Jay Michaelson published an article in The Forward entitled “Why You Shouldn’t Go to Synagogue on Rosh Hashanah This Year.”
I do not recommend you looking at the article,as it is too depressing. He tries to challenge of the logic and traditions of the mixed messages of Rosh Hashanah. First, he questions “Is it this really the Birthday of the World? Secondly, Rosh Hashanah is a series of mixed messages. The day itself is confused, an amalgam of celebration and repentance, conviviality and sobriety. Are we supposed to celebrate the Birthday of the World or get busy with apologizing to God? Do we wish each other a happy new year or a serious, pious new year? And then there’s the formality of the service and Finally, there’s the whole model of what Jewish life is supposed to be about- Dress nice, be infantilized and write a check — that’s the Judaism it presents”. He does end on a positive note “And yet, while I am urging you to trade in Rosh Hashanah for a better, more empowering holiday, I wouldn’t want you to abandon it entirely. Because even amid the insincere sincerity and mass-market packaging, there’s still the Shofar, the epitome of Jewish magic and ritual.”
But I will counteract this by offering insights and stories culled from the teachings of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach why we should celebrate Rosh Hashanah and be inspired by Rosh Hashanah.
All year long I’m doing Teshuva without hearing the shofar. If I do something wrong, I say to myself, “G-d I’m sorry, I won’t do it again” and that’s enough. After I made the golden calf I realized that I sinned because I wasn’t connected enough. So Rosh Hashanah is a Day of Remembrance, the day I say every word in the Torah touches me deeply. The service of Rosh Hashanah is not for fixing mistakes, for atoning for sins. That is on Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah is when I re-establish my connection with G-d.
Why is it that Rivka was tested before marrying Yitzhok, but Rachel was not tested before marrying Yaakov? Because Yaakov and Rachel were so connected. Rachel re-establishes our connection with G-d. The Haftarah of Rosh Hashanah is “Rachel cries for her children”. Yosef, Rachel’s son came out of prison on Rosh Hashanah. Leah is even deeper. I don’t have any words to describe Leah’s connection to G-d because Moshiach hasn’t come yet. Yaakov and Leah didn’t have a personal connection –it went even deeper. Leah is the mother of Moshiach. Moshiach will come even to those who are not connected.
How does a person know how much he is connected to someone? Everything depends on how one hears. When someone tells me that someone else is sick, I feel sorrow. If he is my best friend and I hear he is sick, gevald, it breaks my heart. When we heard the Torah on Mt Sinai, our problem was that we didn’t hear it deeply enough. Blowing the shofar on Elul is to help us to hear better. Basically the shofar was blown at Mt Sinai. So why do we blow it on Rosh Hashanah? We blow the shofar in Elul because it is connected with Torah. On Rosh Hashanah we are saying now I can hear the shofar, now I can hear the voices on Mt Sinai.
The deepest depth of connection is not only what you hear. It is also what you see. You can tell how much you love someone from the way look at them. The question is how much you understand the Torah when you look at it. The question is, when you take the Torah out of the Aron Hakodesh, what do you see?
Rosh Hashanah is all about hearing. Rachel is hearing. From its Haftarah: “Kol b’rama nishma” A voice is heard in Rama, Rachel is crying for her children.
A lot of people think that on Rosh Hashanah they have to walk around sad. The truth is you shouldn’t be sad. Everybody knows that by the Heilige Lubliner on Rosh Hashanah night, the simcha and joy was divine. When the davening was over gevalt would they dance. The tears of joy, the tears of prayers… and every Chassid wished the other with a good year. You could see with your bear eyes how every blessing opens the gates of heaven… the joy was not in this world.
One year a mitnaged comes in and he is from the school that on Rosh Hashanah night you have to be sad, repenting with sadness. He thinks to himself ‘gevalt oy yoy yoy, tomorrow I’ll be standing before the heavenly court and who knows what’s going to happen to me, it’s too heartbreaking’. He walks into the beis medrash of the Lubliner and he can’t believe what he sees. All the Chassidim are dancing with so much Simcha.
He walks up to the Seer of Lublin and he tells him ‘Master of Lublin, I want you to know that until this moment I didn’t want to believe what I heard about you but now I am seeing this with my own eyes. This is blasphemy; this is against anything holy and Jewish. On Rosh Hashanah night people are suppose to be serious and your Chassidim are dancing?’. So the Seer of Lublin says to him ‘my dear friend, come over here’. The holy Seer of Lublin put his holy hands on the eyes of that mitnaged. Suddenly he looks up in heaven and he sees that all the people who are dancing are already inscribed in the book of life. They davened Maariv and opened all the gates of heaven, for their house, for their wives, for their children. No wonder they are filled with joy.
The Holy Seer of Lublin took off his hands and he said to the mitnaged ‘now you understand why we are dancing? Can you see in this corner the one person who isn’t dancing?’. He says ‘yes’. The Seer of Lublin again puts his hands on the eyes of that Misnaged. Suddenly he is up there in heaven and that person isn’t inscribed in the book of life, no wonder he doesn’t have joy. And suddenly the mitnaged realizes ‘I am so filled with sadness. Maybe maybe maybe I need to become happy, and maybe I too can become inscribed in the book of life. He began to cry in front of the Holy Lubliner ‘Heilige Rebbe, please… how can I get back into the book of life, how can inscribe my wife and children into the book of life?’. The Seer of Lublin says to him ‘there is only one way, there is only one way. With a lot of simcha, a lot of trust in G-d…so why are you standing here? Join the Chassidim and dance your way with your feet, dance your way into the book of life’.
Friends I bless you, maybe we didn’t make our way to the book of life with our deeds, but Ribbono Shel Olam gave us such holy days like Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur….and at the end Simchas Torah. And if everything didn’t help there is always one moment, dance and dance until you’ve reached the book of life.
Birthday of the world – crowning God as King
Let me tell you the story. You know the prayer says, “Let the whole world know that there is one G-d. Le the whole world know that He created them. And let the whole world know that the G-d of Israel is the King of the World.” So I need mamash the softest harmony, just hold onto my last note all the time.
It’s a beautiful story. The Chiddushe HaRim, the old Gerer Rebbe, before Rosh Hashanah, received a letter from one of the Chassidim, and this is what he said, “Heilage Zeisa Rebbe, my Holy Master, please let me know… please tell me… please enlighten me… Which is the most important prayer of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the High Holidays? The Chiddushe HaRim answered him back and this is what he said, “I want you to know, I want you to know, I receive so many letters that I could never answer them. But I hasten to answer your letter, because your letter was wet with tears, when I received it. So I hasten to answer you.” And he says, “Please know that every prayer, every prayer is important. Every prayer reaches heaven. And the heavens are open. But I want you to know, I want you to know, when it comes to this prayer, I want you to concentrate, with the deepest, deepest depths of your heart, of your soul, of everything you have. Because this is all there is to Rosh Hashanah. This is what we are praying for on the first day of the year, and the last day of the last year. …’ “‘… “‘… “Vayaydah kal pa-ule kee Atah p’alto. And every creation will know that God created you. To know that there is one G-d. Let the whole world know. Let the whole world know. Let the whole world know there is one G-d.