web analytics
September 1, 2014 / 6 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (L) visits the JewishPress.com booth at The Event. And the Winners of the JewishPress.com Raffle Are…

Congratulations to all the winners of the JewishPress.com raffle at The Event



Home » Judaism » Parsha »

Carrying Both Pain And Faith


So on Rosh Hashanah we live in the presence of this risk-laden proposition, that in goodness is the way of life. Knowing our failings, we come before God asking Him to find in us some act that we have done, or that we might yet do, for good. “Write us in the book of life.”

* * *

The ram’s horn, though, meant something else to Jewish tradition as well as the sound of judgment. It recalled one of the great trials of the Hebrew Bible: Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac for the love of God. This too is a mystery until we read the end. God tells Abraham to put down the knife. He does not desire the sacrifice of human life. Abraham looks around and sees a ram caught in a bush by its horn and offers it instead. This became a motif of Rosh Hashanah: “Rabbi Abbahu said: Why do we blow the ram‘s horn? The Holy One, blessed be He, said, ‘Sound before Me a ram’s horn so that I may remember on your behalf the binding of Isaac, the son of Abraham, and account it to you as if you had bound yourselves before me.’ ”

I sometimes wonder what lay behind this interpretation of Rabbi Abbahu, a great third-century sage. Was it merely the idea of ancestral merit, that God would forgive Israel as He had done in the days of Moses out of love for the patriarchs? Or was it a more recent memory of the Jews who had died as martyrs under Roman rule rather than give up practicing their faith and teaching Torah in public? For they had allowed themselves to be bound at the altar of self-sacrifice, and no word had come from heaven to end the trial.

I remember one of the first sermons I was called on to give. I was a student at the time, and the Torah portion of the week was the passage in Exodus that describes how the Israelites in the wilderness made the golden calf. After days of fruitless effort l turned to my teacher for advice. “I want,” I said, “to say something positive. But wherever I turn I find something dispiriting: the Israelites’ sin, Aaron’s weakness, and Moses’s anger.” My teacher replied with the following remarkable words:

“When Moses prayed for forgiveness for the Israelites, he said, ‘Because this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin and take us as Your inheritance’” (Exodus 34:9). Was this not a strange thing to say? Their obstinacy was surely a reason to be angry with them, not to forgive them. But the truth is that we are an obstinate people. When the Israelites saw God in the wilderness, they disobeyed Him. But when they could not see Him, throughout the many centuries when Jews were powerless and persecuted for their faith, they were tenaciously loyal to Him. They might have converted or assimilated, but they did not. They chose to suffer as Jews rather than find tranquility by relinquishing their Judaism. Their obstinacy, which was once their greatest vice, became their greatest virtue.

It was with that plea that Jews came before God on the days of judgment. They had known what it was to be Isaac bound on the altar. Already in the Middle Ages, as they wept for the victims of the blood libels and the Crusades, the authors of elegies recalled that earlier trial. In a penitential prayer once said on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, telling the story of massacre in Mainz in 1096 in which more than a thousand Jews died, many of them children, we read:

When were there ever a thousand and a hundred sacrifices in one day, each like the binding of Isaac, son of Abraham? Once at the binding of one on Mount Moriah, the Lord shook the world to its base … O heavens, why did you not go black, O stars, why did you not withdraw your light, O sun and moon, why did you not darken in your sky?

Long before the Holocaust, Jews knew the risk they took in remaining Jews. But Jews they remained. The ram’s horn spoke not only of the majesty of God. It spoke of the obstinate loyalty of the Jewish people, Abraham’s children.

* * *

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev was one of the most extraordinary figures in the history of Jewish spirituality. Born in Galicia in 1740, he became a disciple of the Maggid of Mezerich, himself a follower of the Baal Shem Tov. These were the early days of the chassidic movement when it was a revolutionary force in Jewish life. Chassidism belonged to the mystical tradition of Judaism. But unlike previous mystical groups, it was popular rather than esoteric. It emphasized devotion and prayer more than scholarship. It spoke to simple Jews rather than to the rabbinic elite. And it placed at the center of its world the charismatic leader – the tzaddik or rebbe – who watched over the destiny of his followers. Against the backdrop of medieval Jewish tradition with its emphasis on study and on the rabbi as scholar and teacher, it was a radical departure, and the movement had strong opponents – the mitnagdim. Levi Yitzchak found himself frequently embroiled in controversy and was forced to move from town to town. Eventually, in 1785, he came to Berdichev where, as a rabbi and communal leader, he won widespread respect. He served there until he died in 1810.

About the Author: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Carrying Both Pain And Faith”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
UN troops look at smoke rising from Quneitra on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. Aug. 27, 2014
UN Commander Says ‘Raise the White Flag’ as Syrian Rebels Take UN Peacekeepers Hostage, Attack Others
Latest Judaism Stories
shofar+kotel

For us as well, the month of Elul begins a 40-day period that culminates in the year’s holiest day, Yom Kippur. Why 40? Forty is a number of cleansing and purification. Noah’s Flood rains lasted 40 days, and the mikveh – the ritual purification bath – contains 40 measures of water. Elul is an enormous […]

The_United_Nations_Building

It is in the nature of the Nations of the World to be hostile towards the Jewish People.

Taste-of-Lomdus-logo

First, how could a beis din of 23 judges present a guilty verdict in a capital punishment case? After all, only a majority of the 23 judges ruled in favor of his verdict.

Of paramount importance is that both the king and his people realize that while he is the leader, he is still a subject of God.

Untimely News
‘A Mourner Is Forbidden To Wear Shoes…’
(Mo’ed Katan 20b)

Question: The Gemara in Berachot states that the sages authored our prayers. Does that mean we didn’t pray beforehand?

Menachem
Via Email

When a person feels he can control the destiny of other people, he runs the risk of feeling self-important, significant, and mighty.

Needless to say, it was done and they formed a great relationship as his friend and mentor. He started attending services and volunteered his time all along putting on tefillin.

He took me to a room filled with computer equipment and said, “You pray here for as long as you want.” I couldn’t believe my ears.

On Friday afternoon, Dov called Kalman. “Please make sure to return the keys for the car on Motzaei Shabbos,” he said. “We have a bris on Sunday morning and we’re all going. We also need the roof luggage bag.”

On Chol HaMoed some work is prohibited and some is permitted. According to some opinions, the work prohibition is biblical; according to others, it’s rabbinical.

If there is a mitzvas minuy dayanim in the Diaspora, then why is there a difference between Israel and the Diaspora in the number of judges and their distribution?

Judaism is a religion of love but also a religion of justice, for without justice, love corrupts.

The time immediately preceding Mashiach’s arrival is likened to the birth pangs of a woman in labor.

More Articles from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Rabbi Sacks

Judaism is a religion of love but also a religion of justice, for without justice, love corrupts.

Rabbi Sacks

Culture is not nature. There are causes in nature, but only in culture are there meanings.

Blind obedience is not a virtue in Judaism. God wants us to understand the laws He has commanded us

Israel shows the world that a people does not have to be large in order to be great.

When someone exercises power over us, they diminish us; when someone teaches us, they help us grow.

Ours is a small and intensely vulnerable people. Inspired, we rise to greatness. Uninspired, we fall

The negotiation between Moses and the tribes of Reuven and Gad is a model of conflict resolution.

God’s “name” is therefore His standing in the world. Do people acknowledge Him, respect Him, honor Him?

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/carrying-both-pain-and-faith/2012/09/12/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: