Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 20 September 2014 / 25 Elul 5774

Rosh Hashana

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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An answer to a letter I received:

Although it is difficult for me to assess your precise level of learning and experience regarding the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur prayers, I will, nevertheless, attempt to address the questions and issues you bring up in your letter.

I would like to start off with a story that will help give us both a better perspective on things:

After an extended business trip overseas, Michael returns home. His wife and children have missed him dearly, and want to make up for the lost time. Michael, a loving husband and father, wanting to give each of them his love and attention, will relate to each of them differently. With his five year old son David, he will likely spend more time playing, and limit the conversation to simple things. With his teenage daughter he might shop at the mall while catching up on the latest drama in her life. Perhaps he will have a romantic dinner for two with his wife, during which he will reveal his most intimate thoughts and feelings. Later, when Michael meets with his friends, he will relate to them in yet an entirely different way.

In the above story we find so many different personalities all belonging to one man. The same idea can be applied to G-d, Who relates to each person in a way that is best suited for that person. This is why when teaching about the Beit Hamikdash ― G-d’s home ― Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov compared it to a suit ― tailor-made to fit each person differently. The obvious question arises: Why wasn’t the comparison made to a house? After all that is what the Beit Hamakdash is.

A house is a place where many people gather together, similar to the Beit Hamakdash. However, since G-d receives each person that comes to the Beit Hamakdash (and Synagogue) individually, it can more accurately be compared to a tailor-fitted suit. It is well known that G-d judges the Jewish People both as a whole as well as on an individual basis. Thus, regarding the Jews as a whole, the more accurate comparison would have been to a house.

The best way to maximize one’s time on Rosh Hashana may be different for each person. Even if doing the same thing, no two people will do it exactly the same way. The main thing is to be “real”. Give G-d your time, and in that time give Him your total devotion.

Regarding prayer, it is generally best to be in shul to pray with others, since there is great merit in being together with other Jews, especially on a day like Rosh Hashana. If the prayers are too lengthy, and are likely to become lip service; or if you are not yet familiar with the details and nuances of the prayer book, I suggest to say the main parts, namely the Shma and Shemoneh Esrei. If you can add to that without it becoming an empty heartless procedure, speak to a Rabbi who knows your level. A good idea can be to read a Torah book you like while at shul. It is a good alternative for someone not yet ready to follow all of the organized prayers.

Rosh Hashana is a time for introspection and contemplation, to consider your past year, meditate on (and articulate) the idea of teshuva (repentance), which includes regret and abandonment of sin, and a resolve to recommit to following G-d's ways.

Think about G-d as the King of the world, Who governs over everyone’s life in every detail, yours included. Ask for guidance and understanding in how to be counted among the righteous, and inscribed in the Book of Life. Rosh Hashana is a time to ask, from the depths of one’s heart, for G-d’s help in all aspects of one’s life, especially in coming closer to Him.

In closing, Rosh Hashana is a day to make up for all the lost time during the past year. When we approach the holidays in the right way, then, even if life takes us to far off places, as long as we remain loyal in our heart, the time will not be spent away.

I hope these ideas help make your Rosh Hashana more meaningful. Remember one thing – G-d will certainly be there! The question is – will we?

With blessings and wishes for a safe, healthy and productive year, full of true joy and gladness.

Shana Tova,

Rabbi Botton

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