Rabbi Simon Jacobson: Welcome to another episode of Toward a Meaningful Life. Tonight, in the spirit of an article that I just wrote called, “A Voter’s Guide to
Rosh Hashanah,” and since we’re in the weeks that precede Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and the High Holiday season, I felt it was opportune to talk about this topic.
So what exactly does “A Voter’s Guide to Rosh Hashanah” mean? Why would a voter need a guide to Rosh Hashanah? Well, first of all, in an interesting way, the greatest freedom of all perhaps, as they say in democracy, is the freedom of free elections; the freedom to be able to vote and appoint our leaders.
Well, Rosh Hashanah is also, in a sense, the same concept but on a more cosmic level because Rosh Hashanah is the day when human beings have the opportunity to elect and appoint G-d as our leader. I have always found that to be a very powerful message that Judaism teaches us—that our relationship with G-d is a two-way street. It’s not just that G-d imposes Himself upon us. We actually have the opportunity and the gift or the responsibility to bring G-d into our lives.
That actually is what the concept of Rosh Hashanah is all about, which is the idea of crowning the sovereign king, but in simple English it means introducing and inviting G-d into our lives. So in an interesting way, Rosh Hashanah, which comes right before the elections here in the United States in November, is the concept of an election, a voter’s guide.
Of course, one can’t help but mention the fact that Senator Lieberman’s nomination as Vice Presidential candidate to the Democratic party is also a big factor here because suddenly, in the glare and spotlight of the news, everyone is hearing about observant and Orthodox Jews. There’s no doubt that as the media follows Lieberman to the synagogues that he will pray in on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it definitely is a great opportunity to satisfy the curiosity and educate all of us in what the deeper message of Rosh Hashanah is, and what the blowing of the shofar is all about, and so on.
So some of the questions I’ll pose to you tonight are: How can we use Rosh Hashanah to turn over a new leaf? What do we do when we feel stuck in our lives, when patterns seem to play themselves out in our lives again and again?
People tell me that they’ve been to Rosh Hashanah services year after year after year and it’s always the same old story, the same prayers. It always has some nostalgic effect, but every resolution for the New Year lasts about a day, a minute, or maybe an hour, so how can we make a Rosh Hashanah or New Year more meaningful?
Now my personal interest is in discussing it in a more general sense: what is the universal message, the national message, of Rosh Hashanah? Is there something there that all of us as a nation, the people of the United States, can learn from?
Out the outset I should begin with what a beginner or outsider might perceive as one of the strangest customs of Rosh Hashanah, which is that the shofar is blown. Now the shofar is a ram’s horn that is carved out into an instrument. Essentially, when you blow into it at one end, it emits a sound, a blast, that sounds not quite like a trumpet, but like a simple wailing type of cry.
The mitzvah of Rosh Hashanah, the commandment or tradition of the day, is to blow the shofar. There are many reasons given for this, but the real question of course is, what is the significance and the deeper meaning of the shofar blowing, and most importantly, what does it mean to us?
Unfortunately, we live in a time when religion has been rendered irrelevant to many people, meaning that we perhaps do it out of guilt or obligation or out of ritual or habit, or for our children. But the ritual has become divorced from the spiritual, which means that personal relevance isn’t always experienced through the traditions. I speak particularly from a Jewish perspective, because many Jews often find their spiritual inspiration in other pastures, perhaps more than they do in their Judaism.
So for me it’s always a personal challenge. Can we take a tradition, in this case Rosh Hashanah, and can we in some way glean from the holiday a message that has personal relevance?
I think the blowing of the shofar is a perfect challenge to us because here’s this seemingly odd type of custom, the mitzvah of Rosh Hashanah, where someone gets up and actually blows into this ram’s horn. What exactly is the significance of the shofar blowing? What message does it have for us?
Now if I were to say to you out there, “Did you ever hear the sound of your own soul? What does your soul sound like? What does your soul look like for that matter?” How would you like the opportunity to be able to hear the sound of your own soul?
I think most of us would be intrigued by that concept. The sound of our soul. Usually the soul is not identified with a particular physical sound. A soul is a soul, a spiritual entity.
But you do hear the terms “soul music,” music that touches the soul, or that a certain poem touched my soul. Or love is an experience of the soul.
So we do know about how the soul exercises and expresses itself in different ways in our lives. But actually, the sound of the shofar shows us the closest approximation of what our soul sounds like.
So let’s do a little Bible study here. In Genesis, you find that Adam and Eve are created on a Friday, which is, of course, Rosh Hashanah, the creation of the human race, man and woman, created equally.
In the short and succinct description of Adam and Eve is the story of all our lives. And what is the story? G-d took earth from the ground and blew into it, infused into it a soul of life (vayipach b’apov nishmas chayim).
In other words, the earth of the ground is the body and the soul of life makes it come alive. Our body, as we know, is approximately 80% water along with other elements. But what makes it alive, what distinguishes it from a corpse, G-d forbid, is a spirit.
I’m not getting into a discussion what kind of spirit, the fact of the matter is, it behooves us all, whether you’re an atheist or a non-believer, to understand the difference between a corpse and a live body.
From the Biblical perspective it’s a very simple difference. The difference is: the spirit, the soul of life (nishmas chayim or neshamah in Hebrew). The word for neshamah is spirit. Neshamah also means, interestingly, the word breath. In Hebrew, when you pronounce the word neshamah in a different way it means breath, because it says vayipach b’apov, G-d breathed the soul of man into the earth. So breath, as we know today with meditation and breathing exercises, is an expression of spirit.
What we do on Rosh Hashanah to recreate that moment is to use that breath that is within us, the breath of G-d, to blow into a ram’s horn and a sound comes out of it. That sound is the sound of your breath, the sound of your soul.
The obvious question is, why a ram’s horn? Why can’t we just get up and start crying or screaming with our own voices? That also has its own sound. And the interesting answer given in Jewish mysticism is that a ram is the most docile, the tamest, the most domesticated of creatures. It barely has any defenses of its own.
In an interesting way, by blowing into a ram’s horn, we don’t allow man-made activities, man-made speech, man-made expressions to get in the way. In other words, the ram becomes a channel for us as the purest form of soul expression, and that in essence is the significance of the blowing of the shofar.
Now this may be a little complicated for some because I am sharing with you a mystical dimension of the shofar blowing, the concept of soul, but suffice it to say that it is the concept of hearing your own soul, your own inner voice.
When a person actually accesses that part of themselves, that’s the secret to all life’s success. Everything in life originates from how you see yourself and what you really think is your inner voice. And that is the cry of the shofar.
So as a universal message of Rosh Hashanah, we have a message to all human beings on earth that what makes you tick, what makes you who you really are, is your soul. Rosh Hashanah, which is the creation and recreation and the commemoration of the beginning of existence, is an opportunity to get back to that point in our lives. That is what Rosh Hashanah is all about.
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Jacobson: Can we truly hope for real change in our lives? After much that we’ve gone through in our personal lives, the patterns, can we truly experience something new? New rejuvenation? Or do we just give in to the resignation that many of us have that the more things change the more they stay the same?
We have Bob on the line.
Caller: I wanted to discuss with the Rabbi the subject of souls. I’ve been having a lot of theories posted at me from people who discuss religion and I’m somewhat confused about the word “soul.” I know that people of all religious faiths talk about it, but what confuses me, Rabbi, is the fact that when we die, little is known about what happens to the soul. Does it go beyond our bodies, does it leave our bodies, or like a lot of people believe, does it go to heaven? What is your concept of a soul when a person leaves the earth?
Jacobson: Thank you for your call Bob. It’s a great question. So since we’re speaking about Rosh Hashanah and the description of the soul, the Bible puts it this way, “G-d breathed the soul of life into a human being.” There are different definitions of what a soul is. You hear people say that the soul is like a form of electricity, like electricity energizes an appliance, a soul energizes the body. Others describe the soul in the very spiritual sense of it. The best description I’ve ever heard, personally, of what a soul is is with the analogy of a musician or a composer. A composer of music has a vision within his or her spirit and in some way wants to capture or express that vision, that sense, that feeling, that emotion. So they express it through the different sounds of music.
The musical notes that they write are just the body, the vehicle or the channels of the expression. The soul of the music is the vision and feeling, the emotion and the spirit, the message, that the composer has.
So in a sense we can say that if the human race and the entire existence, our universe, is like many musical notes and G-d is the grand Composer, our souls are essentially like the musical notes, the vision of the Creator within us, what He wants of us, and what our purpose is. And that’s really our soul. Our soul is the energy that is a manifestation of the vision of the composer, and when we play out our particular musical note, we fulfill our soul’s purpose.
I think that’s the best definition of soul. So when people ask the question about where the soul goes after death, or for that matter where the soul comes from before birth, the question is based on a flawed premise. Let me ask you a question in reverse.
If somewhat pulls out an electrical plug, where does the electricity go when it leaves the appliance? The answer of course is, it doesn’t go anywhere. It just goes back to its original state. On the contrary, the appliance is where it travels to and it becomes contained in that container for a period of time. But that’s not its natural place.
So when you have electricity energizing an appliance—an air conditioner, a refrigerator, a light bulb—all that’s really happening is that the electricity is being contained, but the electricity is completely omnipresent, because electricity does not really occupy space as we understand time and space.
The same is with the soul and even more so. The soul doesn’t go anywhere. On the contrary, the soul goes somewhere from birth to death, it enters that container. But the soul is an energy, an energy of the musical composer, the Grand Composer, that enters into existence and energizes it.
Unfortunately, when you live on the level of the musical note, the level of the body, we don’t always get in touch with and we don’t always experience that soul dimension.
So let’s go to the next call. Jill, you’re on the air.
Caller: Hi Rabbi. I was wondering if you could tell me the story behind and anything else you can tell me about a person’s soul mate, your beshert or besherta?
Jacobson: Okay, thanks for the call. The fact of the matter is, that Rosh Hashanah is the first beshert, Adam and Eve, so your question is not that out of context. And since we’re talking about souls, of course the next question is about “soul-mate.” I think that getting in touch with your own soul is the secret to getting in touch with your soul-mate. Many people look for a soul-mate and they haven’t even mated (bonded) with their own soul don’t even have a mate of their own soul. In other words, if you’re not in touch with your own soul, how do you expect to find a soul-mate?
So the key here is to be able to identify what is your own spirit, your own soul, and what is G-d’s vision of your life? This is the question that each of us should ask, and I say this across the board to Jew and non-Jew. The question of Rosh Hashanah is international and non-denominational, one for all people. And that is, who are you and what is your calling? That really is the question of Rosh Hashanah. When Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge and afterwards was ashamed, the Bible says, “G-d came into the Garden and Adam hid from G-d. And G-d said to him, ‘Ai’eka? Where are you?’” The question was asked actually by a Russian minister to Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (whose birthday we celebrate today, the 18th of Hebrew month of Elul, as well as the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov). When Rabbi Shneur Zalman was arrested, the minister, who was an educated man, came to him and asked, “Why did G-d say, ‘Where are you?’ Doesn’t G-d know where Adam is?”
It’s a longer story, but just to make a long story short, Rabbi Shneur Zalman responded that G-d asks this question to every human being. “Where are you? What have you done with your life? You’ve been given so many and so many years. What have you accomplished?”
Sometimes you can be sitting near someone and they’re right there, but still, you ask them where they are because they’re spaced out. It’s like they’re not there spiritually, psychologically, or emotionally.
So “where are you” doesn’t always mean physically. Where are you means I don’t recognize you. You’ve disappeared. G-d said to Adam, “What is your calling? Why are you here on this earth?”
And that’s the question that each of us has to ask ourselves when we come to Rosh Hashanah. When you ask that question, that’s the way to begin to find your soul-mate.
Let’s go to Shifra.
Caller: Hello Rabbi. Well, Hashem is “in the field” now that it’s the month of Elul. My question is about the shofar you had mentioned and it has a connection with two parts: that there is wailing (this is a time for introspection, a time to look inside and to take a graphic look at what we were and how we spent the year) and there’s the court of din and the court of mercy rachmanus.
In terms of what shall be our pronouncement with the blowing of the horn and the different kind of ram horn and the shofar is that the Prosecutor that’s ready to prosecute us gets very confused, and when he does that, Hashem goes into the court of mercy, and the bottom line is and with His love and His mercifulness, He gives us another look and shows His love for us.
In other words, we go down in and do this work and we know that somehow at the end of Rosh Hashanah, we come out renewed as if it’s the beginning of a new creation.
My question is, where does the Akeidah come into this in terms of the ram’s horn and the sacrifice?
Jacobson: Okay, the Akeidah that Shifra is referring to is the binding of Isaac, when Abraham was told by G-d to bring Isaac as an offering. One of the reasons that we use a ram’s horn is that instead of Isaac, Abraham saw that there was a ram caught in the bushes, and he offered the ram instead. And the ram is a memory, a zicoron, of the binding of Isaac, which is considered to be one of the greatest acts of faith in history.
I would say briefly that when a person is committed to their soul, essentially they are ready to overcome any obstacle. It’s true that it’s a complicated and controversial question of how Abraham even considered to bring his son as an offering, but the point is that G-d never intended him to offer Isaac on the Akeidah. The intention was really to see if Abraham was truly committed all the way to G-d, to the point where he would even give up his love, so to speak, for his own son.
So the fact is, the commitment to one’s soul can make the entire difference in your life. The truth is, if you know what your calling is, then your life is not driven by the rhythms of social circles or other pressures outside of you. I often find people, who may be otherwise very intelligent, whose lives are really controlled by other people or, if not so much by other people, by a certain social trend.
And that’s a result of not having a grounding or an anchor of knowing your own calling. When you find someone who has really found their own personal voice, who knows what they’re here for, there’s nothing that can stop that, because they know that they’re here for that purpose and everything in life becomes focused.
You see sometimes a businessperson who’s really invested in making his or her business successful. Everywhere they go, every person they meet at a party, at a social scene, in the religion scene, they’re always looking to network and find how that person can help them in their business, which is a very interesting type of analogy. There it’s business.
But if you have your personal, spiritual higher calling, then everything you do becomes focused because you ask, “How does that help me fulfill what I have to do in this world?” which is really the Rosh Hashanah meditation and experience.
Let’s go to Chaim on the air.
Caller: Hello, how are you, Rabbi? I’d just like to comment on the question of the day, that some people make their resolutions every year on Rosh Hashanah and right after Rosh Hashanah they forget about it and go right on with their pattern of life. So at some point, some people are resigned to the fact that this is it, this is what I am and I can’t change. So I’d just like to comment that every time you put up a fight and even if you don’t win it, you have become uplifted. So one day you will be so uplifted from fighting every time that you will win, so you should not resign.
Jacobson: That’s a very good way of looking at it and I thank you for that insight. Let’s take a break and we’ll be back in a moment.
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Jacobson: Welcome back. We have David on the air.
Caller: Hi Rabbi Jacobson. I sent you an email the other day. My only fear sometimes is that when Hashem called out to Adam and when he calls out to me and says, “Where are you?” that He should only stop calling. I’ve been trapped at home a lot lately and going through a lot of anger about a painful condition I have. It’s kind of hard to get my focus on where my soul is and where I want to go when I’m in pain. I read your chapter in Toward a Meaningful Life several times and I read something in this week’s Haftorah which I read today after going through a terrible day yesterday, which says that in order to elicit true kindness from Hashem we have to conduct ourselves in a special way and that’s through acts of loving kindness amongst each other.
My mother is in a nursing home and I want to call her up and say, “How do you feel being abandoned like we were abandoned when we were children?” or to my brother who stole my youth, and when you’re angry, how do you get in touch with your soul? Especially now if you can’t walk to shul, what do you do for Rosh Hashanah and things like that?
Jacobson: Well, David, first of all, my heart goes out to you — a person doesn’t always have an answer to questions like that as you know. Sometimes it’s questions like this that defy any type of answer. A fellow came to the Rebbe once and the Rebbe said, “I don’t have answers for you but I can cry with you.”
I guess the fact is that no matter what situation you’re in, the hope that Rosh Hashanah infuses each of us with is the fact that life is recreated every year anew. No matter how seemingly hopeless the situation can be, even the worst of the worst, it means that there is a rebirth, and there’s a renewal that takes place. We don’t always feel it and we can’t always access it, but the only thing I can say to you is that you have to do your part and make your effort, as hard as you can, and G-d fulfills the rest. You don’t have to be too hard on yourself.
About the anger, the fact that you called in and you’re talking to me—I guess you could be talking to other friends as well—is a way of alleviating the anger through communicating with others. One of the things we do before the High Holidays is that we ask forgiveness of people around us, but it’s not just to ask forgiveness, it’s a way of airing out and expressing yourself as I spoke about last Sunday on the show: just being able to express yourself in some way relieves the tension by breaking the silence.
I’m sure you know, David, that anger is something that works against you, even if it’s justified. Ultimately it weakens your spirit and demoralizes you.
Caller: And it makes the pain worse, the mind-body tension.
Jacobson: What I would say is that it’s important to get out of the line of fire by connecting with supportive friends, and to get away from people who incite or in some way elicit the worst inside of you. Hang around and be around people who are really beautiful and who lift your spirit and help you connect.
Will it be easy? Not necessarily. It’s always a battle, especially when you’re in pain.
Now I’m not familiar with the kind of pain that you’re in, and I don’t know if you should even say it on the air, but the point is, whatever it is, you have to do every intervention possible to deal with it if it’s physical pain.
If it’s psychological and emotional, there’s no better solution and no better antidote than in some way connecting to one’s soul. I don’t find ultimately that there’s any other solution to real pain, real psychological loss, or personal loss, than to turn to G-d. Someone once asked one of the Holocaust survivors, “How could you continue to believe in G-d after the Holocaust?” So he answered, “My question is, how can you continue to believe in man after the Holocaust? I have no refuge except G-d.”
Caller: When I read stories like that, I say, what they went through, I can go through. And I have to deal with it.
Jacobson: Well, the key is not to allow yourself to get demoralized. You have to get out of your own space. It says that what one can accomplish on Rosh Hashanah through tears, one accomplishes on Simchas Torah through joy, and maybe you should start dancing now to bring a little joy into your life.
There’s a big misconception. People think that the “Days of Awe,” the High Holiday season, is a day of fright and terror and fear. In truth, it’s not that way at all. It’s actually days of spirit, a holiday, a day of simcha, meaning joy, but the joy of Rosh Hashanah is packaged within a certain seriousness. When you stand before a king, you don’t just dance and make somersaults. However, you have a deep joy inside that you have the opportunity to stand before G-d.
The joy comes out in an apparent way on Sukkot and the second half of the Holiday season. So the truth is, the season that’s coming up is really a two-sided one. It’s not all about the seriousness of judgment, it’s also about the spirit and the celebration of the spirit.
Look, David, you’re here, you’re alive. You have many beautiful qualities about you. The fact that you have the courage to call is I’m sure empowering to others as well. And I wish you a real kesiva v’chasima tova, a real blessed year. Do your little part and G-d will do His great part.
Caller: And hopefully I’ll see you in class.
Jacobson: Thank you David for the call.
On the other side of the coin, as I mentioned earlier, I’d like to address Mr. Lieberman’s bringing Judaism to a very prominent position. I have traveled to some places where I rarely get anyone’s attention and now they start asking me, “What is this thing called the Sabbath? Why do you have a beard? Why do you wear a yarmulke? And what is Rosh Hashanah?”
Of course there are also skeptics who are wondering whether putting a Jew in such a prominent position is even good for the Jews, because it opens up the opportunity for a scapegoat, and we find precedents in Jewish history that whenever a Jew rose to prominent power, it created all kinds of other problems.
So some are not so excited about it and we’ll dedicate the next part of the show to the issue of religion and politics, and whether it’s good to mix the two.
There was a fascinating article recently in the New York Times written by Michael Novack, called “The Founders and the Torah.” He writes that he’s a Roman Catholic who is not voting for the Gore-Lieberman ticket, yet he’s extremely excited and happy about what Lieberman is doing to raise the religious consciousness of this country.
I found it amazing that he basically makes a case that the foundation of this nation, as he puts it, “has Jewish roots.” Instead of using Christian terms like “savior” and “redemption” on our currency and on the dollar bill, the founding fathers used words like “the Creator, judgment, judge and providence” which, as he writes, are unmistakably Jewish words.
He cites John Adams who said that the Jews have done more to civilize the world than any other nation. It’s quite an interesting article, especially coming from someone who isn’t Jewish.
So here’s the question I’d like to ask the listeners: Is it good that a man like Mr. Lieberman can potentially be the Vice President and someday the President of the United States, or does it bring religion too much into the secular world, because it may intrude on the separation of church and state? Will having a religious person in one of the top positions in this country make America a better country, or is it dangerous because he can ultimately make it a fundamentalist one and so on.
Now regarding this issue of religion and politics, my take on it is that there is definitely a danger in the area of the separation of church and state and we don’t want to break that boundary because we don’t want any particular denomination or religion to dictate how we live as human beings. Freedom of religion is a critical freedom, as important as the freedom of expression and the freedom of speech.
However, it’s fascinating that the same founding fathers who instituted such a rigid separation of church and state also would allow the currency to make the statement, “In G-d We Trust,” and other allusions to statements which, while not necessarily religious, clearly have a distinct biblical sound: “All men are created equal.”
They could have written, “All men are equal, or all men are born equal.” So you find that these same founders who stated that there’s a necessity for the separation of church and state still allowed certain religious statements to become part of the overall universal message of this country.
My understanding of it is quite a simple one actually, that the founding fathers never meant to eliminate G-d from the dialogue, from our lives.
What they did want is a non-denominational G-d, so to speak. In other words, “all men are created equal” is critical because if they’re not created by G-d then perhaps they aren’t equal. The monarchs and the despots of the past said some people are more equal than others.
The fact that all the men are created equal (meaning all people of course) gives the right paradoxically and ironically to the atheists to deny G-d. So there’s a certain equality that comes as the result of the belief in G-d, and without it they felt that the Bill of Rights and the basic rights of the people are not guaranteed.
But they are Divinely guaranteed to each of us. Let’s go to Teddy on the air.
Caller: Hello Rabbi. I was listening to you in my car and I was so inspired by you. I’m so happy with the way you walked the last person through who’s in so much pain. It was an inspiration for anyone, and as far as religion and politics, I’m sort of in the middle of it, because I know we need G-d in our lives to keep some sort of balance…
I’m an African-American and I know very little about Judaism, but I’m always drawn to it because of the inspiration and life and the lessons and teachings. I was wondering how your community, yourself, can reach out to folks so that we wouldn’t feel alienated if we wanted to pursue that. Because as a people in this country, with our history, it’s so confused and so lost, and I’m sure there are people like myself who feel the same way and are yearning for that. But then on the other hand you look around and say to yourself, well maybe I wouldn’t be accepted.
Jacobson: Teddy, where are you calling from?
Caller: I’m in Brooklyn actually going to visit family. I’m in my car and I just pulled over; I just got off from work.
Jacobson: Well, when we’re finished with this call, why don’t you leave your name and number with Philip, and then I can call you after the show and answer your question in more detail. But I will say this on the air. First of all, thank you for your question and for your kind words. They are very encouraging and empowering.
I believe, as I was just saying about G-d and politics, that there is a non-denominational G-d who created as all, and no one has a monopoly over that G-d, not Jews, not Buddhists and not Christians and not Moslems. Nobody. Because it’s a G-d who created us all.
Adam and Eve are the father and mother of all human beings, black and white, men and women, whatever color, whatever race, whatever educational background. The key to embracing ourselves as a nation and world of brothers and sisters is recognizing, as I’ve been discussing tonight, the soul in each of us. Each of us has a calling. If someone questions the validity of another human being, no matter what background they have, even the validity of an atheist who doesn’t believe in G-d, they’re questioning the validity of G-d. Because G-d is the one who put that person there.
As I mentioned earlier with the musical notes, every one of us is a musical note. When Mozart presented his first great composition to the Archduke of Austria, the Duke, who was “a connoisseur of music,” said, “Mozart, beautiful, beautiful, but far too many notes.” Can you imagine, this “great expert on music” told Mozart that there were too many notes in the song?
So Mozart wisely replied to him, “Yes, your majesty. But not one more than necessary.” Meaning, every note is indispensable.
So, too, each of us, Teddy, myself, yourself, are needed, and we have to share that message with each other. I don’t know if there’s a more empowering and more relevant and more valid Rosh Hashanah message than that one.
We have Keith on the air.
Caller: I have two questions about Joseph Lieberman. Joseph Lieberman is an Orthodox Jew. Didn’t he read in Shemos (in the book of Exodus) that there was “a new Pharaoh who did not recognize Joseph”? And didn’t the Rabbis claim from that point on that Jews shouldn’t really become leaders over non-Jews? That’s question number one.
And question number two. The fact that the election is going to be during the week of parshas Lech Lecha, does that have any bearing?
Jacobson: Good questions. Do you have answers too?
Caller: I don’t have any answers. That’s why I’m calling you!
Jacobson: Well, briefly put, whether it’s in the Jewish tradition for a man to rise to such power in a non-Jewish world is definitely a question, and you find historical precedents that have caused problems, but on the other hand, you do find that Maimonides and other observant Jews, starting from Mordechai (who was well after Joseph), were clearly in a position of power and actually helped save the Jewish people as a result of that.
So it’s an argument that is not simple, because you could make the argument that Divine Providence has led a person to that position. Is it all right that he is in the Senate, because where do you draw the line? Should a Jew not be in any position? Should he not be a mayor, a governor, a senator? Or he should only avoid President and Vice-President?
It’s a general question of what level of power he should or shouldn’t access. So it’s complicated because there is a case to be made either way. And I don’t know if I’m in a position to render a legal decision on this, and I don’t know if there’s any rabbi in the world who can really say if it was prohibited for him to accept that nomination.
I think of it more in practical terms. The fact is, he made his choice—I’m not in control of his life. If he had asked me personally, if I were a friend of his, we’d weigh the different factors involved.
But the fact is, once he’s in that position and there’s a certain level of acceptance, I as a Jew would not undermine that; on the contrary, I celebrate it. I celebrate the opportunity to educate people about what Judaism is about.
And politically and economically speaking he may end up being a terrible Vice-President or President at some point. And they may blame him as a Jew for being such. But on the other hand, he may be a great leader who’s a great role model. How can anyone argue if he ends up being the type of role model that will actually change the face of this nation and how we view our leaders as role models after all the disillusionment that has taken place in the last 30 years in politics?
That may be a great blessing. And if he were a devout Catholic who was extremely moral, would that be better? I think the fact that he’s Jewish and a moral, ethical person is a really great tribute, and I really see that side of it as a great blessing.
Again, this is not an endorsement or non-endorsement of him, because that has to be judged on the merit of his own political leadership.
Regarding the election taking place during the section of Lech Lecha, I’m sure there’s significance. Lech Lecha is the chapter where Abraham begins to come out and spread monotheism and belief and faith in G-d in the universe, so one can say that Joseph Lieberman is in a way a form of an Abraham. In a way, you can say that if he makes a kiddush Hashem, which means that he sanctifies G-d’s name by demonstrating that he can be an observant Jew and not compromise his position, and at the same time be a good leader, that’s a great kiddish Hashem and in a way, yes, he would be like an Abraham who’s spreading the name of G-d all over the world.
Let’s go to a break.
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Jacobson: Let’s go to Ellen.
Caller: Hello Rabbi. Something irritates me greatly. Joe Lieberman is a person, a man, and he happens to be Jewish. Until he became nominated, he was Joe Lieberman a person who happens to be Jewish. Now he is Joseph Lieberman the Jew. And I hate that. He’s still a person. He’s not identified by his religion, he’s a person, he’s not the Jew, and I wish they would stop making such reference to it.
Every person is a person regardless of his or her religion. It’s not Ellen the Jew or you the Jew, it’s a person who happens to be Jewish or Muslim or whatever. So it’s not really a question; I’m just venting my annoyance.
Jacobson: I’m glad that we can serve as a ventilation service to you and I understand what you’re saying. I think it’s part of the curse of our times where people stereotype one another. And we like to label. Labeling simplifies matters but it just ends up being a stereotype. Is that what you’re referring to?
Caller: I guess so.
Jacobson: Like a stereotype that names people with adjectives or words that, even if they’re not derogatory, definitely pigeonhole.
I appreciate your call Ellen, and by the way, that is the Rosh Hashanah message because it’s about cutting through the labels, the stereotypes, the divisiveness and the divisions that divide us, and getting to the essence of who we are as people.
So thanks for the call.
I want to say in the spirit of the issue, which is a very important one, that we’re all human beings looking for change in our lives—change for the better. No matter how good things are, there’s an expression in Yiddish, Oib gut is gut, is besser nisht besser? If good is good, is better not better?
So there’s always a restlessness that every human being has to grow and achieve and accomplish more in their lives. This time of the year is actually the perfect opportunity for that, but the key, as I was saying earlier, is to get in touch with your calling. Who are you? Ai’ecka—where are you? Where are you in your life? What have you accomplished? Have you come in touch with who your inner voice is, what you’re supposed to be achieving in this world?
The unfortunate fact is, as David said in his call, is that the pain in our lives—whether it’s physical or emotional pain—the fears, the material tentacles that hold us trapped are really our greatest enemy because they don’t allow us to access our inner soul.
That is one of the reasons we go into the synagogue to blow the shofar and to hear the shofar, because we yearn to cut through the barriers and pierce through the layers to be able to hear that inner voice.
There’s no greater blessing than to be able to hear your own soul or another person’s soul because that ultimately is the barometer that helps us navigate the realties of this world. Living in this world, we can easily be deceived and distracted by different side turns and detours that sidetrack us in our lives. Rosh Hashanah is a time to realign yourself and look at what you’re made of, who you are. To do so needs a certain measure of integrity, a certain measure of sincere introspection, but more importantly, it needs the recognition that you have something inside of you that’s uniquely yours that makes you unique and indispensable. I think that’s the critical message of Rosh Hashanah.
I want to say, this show has been sponsored by listeners like yourselves, and this show in particular has been sponsored by James and Georgeanne Garfinkel, James and Anne Altucher, Ivan Stux, Ted Doll, Sharon Gans, and Fred Mindel. Those are the people I’d like to thank for this week’s show and many of the other shows that they and their friends and others sponsor.
It’s your opportunity, your gift that you can give to others. This show can only be made possible through your grants. You can call us any time to help us out in that way at 1-800-3MEANING (1-800-363-2646).
On a personal note, every year has its own particular personality. I find this a very exciting time to be spiritual, to be a religious person, because there’s a credibility and a pride that has emerged in our society. So with all the cynicism and all the resignation, these are exciting times because people are asking questions, people are sincerely searching for deeper meaning and deeper purpose and as such, it becomes a great opportunity and a great gift for each of us to share.
I want to say this to all of the listeners, that we all have a responsibility. The responsibility is to open our voices, to open our souls and to create a grassroots “soul revolution.” We live in the time of the Internet, a time of a communications explosion, that defies anything that anyone could have fathomed 10-20-30 years ago. It’s an unbelievable opportunity for us to share a message of hope, of love, and remembering the message of Rosh Hashanah, the cry of the shofar, the call of your soul.
Each of us has a soul. Each of you has a very special, powerful, indispensable contribution to make and as a result, we need each other to complement one another: all races, all backgrounds, no matter who you are, no matter what education you have. So make sure to use this opportunity. In these days, this Rosh Hashanah, wherever you are, access your soul.
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