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Ushering in 5776

by Rabbi Matt September 14, 2015

Questions and answers as we approach the New Year 5776.  What is really important about a person?  What is significant about you?  What about your inner resources?  These are ancient questions, and yet ever new ones.  

 

In Pirke Avot 4:27, “Rabbi Meir used to say, look not at the flask, but at what it contains:  there may be a new flask full of old wine, and an old flask that has not even new wine in it.  Rabbi Meir’s teaching reminds us to look beyond the surface and plumb the depths of our souls.  A great woman came to mind when I read Rabbi Meir’s mishnah:  Golda Meir, of blessed memory.  Do you remember Golda, the Prime Minister of Israel from 1969-1974?  

 

She wrote:  “I was never a beauty. There was a time when I was sorry about that, when I was old enough to understand the importance of it and, looking on any mirror, realized it was something I was never going to have.  Then I found what I wanted to do in life, and being called pretty no longer had any importance. — It was only much later that I realized that not being beautiful was a blessing in disguise.  It forced me to develop my inner resources.”

 

Everyday we struggle with our thoughts and emotions, with are actions and our inaction.  In Genesis 3:9 (Hertz p. 11), we find the best question, ever.  It highlights the struggle within each of us.  

 

Adam and Eve ate fruit from the forbidden tree, know they did wrong, and hid among the trees in the Garden of Eden.  God asked Adam a one-word question in Hebrew..  “Ayeka?”  It is three words in English... “Where are you?”  

 

Now, some of you might be thinking, and let’s be polite... that an incredibly ridiculous question.  How is it that the all-knowing Lord of the universe, the One who spoke and the world came into being, the One who set the stars in their places and the sun in its course, the One who said to the ocean, “this shall be your boundary,” the Creator of all... how could it be that God needed to ask Adam where he was?

 

The rabbis of old, taught in the midrash, God asked this question of Adam to give Adam a chance to confess his sin and repent before the Almighty pronounced punishment.  It is like the way your parents called you when they were angry with you.  When you heard your parents call you by your full name... first, middle, and last... you knew you were in trouble, and it was a sign to confess everything, immediately.

 

However, God’s question is deeper, and it is elucidated by the Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber.  (1878-1965 Austrian born, made aliyah, died in Jerusalem, 87 y.o.)

 

Buber brings an illustration from the late 1700s:

Rabbi Shneur Zalman (1745-1812), the Hasidic Rav of Northern White Russia, was put in jail because he had been betrayed to the Tsarist police.  One day, the chief jailer, a biblically literate man, asked “How is it that God, the all-knowing, needed to ask Adam: ‘Where are you?’  

“Reb Zalman answered, “Do you believe that the Scriptures are eternal and that every era, every generation, and every man is included in them?”  

“Yes,” answered the jailer.  

“Well then,” Reb Zalman continued, “in every era, and in every generation, God asks every person, ‘Where are you in your world?  So many years, and so many days, of those allotted to you, have passed, and... how far have you gotten in your world?’  God says something like this, ‘You have lived forty-six years.  How far along are you?'”

 

When the chief jailer heard his exact age, of 46 years, mentioned by the Rav he was shaken.  He stood up, placed his hand on the Rav's shoulder, and wept.

 

Rav Shneur Zalman, who lived more than 200 years before the advent of the cell phone and the selfie, understood something very deeply.  God did not need to ask Adam where he was, it was Adam who needed to be asked “ayeka, where are you?”  God does not need to ask each one of us “ayeka” “where are you?” -- it is we who need to be asked.  

 

These Days of Awe give us the time… if we will slow down, and be patient... to struggle with our impulses... good impulses (the yetser tov) and bad impulses (the yetser ha-ra).  Everyday we struggle.  We struggle to make good choices and to over power our evil impulses.  Now is the time to formulate answers.  When we are asked by God -- together and individually -- to admit for good, and for ill, where we are -- to render a spiritual accounting of our lives -- what is the image we project?  

 

L'shannah Tovah.  Pat and I send our warm wishes to you, and yours, for health, happiness, prosperity and God’s blessings in the New Year 5776.

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