Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist
Rabbi Dr. Reb Mimi Feigelson
Spiritual mentor of the rabbinical school and teacher at the Schechter Institutes:
Did you open your personal invitation? Torah portion Nitzavim and Rosh Hashanah are our invitation to stand up (Nitzavim) and question God, to stand up and demand of God, “Ayekah”? (Where are you?)
To beseech and pray that God answers us like Abraham answered Him/Her: Hineni” (I am here). One Hebrew word, three statements: “I,” “I Am,” “I Am Here.”
Adam’s narrative is one that promises us a life of wandering and existential exile — from ourself, our love and loving ones, our universe. Exile from God.
Abraham’s “Hineni” leads to a willingness to live a life of sacrifice for the sake of being alive, present. “Hineni” demands and enables accountability, commitment and devotion. “Hineni” bequeaths faith, belief and trust.
This Shabbat, in preparation for Rosh Hashanah, is a gift that God grants us. In Nitzavim we are commanded to love God. A commandment that at its essence is a promise that we can love and be loved. We can’t be commanded in something we are unable to actualize. God as our Sovereign means that we have the right to ask of God to be, to manifest, all these attributes in the world. It is a demand that births in each of us the ability, not only to stand, but to walk in the world in God’s image.
Please answer God’s “Ayekah” with “Hineni” this year, so that God can echo back to us “Hineni.” Join me and open your invitation! With Hineni and love, Shabbat shalom and shanah tovah.
Rabbi Scott N. Bolton
Congregation Or Zarua, New York City:
All at Once God is Sovereign, Shepherd and Eternal Oneness.
Sovereign is God: Our Shepherd is God our Light. We come together, b’rov Am — a great multitude — on Rosh Hashanah to crown the King, hail the Queen, become royal children yet again, the flock following our Guide.
We come together, because alone we are alienated, lonely, even desperate.
Using religious imagination, we envision the journey on high, to encounter the Divine! Welcomed as guests at the banquet, invited into the inner chambers of the palace, we are humbled. Angels lead us through the gardens of our lives.
It is an intimate time with one another and with our Sovereign. Refracted light, beams from the stored-away brilliance, creates kaleidoscopic mosaics on old stone walls. We see ourselves anew, renewed. We see the yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Suddenly, we are taken with the realization that the royal grounds are assuredly the world we know. We are home. Filled with joy, we sense ourselves as individualized and communal and part of the never-ending Oneness. We are subjects and we inhabit the realm of the Master of the Universe. God is our Sovereign.
Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky
B’nai David-Judea Congregation:
It means that when we contemplate the meaning of success in life, the answer needs to be what we think God would regard as success.
It means that when we rise in the morning and wash our hands, we need to imagine that we are like the Kohanim (priests) of Temple days who, upon entering the Temple each morning, washed their hands. Not because their hands were dirty, but because they were consecrating their hands to God’s service.
It means that when life presents us with mutually exclusive choices, to do either what God has asked or to fulfill our own desire, the decision is obvious, if not necessarily easy to execute.
It means that we regard the stuff we have as stuff that God has blessed us with, in no small measure so that we may distribute God’s blessing to more of His subjects.
It means that when we encounter a difficult person, we do our best to look beyond what is presenting itself and work hard to see the handiwork of God within. God’s sovereignty over us all derives directly from God’s having created us all.
It means that we respectfully and regularly demand that God do justice on earth, so that His sovereignty extends beyond just the hearts of His most devout believers.
It means that we need not assume responsibility for the whole universe. Only the part that we’ve been deputized to fix and care for.
Rabbi Yaacov Deyo
For questions like this, I turn to … physics!
Unquestionably, a sovereign’s role is to ensure the realm is safe. Let’s look at what that means for us just in our solar system. If you take an overinflated basketball and place it at one end of a basketball court, and then place a pebble as thick as your house key (1/10th of an inch) at the other end, you will have constructed a decent, scale replica of the sun, earth and the distance between them.
In the “real” thing, this pebble circles the basketball each year with a varying tilt off its true access — and this tilt causes the seasons. To illustrate, if you stand the pebble on the court and keep it upright throughout its orbit, January will be like July. However, if you tilt the pebble’s top 22.9 degrees toward the basketball, you have a summer. Well done! A half-year later, this tilt will now be facing away from the basketball so the sun will appear low in the sky to us in the Northern Hemisphere — this is winter! Over the course of every 41,000 orbits, the tilt varies between 21.4 and 24.4 degrees. The relative further inclination of a 24.4-degree tilt causes an ice age!
Even the slightest variations place everything at risk, and yet we rest peacefully in our sleep. Therefore, it is to Him we owe our thanks for “He is Sovereign over the entire Earth.” (Yesodei HaTorah 1:5)
Rabbi Lori Shapiro
It’s called Rosh Hashanah for a reason. R’ Rayatz said, “The name of the holiday is Rosh Hashanah and not “Beginning of the Year.” Just as the head is the essential part of a person, containing the life force of each specific limb, and also the spiritual powers, similarly on Rosh Hashanah the general life force for the whole year is drawn down, for both physical and spiritual matters.”
The power of this experience enters us, figuratively, to awaken the God-head. Our communal experience of prayer, near-death experience of Yom Kippur, teshuvah through repentance and return, and the injunction for tears, is a spiritually cathartic calisthenic alarm clock demanding ownership of the rigors of individual responsibility. Every one of us comprises a collective piece of the Sovereign God. Our minds are the master of our body’s movements, and with each choice we make, we impact the future and fate of our lives, our families, our communities and our world.
With the God-head upon us during the High Holy Days, let us ask: What am I doing with these divine hands, these divine eyes, these divine ears, this divine mouth? Avinu Malkeinu — you are my parent and my king. As you give birth to me, so too are you a part of my every Mysterious and Divine DNA. May the Days of Awe awaken my every cell to your presence, as my prayers awaken my mind and body to cultivate an awareness of the Divine Sovereign within!