Rabbi Kenneth Brander on Tefilla
In our Rosh Hashanah prayer liturgy, we are introduced to a plethora of personalities that are part of one particular narrative. In the Torah readings, we encounter Sarah, Avraham, Hagar, and Yitzchak. In the Haftarah readings, it is Channah and the “Bnei Hagolah,” the survivors of the exile living in the diaspora. In the introduction to the shofar blasts, it is the children of Korach.
Each one of these personalities has something in common. They have all had their own personal hellish experiences. Sarah and Avraham first face childlessness, only for Avraham to be commanded to sacrifice their beloved, long-awaited son, Yitzchak. Yitzchak was fated to overcome the traumatic experience of being the survivor of an attempted human sacrifice. He ascends the mountain together with his father as part of a family but descends the mountain alone. Hagar was banished from her home, only to watch her young son nearly die in front of her very eyes. Channah, unable to conceive, is rebuffed by the religious leadership when she arrives in the Tabernacle, a place where she should receive solace in dealing with her predicament. The “B’nei Hagolah,” diaspora Jewry, have witnessed the devastation of their families, the destruction of their communities, and the abuse of their wives and children. The children of Korach have lost their families and their support structures.
All these personalities have been through their own personal “Gehinnom”. Yet despite their challenges, their darkness and difficulty, they nonetheless connect to God. They still embrace eternal ideals. They have the courage to cast out the darkness to live lives of purpose and meaning. They make the decision to commit to their Jewish, monotheistic destiny and to strengthen their personal relationship with God.
This is the second of three thoughts on Teshuva, Tefilla and Tzedaka from Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone