Archive | September, 2009

A Different Approach to Rosh Hashanah

16 Sep

Today I had the honor of studying together with a group of Melton Mini-School alumni in Boca Raton.  In preparation for  Rosh Hashanah,  we considered the Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah (1:2) which states:

At four times the world is judged: On Pesach, for the crops. On Shavuot, for the fruits of the tree. On Rosh Hashanah, all the world passes before Him like benei maron, as  it  says,  “He that fashions the hearts of them all, that  considers all their doings.” (Psalms 33:15) And on Sukkot, they are judged for water.

What is the meaning of benei maron

Answering this question has a powerful impact upon the way we understand the celebration of the New Year.

The most common translation is that it means “like sheep” – based on the aramaic word for sheep, pronounced amar.  This translation has paved the road to the imagery conjured up in the central prayer unetane tokef, which presents the metaphor of passing before God on this day like sheep before the shepherd, as he decides the fate of each and every one.

IMG_0381-764645However, versions of the Mishnah found in Eretz Yisrael, even into the 12th-14th century, paint a very different picture.  Instead of claiming that we pass before God kivnei maron, an alternate reading indicates that all of humankind passes before God כבנומרון – kivenumeron – a Greek word meaning a “regiment” or “battalion.” That is to say, that on Rosh Hashanah, all human beings pass before God as legions of soldiers passing before the king.

 What a very different image!  Instead of passing before God in as sheep – weak and submissive – we march before the ruler of the world as legions of loyal soldiers, paying tribute to our king of kings, as He reviews the troops, and acknowledges their tribute.

How might such an image change one’s perspective on the spirit of Rosh Hashanah? 

May we be blessed with a year of great joy, great pride, and great accomplishments.