Sign In Forgot Password

Drasha First Day of Rosh Hashana 2014

09/29/2014 04:52:46 PM


I want to wish the entire community a ketivah vechatimah tova. My heart felt thanks go to the members and staff of the shul who work so incredibly hard so that we have a place where we can daven and live such vibrant Jewish lives. May all who work ltzarchei Tzibur be blessed by Hashem with every imaginable blessing in the coming year.


Something happened to us all this past summer - beginning with the kidnapping of Gilad Shaer, Naftali Frankel, Eyal Yifrach, through the bombarding of thousands and thousands of rockets on israeli civilians, attempted terror infiltrations, the discovery of tunnels built to kidnap israeli citizens, the ground war, the loss of 70 israeli soldiers and civilians - and to this I unapologetically add the tragic loss of thousands of palestinian civilians, whose death is entirely the fault of Hamas but which is tragic nonetheless. And for us in the diaspora - more and more of a sense of isolation, disbelief, anger - media bias, antisemitism, calls for boycotts of israel, synagogues in France and elsewhere attacked by mobs.

this is a summer that changed us all, and should not be forgotten so quickly.


we have a tradition - it is the reason that we are all here today, that Rosh hashanah is a day of judgement. On this day it is written,and on yom kippur sealed.


Where does that tradition come from?

the gemara in tractate rosh hashanah answers that that it is hinted at in this verse


אֶרֶץ אֲשֶׁר־יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֶיךָ דֹּרֵשׁ אֹתָהּ תָּמִיד עֵינֵי יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֶיךָ בָּהּ מֵרֵשִׁית הַשָּׁנָה וְעַד אַחֲרִית שָׁנָה


a land which the LORD thy God careth for; the eyes of the LORD thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year


its a beautiful verse, my personal favorite -   about the unique nature of the land of Israel. the land of israel is the place that Hashem loves most, his eyes are constantly on it, from the beginning of the year and to the end.


which the talmud explains to mean,

מראשית השנה נדון מה יהא בסופה


at the beginning of the year it is judged for what will be at the end -


and i find this fact truly remarkable, the clearest source that we have for this day being rosh hashanah, yom hadin, this fateful, most important day, is from a verse dealing with the uniqueness of , of Hashem's love, for the land of Israel.


as the Talmud asks - what do you mean Hashem is doresh - examines, judges the land of Israel - surely he judges every land - and the answer is

אלא כביכול אינו דורש אלא אותה, ועל ידי אותהדרישה שדורשה דורש את כל הארצות עמה:


yes, its as if in truth only the land of israel is judged, and the rest of the world is judged according to what the land of israel needs.

and friends, this idea, that the land of israel is at the centre, the source and the main point of this day of judgement, should occupy our thoughts on this solemn day.


one of the biblical figures whose merit we invoke on Rosh hashanah is noach - that truly righteous, uniquely righteous figure


There is a remarkable insight of the hasidic master, the Noam elimelech asks why the torah specifies that Noach was a righteous man in his generations, in the plural

and he answers

דהנה בכל דור ודור יש שורש לתקן מצוה מיוחדת יותר משאר מצות


every generation, each and every generation,  has a special mitzvah that it is responsible for focusing on

there is an idea - i encourage everyone to take it seriously, that each individual has a special mitzvah that there osul connects to. we all have to do our best to keep the entire torah, but there is room for specialization. some people connect to the mitzvah of sukkah or lulav - for others it is tzedakah, or shabbat, tzitzit or whatever

and that is a beautiful thing, and we all should try and find our special mitzvah and really connect to it


but the Noam Elimelech adds a new dimension to this idea. as well as mitzvot that we as individuals can connect to - every generation has a mitzvah that Hashem expects us, demands of us, to ensure the fulfillment of.


what is our mitzvah? what is expected of our generation,

many things come to mind

strengthening mitzvah observance, torah study, reclaiming shabbat as a central value of jewish life,. mikvah

but to me, i have no doubt what is top  of the list. what Hashem demands and expects of this generation, of the jewish people alive today.


That mitzvah is exactly the same idea that we have seen lies at the very heart of Rosh hashanah

אֶרֶץ אֲשֶׁר־יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֶיךָ דֹּרֵשׁ אֹתָהּ


as Hashem is doresh - places it first, as it were worries about it cares about it, holds the world accountable for how it treats us

so must we -

if Hashem cares about the land and people of israel that means we have to

and this is THE mitzvah for this generation


earlier this summer i was at a simcha. and being at a happy occasion, i fell into a conversation with a man - a religious, , actually a really great observant jew - about anti semitism around the world, in europe and even here.

and i said - ultimately there is only one place where we are safe

and he said to me - yes, you are right - we should move to australia


i said to him australia? what are you talking about?

he said, australia is a vast empty country, we should go and live there, and no one will bother us.


i said to him - what about Israel.

he seemed surprised - israel is dangerous he said, and besides its not good for all jews to live in one place, it makes us vulnerable.


i was - and this is rare for me - speechless.


can any jew, look at the events of the last 70 years, let alone the last seven weeks, and for a moment doubt that Hashem is returning our people to our land?

that jewish history goes in one direction?

for one moment do any of us think that what Hashem wants is for jews to move en masse to australia?


if you doubt for a second just look at the focus of eretz yisrael in our prayers for rosh hashanah


how often we invoke simcha lrtezecha, sason lierrecha


וַהֲבִיאֵנוּ לְצִיּוֹן עִירְךָ בְּרִנָּה וְלִירוּשָׁלַיִם בֵּית מִקְדָּשְׁךָ בְּשִׂמְחַת עוֹלָם,


these verses call out to us, our generation, possibly more than to any other generation in history


i want to share with you a picture i cannot get out of my mind


it was the last afternoon of the war. sirens had been going off every 30, 40 seconds. we had seen rockets fall, we had heard the boom of an attack that killed two civilians on the next kibbutz to where we were.


and at the end of the day we went to see an iron dome battery, and meet it soldiers.

we were outside ashkelon, the southern tip perhaps 10 miles from gaza, hundreds of rockets had fallen here.

and the soldier in charge of the unit came out to speak to us.


he wasn't  wearing a kippah, but when he heard we were rabbis, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small sefer tehillim, book of psalms

i carry this with me everywhere he said., we see miracles here every day he added.


and then he pointed to the nearby houses - it was literally the outskirts of ashkelon. the last row of houses - mostly ramshackle, down at heel homes, backing on to open ground. obviously far from a wealthy neighborhood.

these people he said, gesturing at the homes, are the best, simply the best. they don't have much money - but what they have they share. he described how every day, multiple times a day the residents would send over meals - huge pots filled with rice ,chicken, beef, whatever. sometimes the kids would be wearing the same tee shirt for days, but every day they would come with food for us.


and then he said something that i hope never to forget for the rest of my days

he pointed to the pile of iron dome rockets ready to shoot down missiles, each one of these costs 80,000 to shoot he said. the entire system has costed hundreds of millions dollars to develop and implement, almost all of it paid for by the american government, funding provided by congress.


and he turned to us and he said, i want to thank you. Thank us? yes, thank you he said - look at these homes - can you imagine how much damage, how many thousands of israelis would have been killed how much devastation this war would have done if we hadn't had iron dome.

if YOU the jews of america had not been able to persuade congress to let us have iron dome, who knows how many us would have been killed


and i had a rare moment of clarity. A vision of the power and the unity of the jewish people. there in that open field outside ashkelon i realized what it means to be a jew in the 21st century, that this soldier operating an iron dome - and these residents of a down at heel neighborhood - and us, sitting here so far far away - we are one, with the same task  - to help save these people from unspeakable enemies.


Iron dome, and countless other ways in which Israel is being protected - that is not obvious, not a natural state of affairs. it didn't happen because one well connected jew happened to mention it to a senator friend one day over golf. it happens because hundreds of thousands, millions of American jews have made it their business, their mitzvah to ensure that whatever they can do to help israel, they will do. and its easy to be cynical or detached and say - schlep to washington, aipac norpac, email the white house, go to an israeli fair, write to the new york times - what difference does it make

but let me tell you this - standing there in ashkelon having seen the terror that these rockets inflict i saw so clearly with my own eyes - this is what's at stake - the collective effort of am yisrael, especially here in america


friends Israel is a beautiful diverse argumentative place - it is not our job as a community to take one side or another, and certainly not to censor or stifle views we disagree with  in many of the hugely important issues that israel debates. we can debate it, argue with it, but when its people are in danger we have only one choice - we stand with it - with all our might


and so this rosh hashanah, after a bloody and exhausting summer  , as we see newer and more terrifying enemies than ever enter the region, what does Hashem ask of us ?


I think the answer is he asks us to  everything that we possibly can to stand between the people of Israel and their enemies.


when we read of boycotting campaigns on campus or unions , and sit back, or when we read of charities being allowed to funnel money to fund terror , when we are indifferent to media bias, and we think there are more important issues to worry about, or that someone else will do something about it, we are wrong, because what is going on, even in this country,  is part of a campaign waged by Israel's enemies here and all over the world to weaken Israel as part of a  coordinated attempt towards bringing about the complete delegitimization of the state of israel and weakening of Israel's right to defend itself.

friends look around us today, we are part of the wealthiest strongest freest Jewish community in history  - and we have been given these gifts  so we can defend Israel

and if we are too blase or too disengaged or too preoccupied to be bothered to do whatever we can to protect Israel then I am afraid to say that there will  be no forgiveness for us…for if we allow israel to be weakened on our watch we as a generation will have failed in ways that will be beyond measure


so as we blow the shofar now, I really feel the thoughts, and yes the tears, of this past year so intensely. May our shofar blasts ascent with our prayers for all of us here, all our hopes and dreams, for healing comfort, protection, guidance, warmth, love.

May we as a community only grow and be strengthened, may we continue to inspire and teach, strengthen israel by strengthening the Jewish people

And at this solemn moment, we ask Hashem, whose eyes are

עֵינֵי יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֶיךָ בָּהּ מֵרֵשִׁית הַשָּׁנָה וְעַד אַחֲרִית שָׁנָה


To gather us , raise us and strengthen us, the entire  house of israel, the land of israel, for a year of blessings, and a year of peace


Sun, February 25 2024 16 Adar I 5784