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.

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6 Responses to “A Different Approach to Rosh Hashanah”

  1. DOROTHY WIZER Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 4:13 am #

    FIRST, SORRY I HAD TO MISS THIS MORNING’S SESSION.
    NOW, FOR A RESPONSE….AS SHEEP I SEE PASSIVE , JUST FOLLOW THE LEADER.
    AS A MEMBER OF THE TROOPS I HAVE TAKEN AN ACTIVE ROLE IN COMMUNITY, HOPEFULLY MAKING A DIFFERENCE THAT IS GOOD IN G-D’S SIGHT, AND I WILL HAVE THE ENERGY TO DO GOOD IN THE YEAR TO COME.

  2. Tamar Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 7:59 am #

    What a masculine way of looking at things. Soldiers, troops, where do they get us? where did they get us all along history? Violence, violence and more violence. where’s the pride in that? what’s good about killing? injuring? abusing? turturing? and the list can go on and on…

    It’s true that the metaphor today of “herd of sheep” is not so positive – visualising mainly “sheep to the slaughter”
    but in those days of our fathers – sheep were their livelihood, a major part of their lives that ensured their existance.
    Until today sheep take an important part in this planet survival, living in mutual benefit with the earth – we humans should learn from them how to give and take / take and give in a win-win relationship.

    Wishing us all a peaceful Shanah Tova!
    Tamar

  3. ellen Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 3:13 pm #

    I think that Tamar has a point if she is viewing Torah through the eyes of today’s political activism. However in a longer view, the king reviews the troops who are pledged to protect and defend their land and country. That is a powerful and peaceful amage.

    Shana tova

  4. Debra Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 2:23 pm #

    I really like the idea of “the troops” vs. the sheep. It definately empowers me and allows me to look at Rosh Hashona in a totally different light…….as a day to renew my allegience to God and to Judaism. A choice that I make instead of sitting in Temple “hoping” for the best and to be seen in the best light. I will definately be thinking of all of this tomorrow night.

    L’shana Tova

  5. Zusel ben Shlomo Friday, September 18, 2009 at 2:47 pm #

    Tamar, In the spirit of Melton, I respectfully disagree with your negative characterizaation of”troops. ” Since the main point of the alternative translation is to contemplate the whole world mobilized to do the work of God, the image that came to my mind was 250,000 Jews marching on Washington to demand freedom for Soviet Jews.

    In 5750 American Jews were truly a “Troop” striving to do God will. I do not see that unity today, but rather a milling mass of individuals, each going h/h own way as in the tiem of the Judges.

    Zusel ben Shlomo,
    Melton Grad.

  6. Meir Zimand Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 6:22 am #

    Hi Morey, I hope to see you tomorrow in St. Louis. One difference I see between sheep and troops is that sheep are counted as individuals but troops are a group. I other words we are judged as a people and therefore most act as a people and not as just as an individual.

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