Rosh Hashanah

September 12th, 2018

The shofar is a strange instrument. It has a rather limited musical range. The ram’s horn  has only one note on its scale. The person blowing the shofar can make the sound of the blast short or long, or loud or soft, but those are the only options. However, the shofar does look pretty cool. I have to admit that.

Rabbi Dinin gave his sermon, or “drash”, prior to his blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. “Drash” is an interesting word for me. Many years ago, I studied Arabic, and one of the first words that we learned in class was “darasa” (درس), which means “to study”. Even though “drash” comes from Hebrew, it seems to me that it is related to “darasa”. Both words somehow have to do with learning. This may be a small and insignificant connection, but it is a connection nonetheless. I spend most of my waking hours looking for connections. I look for the things that bind us together, and I rejoice when I find one.

The rabbi spoke about the significance of Rosh Hashanah. It is first and foremost, the beginning of the Jewish year. He tried to explain why the Jewish people used the shofar on this particular holy day. It was bit hard for me to follow all of what he said, but my understanding is that Rosh Hashanah is both a day of rejoicing, and a day of judgment. On a day of rejoicing, a day when the King is here among us, then a trumpet would be used to celebrate that day. However, Rosh Hashanah is not just a day of rejoicing, it is also a day when the King (God) judges us. A trumpet is not intense or deep enough. The shofar, despite its obvious musical shortcomings, is very moving and very visceral. The sound that it makes comes from the heart.

Rabbi Dinin also talked about how we are judged. I found that part of his drash to be intriguing. He was speaking about the Jewish people, but he could have been talking about almost anyone. The rabbi described the view of the sages that a person is perhaps judged more harshly by God as an individual, than as a member of a group. A single Jew, standing naked and alone before the judgment of God, is more at risk than when he or she can be judged as part of the Children of Israel. The good deeds of the “people” can make up for the failings of an individual. This is not to say that each person is not responsible for their own actions. It is more that our individual actions are considered within the context of our community.

There is an echo of this view within my own tradition, Catholicism. Catholics place (or used to place) a huge emphasis on community. With Catholics it is never the idea of “me and my God”. It is always “Our God and us”. This is in stark contrast to the view of some of the Protestant Christians, who focus intensely on a personal and exclusive relationship with God. The Jewish perspective, and the Catholic perspective, is that we are all in this together. There is no such thing as a private sort of salvation. Looking out for number one is not an option. We are all inter-connected.

Dorothy Day, the Catholic Worker, once said that when she died, God might ask her, “Where is everyone else?”

The point is that we all go to God together. Or, we don’t go to Him at all.

Happy New Year.





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