Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Second Day Rosh Hashana Sermon

Let's see if I can recollect what I said:

Hume (?) notes that just because the sun has risen everyday doesn't mean it will rise tomorrow.
Such skepticism, rather than being the enemy of religiosity, is necessary for it -- after all, if you are confident the sun will rise tomorrow, you will not be appropriately thankful for its rising when it does, but if you are skeptical, then its rising will seem as a miracle and you will thank God accordingly.

Children listen to stories in the same way: they perhaps purposefully forget what happened and allow themselves to be excited when the story "surprises" them with an ending they've heard before, because they have allowed themselves to be skeptical that the story will end the same way in the current reading.
It is this mindset that characterizes a reverent reading of Torah.

However, I must confess (and 'tis the season for confession), I have no such sense of suspense during the 2nd day Rosh Hashana reading of that most suspenseful of Torah stories, the Akedah. Why? Because on 1st day Rosh Hashana, we've just read that Abraham's seed will be continued through Isaac, so you know that Isaac will not be killed.

What does puzzle me is the maftir reading: what the $^*@ is the deal with celebrating a new year on the first day of the seventh month? Why not the first day of the first month?

Actually, Judaism has many "new year's" days: including that first day of the first month (interestingly, both Purim, celebrated shortly before this "New Year" and Passover, celebrated shortly after, borrow in their rituals and observances, elements of the Persian New Year's festival of Norouz), Rosh Hashana and Tu B'Shevat. And Judaism is typical of many traditions in moving the New Year away from an original New Year's celebration in early Spring. But Judaism differs in moving the New Year to the Fall.

In general, Judaism has two holiday seasons: a series of Spring holidays starting in mid-winter with Tu B'Shevat, continuing through Purim, Passover, the Omer and Pentacost, and a series of Fall holidays starting with the period of mourning leading up to Tisha B'Av, through the High Holidays and Sukkoth (three holidays in one, including Val Kilmer's favorite holiday: Simchas Torah! < / Top Secret >) and finally, after a break, ending with Hannukah, which is, in a way, a substitute for Sukkoth, which at some points could not be observed.

The first holiday season celebrates the planting and the first fruits. The second season observes the period of worrying that one's crops might fail and the celebrates the harvest when they don't.

Judaism also has two key captivity/freedom narratives each of which marks a beginning of the Jewish faith. In the first narrative, after the Hebrew people are founded by Abraham, they end up in captivity in Egypt, then, following the Exodus, we receive the Torah at Sinai, which dictates Jewish law. In the second narrative, we are expelled from the Holy Land and made captive in Babylon wherein the Jewish faith as we know it today begins to develop. The Spring Holiday season, with it's un-celebrated New Year, largely commerates the first beginning of the Jewish faith and the Fall Holiday season, although Sukkoth does partially commemorate the Exodus, celebrates the second beginning of the Jewish faith.

Indeed, on Rosh Hashana, we read from Jeremiah, who is linked with the Deuteronomic school which has given us so much of Jewish practice as we know it today. What is the message of Jeremiah and Deuteronomy, etc? That Judaism can survive, and even grow without the Temple sacrifices. Instead of sacrifice, we justify, to borrow a term from Christian soterology, ourselves by "Torah [study], [prayer] service [which double meaning is present in Hebrew as well as English -- does the double meaning originate in the Hebrew?], and deeds of loving concern". As for sacrifice: what does Abraham say to Isaac before the Akedah? "God will see to his own sacrifice".


This is kinda a summary -- I guess I went a little long with the sermon, but people complimented me nonetheless: I think they may even have been sincere! :)

but if you are skeptical, then its rising will seem as a miracle and you will thank God accordingly.

This is setting off a chain of thoughts that after fifteen minutes looks promising. Thank you alberich.
You're welcome, olvlzl.

Actually, it occured to me that the line "God will see to his own sacrifice" can have some very diverse interpretations: from a "true belief involves some skepticism" point of view, which I am taking, the line answers the question "if God is so powerful, why does he need you to sacrifice to Her?" with "She doesn't". Which is reminiscent of a Chasidic Rebbe's (I forget which one) analogy regarding prayer:

in a small town, the night watchman calls out every hour -- is the purpose to wake the town? no the purpose is to keep the watchman alert and attentive to his duties; so it is with prayer whose purpose is not to alert an omniscient God but to keep us alert

OTOH, a reasonable Christian interpretation is that this line refers to God providing Jesus.

There are a thousand paths to one destination, I reckon, nu?
Simhas Torah is Val Kilmer's favorite holiday? Mine too! I wonder if I will get to be Batman one day?
You've not seen the movie Top Secret!, then, I take it? It's an Zucker, Abrahams, Zucker movie (the same crew that brought us Airplane! and the Naked Gun movies) and rather bizarre (the WWII French Resistance is fighting East Germans who speak Yiddish ... and every character in the movie seems to be Jewish) and quite funny.
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