Small enough to know you. Large enough to serve you.

New Beginnings (Rosh Hashanah 5784 – Day 2)

New Beginnings

You may not know this, but I’m part of an online community where the members are trying to develop a stronger connection with their intuition. It’s helping me a little bit. Recently, I wanted to buy a new guitar. I was about to hit buy, but before I did, I asked myself, “Let’s see what my intuition has to say?” I meditated, and I got the message: wait!

That was okay; I wasn’t in a rush.

One week later, I received an email from the company that they’re celebrating their 25th anniversary and every guitar is 25% off. These are not inexpensive items, so I saved quite a bit by listening to my intuition.

In our group, we train ourselves by trying to read other people. What kind of message am I receiving or feeling about so and so?

Last week, the woman who read me said, “I see a large white and brown seashell.” I asked her, like a conch? She replied, Yes, a large conch. I thought that was weird because I am not a big beach person, and I don’t collect seashells. And then it hit me: people blow conches. It’s a natural horn. This non-Jewish woman was picking up that I’d be blowing some kind of natural animal horn, but she has no schema for people blowing ram’s horns. What made sense to her was a conch!

And it’s not just this woman who was unfamiliar with a Shofar. Last year, James Cordon had Mayim Bialik and Max Greenfield as guests on his show. It was right after Rosh Hashanah, and they were explaining the shofar blowing to him. Cordon was shocked and at a total loss for words. He had never heard of it, and he was astonished that these sophisticated people come to hear a hollowed-out ram’s horn every year.

Yet, that’s what we sophisticated Jews do!

After we blow the Shofar, we shout:

אַשְׁרֵי הָעָם יוֹדְעֵי תְרוּעָה השם בְּאוֹר-פָּנֶיךָ יְהַ

“Fortunate is the people who know the Shofar blast; O Hashem, in the light of your countenance, they will walk.”

What does it mean to know the Shofar blast?

Why will they walk in Hashem’s, God’s countenance?

And why, in the 21st Century, are we still blowing a ram’s horn?

Yearly, on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, we read the story of the Akeidah, the binding of Isaac.

And every year, I waver on Abraham’s actions. Did Abraham do the right thing?

וַיְהִ֗י אַחַר֙ הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה וְהָ֣אֱלֹהִ֔ים נִסָּ֖ה אֶת־אַבְרָהָ֑ם וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֵלָ֔יו אַבְרָהָ֖ם וַיֹּ֥אמֶר הִנֵּֽנִי׃

“And God tested Abraham, saying to him, “Abraham.” He answered, “Here I am.”

וַיֹּ֡אמֶר קַח־נָ֠א אֶת־בִּנְךָ֨ אֶת־יְחִֽידְךָ֤ אֲשֶׁר־אָהַ֙בְתָּ֙ אֶת־יִצְחָ֔ק וְלֶ֨ךְ־לְךָ֔ אֶל־אֶ֖רֶץ הַמֹּרִיָּ֑ה וְהַעֲלֵ֤הוּ שָׁם֙ לְעֹלָ֔ה עַ֚ל אַחַ֣ד הֶֽהָרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֖ר אֹמַ֥ר אֵלֶֽיךָ׃

And God said, “Take your son, your favorite one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you.”

This command contradicts everything Abraham knows about this loving and just God. Furthermore, God is the one who promised him this child. God even named the boy! Yet Abraham obeys without a question.

He finds the mountain, crafts an altar, ties up his son, and is about to slice his throat when an Angel calls out: Avraham, Avraham!

וַיִּקְרָ֨א אֵלָ֜יו מַלְאַ֤ךְ יְהֹוָה֙ מִן־הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אַבְרָהָ֣ם ׀ אַבְרָהָ֑ם וַיֹּ֖אמֶר הִנֵּֽנִי׃

וַיֹּ֗אמֶר אַל־תִּשְׁלַ֤ח יָֽדְךָ֙ אֶל־הַנַּ֔עַר וְאַל־תַּ֥עַשׂ ל֖וֹ מְא֑וּמָה כִּ֣י ׀ עַתָּ֣ה יָדַ֗עְתִּי כִּֽי־יְרֵ֤א אֱלֹהִים֙ אַ֔תָּה וְלֹ֥א חָשַׂ֛כְתָּ אֶת־בִּנְךָ֥ אֶת־יְחִידְךָ֖ מִמֶּֽנִּי׃

“Do not raise your hand against the boy or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God since you have not withheld your son, your favored one, from Me.”

This was clearly just a test. So, did Abraham pass or fail?

On the one hand, it’s easy to say he passed. He was willing to sacrifice his son, and God blesses him afterward:

“I swear, יהוה declares: Because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your favored one, I will bestow My blessing upon you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands on the seashore.”

On the other hand, perhaps the test was to see if Avraham would challenge God as he did with Sodom.

חָלִ֣לָה לָּ֔ךְ הֲשֹׁפֵט֙ כׇּל־הָאָ֔רֶץ לֹ֥א יַעֲשֶׂ֖ה מִשְׁפָּֽט׃

“Far be it from You! Shall the Judge of all the earth not deal justly?”

He could have petitioned, “We waited and prayed passionately for this child. You promised us this boy. Sarah, at 90 years of age, finally achieves some joy and peace of mind. Now, You will take that from her?

I’m unsure if Avraham passed or failed. Sometimes in life, we are supposed to stand up and challenge. Other times, we are forced to accept that certain things are out of our control.

Nonetheless, another aspect of this story demands attention and begs for clarity: Why does God’s name change in the middle of the story?

The story starts with the name Elohim.

וַיְהִ֗י אַחַר֙ הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה וְהָ֣אֱלֹהִ֔ים נִסָּ֖ה אֶת־אַבְרָהָ֑ם וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֵלָ֔יו אַבְרָהָ֖ם וַיֹּ֥אמֶר הִנֵּֽנִי׃

And Elohim tested Avraham…

The episode concludes though, with the name Hashem: Yud Hey Vav Hay:

וַיִּקְרָ֨א אֵלָ֜יו מַלְאַ֤ךְ יְהֹוָה֙ מִן־הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אַבְרָהָ֣ם ׀ אַבְרָהָ֑ם וַיֹּ֖אמֶר הִנֵּֽנִי׃

וַיֹּ֗אמֶר אַל־תִּשְׁלַ֤ח יָֽדְךָ֙ אֶל־הַנַּ֔עַר וְאַל־תַּ֥עַשׂ ל֖וֹ מְא֑וּמָה

And an Angel of Yud Hey Vav Hey called from Heaven saying, Avraham, Avraham, don’t do anything to the child…

What’s going on?

We’re monotheists. Isn’t it the same God who tested and rescued Abraham?

Now, this is interesting, for we have a similar problem when the Torah describes the creation of the universe.

Chapter 1 of the Torah details the seven days of creation. All we see is God’s name, Elohim.

בראשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹקיIn the beginning, Elohim created Heaven and Earth

וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֱלֹקים יְהִי־א֑וֹAnd Elohim said, Let there be light

And, most importantly, וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹקים נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אָדָ֛ם בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ כִּדְמוּ“And Elohim said, Let us make the human in our image…”

Yet in Chapter 2, the Torah says:

אֵ֣לֶּה תֽוֹלְד֧וֹת הַשָּׁמַ֛יִם וְהָאָ֖רֶץ בְּהִבָּֽרְאָ֑ם בְּי֗וֹם עֲשׂ֛וֹת השם אֱלֹקים אֶ֥רֶץ “These are the sequence of events of the Heavens and the Earth on the day that Yud Hey Vav Hey (Hashem) Elohim created Earth and Heaven.

Likewise, these names were utilized again in Chapter 2 when the first human was created:

וַיִּ֩יצֶר֩ השם אֱלֹקים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֗ם עָפָר֙ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔הHashem Elokim formed the human from the dust of the earth.

So, what really happened? Did God go by two names or just one in the act of creating the world and humanity?

I believe the answer is as follows:

The first chapter in the Torah is talking about an ideal world, and the latter chapter is talking about the real world.

The ideal world is perfect and harmonious. Humans use their intelligence to develop the world and protect it.

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אָדָ֛ם בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ וְיִרְדּוּ֩ בִדְגַ֨ת הַיָּ֜ם וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם וּבַבְּהֵמָה֙ וּבְכׇל־הָאָ֔רֶץ וּבְכׇל־הָרֶ֖מֶשׂ הָֽרֹמֵ֥שׂ עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

And God said, “Let us make humans in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.”

וַיְבָ֣רֶךְ אֹתָם֮ אֱלֹהִים֒ וַיֹּ֨אמֶר לָהֶ֜ם אֱלֹהִ֗ים פְּר֥וּ וּרְב֛וּ וּמִלְא֥וּ אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁ֑הָ וּרְד֞וּ בִּדְגַ֤ת הַיָּם֙ וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וּבְכׇל־חַיָּ֖ה הָֽרֹמֶ֥שֶׂת עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

And God blessed them, and said to them, “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that crawl on land.”

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֗ים הִנֵּה֩ נָתַ֨תִּי לָכֶ֜ם אֶת־כׇּל־עֵ֣שֶׂב ׀ זֹרֵ֣עַ זֶ֗רַע אֲשֶׁר֙ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י כׇל־הָאָ֔רֶץ וְאֶת־כׇּל־הָעֵ֛ץ אֲשֶׁר־בּ֥וֹ פְרִי־עֵ֖ץ זֹרֵ֣עַ זָ֑רַע לָכֶ֥ם יִֽהְיֶ֖ה לְאׇכְלָֽה׃

Yet, these exalted people were meant to be the V word, vegans.

God said, “See, I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food.

Yet, we know how that turned out. We’re just as Jim Gaffigan says,

Now don’t get me wrong, I love animals, but I like eatin’ ’em more… fun to pet, better to chew!”

The story of humankind is one disobedience after another.

We eat from the Tree of Knowledge when we’re not supposed to.

When we meet the first set of brothers, one kills the other.

When humans become numerous, corruption becomes rampant.

Elohim is the aspect of God that creates the ideal human. Elohim, by tradition, is the name associated with power and judgment. In fact, in Hebrew, elohim can also mean human judges. Chapter 1 of the Torah is the story of the ideal creation.

However, when the creation of the human actually took place, it was more like a Mel Brooks version, it you know what I mean.

When it comes to humans being human, our saving grace is God’s name Yud Hay Vav Hey. That’s the name of God associated with forgiveness, compassion, and acceptance. Yud Hey Vav Hey translates to Being, the One who always exists. This is the God who is with us, through our good and bad.

Therefore, both aspects of Godliness were implemented. Elohim created the Human because we can succeed and live up to our potential. But we were also made by Hashem, the aspect of God that accepts us when we fail.

Now, let’s take what we just learned back to the binding of Isaac.

Elohim was testing Abraham to bring out his best. We’re not sure if he passed or failed, but clearly, he wasn’t meant to slaughter the boy.

Hashem, the God of compassion, rescues Abraham.

What happens after Isaac is not sacrificed? Abraham finds a ram stuck in a nearby thornbush and slaughters the lamb as an offering.

When we blow the Shofar from a ram’s horn, we cause God to remember the binding of Isaac. The Shofar arouses God’s compassion. What does the Shofar blast represent? Forgiveness and a new beginning.

מדרש רבה ויקרא פרשה כט פסקה ג

עלה אלהים בתרועה ה’ בקול שופר בשעה שהקב”ה יושב ועולה על כסא דין בדין הוא עולה מאי טעם עלה אלהים בתרועה ובשעה שישראל נוטלין את שופריהן ותוקעין לפני הקב”ה עומד מכסא הדין ויושב בכסא רחמים דכתיב ה’ בקול שופר ומתמלא עליהם רחמים ומרחם עליהם והופך עליהם מדת הדין לרחמים אימתי בחדש השביעי:

The Midrash says that on Rosh Hashanah, God sits upon a throne of din, strict judgment, intending to judge the world according to its ideal. But when we blow the shofar, God gets up from the kisei din, the seat of judgment, and moves to the kisei rachamim, the seat of compassion. In doing so, God acts with compassion towards us, forgiving us for all our indiscretions.

After the blowing of the shofar, we say the verse:

אַשְׁרֵי הָעָם יוֹדְעֵי תְרוּעָה השם בְּאוֹר-פָּנֶיךָ יְהַ“Fortunate is the people who know the shofar blast; O Hashem, in the light of your countenance they will walk.”

The Shofar is a gift to help us break with the past and start a new beginning.

After the binding, Isaac marries Rebecca and starts his own family, and Abraham marries Keturah and has six more children.

Right now, humanity could use a new beginning.

When the Industrial Revolution began, we didn’t realize what we would do to our rivers, oceans, and the atmosphere. When we started driving cars, it was with good intentions—no more horse manure on the streets.

When we started making things from plastic, we thought it was also a tremendous advancement. It’s sturdy but lighter than metal, and it doesn’t even rust! We never imagined it poisoning our oceans.

We are like Abraham; we have almost slaughtered our planet. But God will help us if we truly want to change. This piggybacks on what I said yesterday: Let’s plant thoughts, seeds of healing and invigoration for our planet, and follow up with potent acts.

The Shofar is what Yud Hey Vav Hey, the God of compassion, gave Abraham to start over.

We can utilize this power personally as well.

Let’s think about relationships we can start or renew—businesses we would like to get off the ground.

The Men’s club heard the blast in the middle of the year- keep it going!

Before we blow the Shofar, let’s take some time to think. Where could we use a fresh start?

This year, let’s listen to the Ram’s horn and be inspired to create new beginnings.

אַשְׁרֵי הָעָם יוֹדְעֵי תְרוּעָה השם בְּאוֹר-פָּנֶיךָ יְהַל“Fortunate is the people who know the Shofar blast; O Hashem, in the light of your countenance, they will walk.”

Shanah Tova

Manetto Hill Jewish Center
244 Manetto Hill Road, Plainview, NY 11803
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