A Secret Jewish Language: Come and Listen

The following message appears in the 5773 Rosh HaShanah bulletin of Congregation Sons of Israel in Amsterdam, NY:

Shalom Sons of Israel!

I am excited to begin a great year with the Amsterdam community, and I can’t wait to meet each of you during the new Jewish year of 5773. I am anticipating warm community, meaningful prayer, Torah study and sacred conversations!

I want to start off with a story. The following is an allegory adapted from the Chasidic Rabbi Sholom Noach Berezovsky (1911-2000), also known as Netivot Shalom (which is the name of the anthology of his collected teachings):

A King once sent his son, the Prince, far distances into foreign lands in order to fulfill a certain special task. Who knows what that task was though!? Anyway, to keep in touch with the Prince, the King regularly sent letters, but strangers to the King kept preventing these letters from reaching the Prince. For whatever reason, these foreigners wanted to cut off the King’s communication to the Prince. Since these letters went nowhere, the King arranged for the Prince to come speak with him directly at least once a year: face-to-face, mouth-to-mouth. They’d speak in their language in a way no stranger could understand. Because the strangers could not comprehend the tone of the King, they were unable to interrupt the King’s speech with his son. And through that uninterrupted speech understood by only the King and Prince, the royal father and the royal son renewed their connection every year.

After he tells the story, Netivot Shalom says this King represents Avinu Malkeinu—our Parent, our Sovereign (more traditionally, “our Father, our King”) in Heaven. On top of that, the Prince represents the royal people Israel. The secret tone through which Avinu Malkeinu speaks to us can be heard at least once a year when we hear the Shofar (ram’s horn), as we hear blown every year on Rosh Hashanah (Netivot Shalom II, pp. 123-124).

During the majority of the year, we find ourselves away from God and from sacred community. Even when we’re among friends—we’re on Earth and, from God’s perspective in Heaven, we’re amidst strangers. It’s easy to get distracted from God’s Royal word when we’re so preoccupied with the physical world and the modern world. But on Rosh Hashanah, we hear the secret tones of God’s love for us loud and clear in our sanctuary. When we hear the sound of the Shofar, we are reminded of God’s holiness that permeates our physical lives, and that God’s word brought us to the time and place where we stand today.

When we hear God’s breath blasting through that horn, we hear something that can only make sense to us only if we are willing to be part of that conversation. But we still must ask: What can these ancient melodies mean?

Many times, you will hear me say that Judaism provokes more good questions than good answers. Our answers differ from one person to the next, but we all gather together to ask questions as a community. When we hear the Shofar this year, what will be God’s secret message to us? What does God need to say to us this year? And, knowing that it is so easy to feel removed from God, what is that “certain special task” God sends us off to complete year after year?

As we gather and hear the Shofar this Rosh Hashanah, let’s listen for some questions. And nobody else will understand them, but we might even hear some answers.


About jonahrank

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