Esor Ben-Sorek

Eight hard questions… four easy answers

Today is the first of the new month of Elul, a strong reminder that the Yomim Nora-im (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) are only one month away, enough time to begin reflecting on our lives over the past year.

One segment of our daily morning prayers contains the “spiritual medicine”, which if taken seriously, can offer us renewed hope for the continuation of our length of days on earth.

It contains eight very basic questions which demand our attention and honest personal replies. It begins with a prologue. “Man should always revere God in thought as in deed, acknowledge truth and speak the truth even in his heart. On arising in the morning he should declare, in an appeal to God, ‘Lord of all worlds:  Not upon our righteousness do we rely when we bow in supplication before Thee, but upon Your  great compassion.’ “

And it continues to ask the eight questions.

What are we? What is our life? What is our piety? What is our righteousness? What is our achievement? What is our strength? What is our might? What can we say before You, O Lord our God and God of our fathers?

We pause to consider a personal response to each of the questions. We meditate silently upon them. We search our hearts in fear that our reply will not be acceptable before the Throne of the Almighty One.

And then we glance again into our prayerbook to examine the four replies written by the wisdom of our sages.

“We are Your people, the sons (and daughters) of Your covenant, children of Your beloved Abraham with whom You made a promise on Mount Moriah.

We are the seed of Isaac, beloved son of Abraham, who was bound upon the altar of sacrifice.

We are Your firstborn people, the assembly of Jacob whom You named Israel and Yeshurun because You loved him and rejoiced in him.

Therefore, it is our duty and obligation to thank You, to praise You, to glorify You, and to sanctify You.”

The four replies are simple. The eight questions are troubling. Do we honestly know who we are? Do we truly know what is the meaning of our individual life? Do we think that we have been sufficiently pious and righteous? Do we take pride or shame in things we have accomplished? Do we understand our strengths and our weaknesses?

And when the time will come when we stand before our Creator, do we truly know what we will say to Him?  Do we know what we can say to ourselves in response to the eight questions?

Today, Rosh Chodesh Elul, offers each of us the sterling opportunity to prepare our answers before the Days of Awe.

We are God’s Chosen People. But for what are we chosen if not to serve Him and to love Him with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our might?

We were not chosen because we were the largest nation nor the strongest. We were chosen only for one very special purpose…. To be an “Or la Goyim”… To be a light unto the nations of the world.

All of western civilization is based upon the commandments which God gave to us when He revealed Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai. Sadly there are many among His Chosen people who have forsaken those commandments. There are ten of them… ten simple words which, if obeyed, would bring the hoped-for light to the nations of the world.

Of all the ten commandments, I believe they could be summed up in one of them. The fifth commandment, as far as I am concerned, is the most important one.

Kabed et avicha v’et imecha…. Honor your father and your mother. In so doing, we would honor our obedience to the remaining nine commandments. We would not steal. We would not murder. We would not commit adultery. We would not covet what does not belong to us…. All because of our honor and respect to our father and  mother .

And although I recite the eight questions every morning, I am not satisfied with my replies.

Thankfully the month of Elul offers me the chance to think, to examine my heart, and to make a sincere effort to find personal answers before the High Holydays next month are upon us. And may God bring peace to His beloved Chosen… the people and the nation of Israel.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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