Wednesday, September 12, 2007
[the shofar – ram’s horn]
To be a Jew means to be a slave to God. This is very literal. Leviticus 25:55 states that a Jew cannot be purchased as a permanent slave in the way a gentile can be since we are already slaves to God. We literally belong to Him.
To a gentile, this is the most horrifying idea possible. An atheist like Richard Dawkins almost chokes when speaking about an assertive God. Christians seems to have a problem with this as well. They tend to contrast the “harsh” God of the Torah with the more forgiving Jesus. They also find comfort in spiritual loopholes such as penal substitution, for Protestants, and the sacrament of penance for Catholics. While Muslims do not accept those ideas, they nevertheless believe that if one totally struggles (literally “makes jihad”) for the sake of God, his sins are forgiven. (This has led to some unfortunate consequences.)
For the Jew, there are no easy ways out, no shortcuts. We are slaves. We must listen and obey.
The ultimate example of that obedience is the Binding of Isaac in Genesis 22. Here God asks Abraham to do something extremely cruel, destructive and senseless. He asks Abraham to murder Isaac his son. This is the ultimate test of obedience, and Abraham passes the test perfectly, prepared to obey without complaint, hesitation or question even though the command defies all logic.
The Binding of Isaac is closely connected to Rosh haShanah.
According to one opinion in Pesikta Rabbasi 40:6, the Binding took place on Rosh haShanah. This makes sense when one considers that according to the Talmud Rosh haShanah 16a the ram’s horn is blown in remembrance of the Binding of Isaac. (A ram, caught by its horns, was substituted for Isaac at the last moment.) The Binding therefore has a central place in the “remembrance” prayer of Rosh haShanah.
In this sense, Rosh haShanah is the most truly Jewish day of the year. Perhaps that explains why even so many secular Jews attend services on that day.
Let’s experience Rosh haShanah, the first day of the new year, as a renewal of our commitment to obey God with total discipline and commitment. We must redouble our efforts in Talmudic study, since obviously we cannot obey God if we have not bothered to study what He has commanded us. We must also inspire ourselves with ethical literature.
And let’s remember that God is not asking us to do anything as incomprehensible as murder our innocent children, as He asked Abraham. Rather, what does He ask of us; merely to be just, merciful and to humbly think about Him (Micah 6:8).
Wishing everyone a blessed new year!
Posted by jewish philosopher at 5:07 PM