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Rosh Hashanah Gems: Prayer Insights

Rosh Hashanah Gems: Prayer Insights

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These Rosh Hashanah Gems are filled with new, inspiring material that explain and elucidate many of the prayers we say on this holiday. They are intended to both entertain and educate the audience between prayers. They are rich with Jewish wisdom, wit and joy, and will help bring greater meaning to both committed Jews and casual congregants. Below is a synopsis of the Gems.

The Evening Service

Passing Jewish values on to the next generation. (The Shema) (p.30)
The Shema is the oldest and greatest Jewish prayer. Its words have sustained Jews for thousands of years. Part of its power is that it contains a passage that tells us how to pass our values on to the next generation. What is needed for us to succeed in this? And what does it have to do with Reb Meir getting people to give their money to charity?

Shall Your New Year be Good, or Happy? (p.44)
Have you ever noticed that the traditional greeting on Rosh Hashanah is: "L'shanah tovah tikatev." "May you be inscribed for a good year," but on January 1st, we wish each other a "Happy New Year."  Why is it that we wish each other a "Shanah Tovah", rather than "Shanah Sameach," a happy one? Don't we want to be happy? What is the profound connection between what is good and what makes us happy?

The Morning Service

A daughter's wedding, a heartfelt prayer (p.100)
Shir hama'alot mima'amakim, "Out of the depths of our heart we call to G-d". Before we say the Shir Hamalot, a moving bit of scientific proof demonstrates that true prayer is from the heart. No one understood this better than Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, one of the most extraordinary figures in the history of Jewish spirituality. We'll learn the moving story of how he used this principle to select the right man for the all-important task of blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah.

Levi Yitzchak's defense before G-d (p.117)
Not only was Rabbi Yizchak a deeply spiritual man, he was also a fighter, who stood up for the Jewish people in front of G-d. No one understood more clearly than he that if Rosh Hashanah was a time of judgment, than the Jewish people needed a defending counsel to plead with G-d. One year he came up with a brilliant argument to convince G-d to be merciful with his people, and we'll see how his example should inspire us all to fight for the spiritual lives of our community.

The metaphor of G-d as King (any page)
For much of human history, the metaphor of G-d as King was very helpful and effective. But today, for most of us, the metaphor of a king is a bit remote, so let's focus on it for a moment. It message is powerful and a Chasidic Master will introduce us to a great Professor who will show us how.

On forgiveness (p.126)
A rabbi asks his congregation during the High Holiday services: What must a person do before asking G-d for atonement for their sins?  Someone yells out: Sin! That's actually a good answer-we'll see how. But a better answer is a critical facet of the High Holidays that many are not aware of. We'll learn about this facet and see how it is the most difficult, but also the most critical and rewarding aspect of forgiveness during the high holidays.

Our Father, Our King (p.152)
On Rosh Hashanah we define G-d's relationship with us as, "Avinu Malkenu, Our Father, our King." This double relationship reminds me of a meaningful and very funny story regarding Abraham Lincoln that will give us insight into how to approach G-d on these days of awe.

The key to unlocking the gates of mercy (p.152)
During the early part of the second century, the Talmud tells us, there was a terrible drought in Israel. The people turned to Rabbi Eliezer, a man of unquestionable holiness, who prayed with all his might for rain, to no avail. Then, Rabbi Akiva suddenly stepped up and with a quick prayer, "Our Father, our King…", and the heavens opened. Why were Rabbi Akiva's prayers answered and not Rabbi Eliezer's? The Talmud's fascinating answer gives us the key to unlock the gates of mercy during these holidays.

The Ultimate Bailout Plan (p.154)
The last line in the prayer Avinu Malkeinu has an incredibly rich history. We'll see how it transformed over the centuries from being an expression of our trembling before G-d to a much more confident expression of our belief in G-d's ultimate Bailout Plan for his people. And we'll see how this transformation so succinctly expresses the theme of the high holidays-how we can turn a loan of blessings from G-d into spiritual profits in the year to come.

The Musaf Service

 And All Believe (p.203)
"Ve-Chol Maaminim, And All Believe".  This is a beautiful prayer that is said on both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur." The word maaminim is very powerful-it implies not just belief but also trust, and comes from the same root as the word Amen. We'll then ask the question: How many passages in the Torah discuss our forefathers' belief in G-d? We'll learn the shocking answer, as well as what it implies about the incredibly deep meaning of this prayer regarding unconditional faith in the almighty.

Will we be sheep, or soldiers?  (p.223)
In the "Unetaneh Tokef" prayer, one of the most stirring of Rosh Hashanah, we say the following: All human beings pass before G-d for judgment on this day like "bnei maron." "Bnei maron" is an ambiguous phrase. It has two interpretations that are shockingly different. What does the Talmud teach us about this? And how does a story about Kruschev and Stalin reaffirm the Talmud's teaching on how we must act in our daily lives?

Why cry? Say L'Chayim! (p.224)
"The origin of the human being is dust and we return to dust." An elderly man was once praying these somber words, and drenching his prayer book with tears due to his tragic sorrow over his mortality. A young Chassid saw the man and helped him to see things differently. In this final gem, we will learn a deep, moving and meaningful lesson about how we can not only overcome our fear of life's briefness, but actually transform that knowledge into a wellspring of constant joy-the ability to cry L'Chayim to life.

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