holiday Rosh HaShana (Lybian tradition) Français : Nourriture symbolique du jour férié Roch Hachana (tradition libyenne) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)[/] Thoughts4Elul from Rabbi Sacks - The Future of the Past / The Cry
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Leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Rabbi Sacks has written a series of short thoughts to help focus our minds on the challenges and opportunities of this special time in the Jewish calendar. This is the second of three emails. To read the full set of #Thoughts4Elul, please click here. You can also listen to each piece as they are released by subscribing to Rabbi Sacks' iTunes podcast here. To buy your copy of the Koren Sacks Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur machzorim, please click here.

The Future of the Past

It’s strange, very strange. Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the aseret yemei teshuvah, the ten days of repentance. We reflect on the past year, recall the bad we did and the good we failed to do, apologise, confess and ask for forgiveness. Yet there’s almost none of this on Rosh Hashanah. There is no confession, no Ashamnu bagadnu, no Al chet, no reference to the past year, no looking back. One of the few references to the fact that we are embarking on a process of teshuvah is theUnetaneh Tokef prayer reminding us that today our fate is being written: who will live and who will die. Surely the beginning of the days of repentance should begin with repentance? The answer is one of the deepest truths of Judaism. To mend the past, first you have to secure the future. I learned this from the Holocaust survivors I came to know. They were among the most extraordinary people I’ve ever met, and I wanted to understand how they were able to survive, knowing what they knew, seeing what they saw. What I came to realise was that many of them did not speak about those years, even to their spouses or their children, sometimes for as long as forty or fifty years. Only when they had secured the future did they allow themselves to look back at the past. Only when they had built a life did they permit themselves to remember death. That was when I understood two strange characters in the Torah, Noah and Lot’s wife. After the flood, it seems, Noah looked back. Overwhelmed by grief he sought refuge in wine. Before the flood he was the only person in the whole of Tanakh to be called righteous, yet he ended his days drunk and dishevelled. Two of his sons were ashamed to look at him. Lot’s wife disobeyed the angels, turned back to look at the destruction of Sodom and was turned into a pillar of salt. I think the Holocaust survivors knew that if they turned and looked back they too would be reduced to the salt of tears. Jews survived every tragedy because they looked forward. When Sarah died, Abraham was 137 years old. He had just lost the woman who had shared his life’s journey and who had twice saved his life. He might have been paralysed by grief. Yet this is what we read: “Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and weep for her. Then Abraham rose from beside his dead wife” (Gen. 23: 2-3): a mere ten words in Hebrew. We then read how Abraham bought the first plot of land in Israel and arranged for a wife for his son. Long before, God had promised him children and a land. By the time Sarah died he owned no land, and had one unmarried child. Instead of complaining to God that He had not fulfilled his promises, he understood that he had to take the first step. First he had to build the future. That was how he honoured the past. And that’s what we do on Rosh Hashanah. The Torah readings are about the miraculous birth of two children, Isaac to Sarah and Samuel to Hannah, because children are our deepest investment in the future. We proclaim God’s sovereignty as if the day is a coronation, the beginning of a new era. Then, having committed ourselves to the coming year, on the intervening days and Yom Kippur we can turn and apologise for last year. Paradoxically in Judaism the future comes before the past. This one insight could transform the world. After the Holocaust, Jews didn’t sit paralysed by grief. They built the future, above all the land and state of Israel. If other nations really cared about the future instead of trying to avenge the wrongs of the past, we would have peace in some of the world’s worst conflict zones. And so it is with us. First we have to focus on building a better future. Then and only then we can redeem the past.

The Cry

There’s an old and totally apocryphal story about the nineteenth century French Jewish aristocrat Baron de Rothschild, whose wife was in her bedroom with a nurse, in the last stages of delivery while he was sitting downstairs playing a game of cards with his friends. Suddenly they heard her cry, ‘Mon Dieu, Mon Dieu.’ ‘Baron,’ said his friends, ‘go up to your wife. She needs you.’ ‘Not yet.’ said the baron and continued playing cards. Five minutes later they heard a cry, ‘My God, My God.’ ‘Go up,’ said the Baron’s friends. ‘Not yet,’ said the Baron and returned to his cards. Finally they heard his wife cry, ‘Gevalt.’ The Baron immediately rose and ran upstairs, saying, ‘Now is the time.’ The story is, of course, about how Jews in the nineteenth century had to hide their identities and become more French than the French, more English than the English, and yet remained Jewish in their hearts. The Jewish mind spoke French but the Jewish soul still spoke Yiddish. But there’s another and simpler message, which is that when we cry from the heart, someone listens. That’s the message of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. We are a hyper-verbal people. We talk, we argue, we pontificate, we deliver witty repartee and clever put downs. Jews may not always be great listeners but we are among the world’s great talkers. Accuse us of anything and we’ll come up with a dozen reasons why we’re right and you are wrong. But there comes a moment when we summon the courage to be honest with ourselves. And if we really are honest with ourselves, then we know in our heart that we’re not perfect, we don’t always get it right, not as individuals and not as a people. That’s the moment when all we can say is gevalt. All we can do is cry out. That’s what the shofar is. The sound of our tears. Teruah, three sighs. Shevarim, a series of sobs. And surrounding them the tekiah, the call without words. The sound of a heart breaking. No more excuses. No more rationalisations and justifications. Ribbono shel olam, forgive us. Truth is, these are the most important moments in life. We can carry on for years deceiving ourselves, blaming others for what goes wrong. We are our own infallible counsel for the defence. But there has to be a time when we allow ourselves simply to weep for the things we know we could have handled better. That is what the shofar is: the cry that starts when words end. That’s when God reaches out to us, as parent to child, and holds us close while we weep together, then He comforts us and gives us the strength to begin again. There’s nothing closer to God than a broken heart and nothing stronger than a heart that’s been healed by God’s forgiveness.
Like the Koren Sacks Siddur, these Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Mahzorim weds the elegance of Koren with the wisdom of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Koren’s sophisticated graphic layout, and Rabbi Sacks remarkable translation, introduction and commentary jointly offer a meaningful start to the New Year. You can now save 30% when you buy the Koren Sacks Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Mahzor set! Now available in Nusah Sepharad as well as Nusah Ashkenaz, in standard and compact sizes! Offer valid until 15 September, 2014. Offer valid from Koren USA only. Buy NOW here.
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