Let's table the discussion" is a new Adath Israel Shul initiative where a story or thought is presented in order to stimulate exciting and constructive discussion around our Shabbos table or among friends and children. (Dedicated to the Refuah Sheleima of Shalva Adina Bas Sarah Chana & Eliyahu Aharon Ben Yocheved Yetta Ettel).
I recently read a story about a contest that took place in England over 100 years ago at the turn into the 20th century. One of the most common types of contests in England was one in which individuals competed for who could recite a work of poetry in the most compelling, compassionate and articulate way. In this particular competition, after many people had fallen by the wayside, five finalists remained. The work of poetry that they had to recite was one of the greatest masterpieces of world literature, Psalm 23, written by King David. It is in our minds one of the holiest works, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…” (Mizmor L’Dovid Hashem Roee Lo Echsar).
As each person recited the Psalm it was clear that there was a young man who would emerge victorious. With his English accent, he recited Psalm 23 with great devotion. He completed the Psalm and the entire crowd rose from their seats and burst into applause. He was to be rewarded the first prize for his rendition. As he was preparing to accept his honor, a small hand rose in the back. An older Jewish man with a long white beard, had raised his hand and said “Gentlemen may I please have an opportunity to recite this Psalm?”
The old man stood up and began to recite the Psalm. For the first five seconds as he was reciting in broken English, everyone looked dumbstruck, and for the next thirty seconds as he continued his recitation, everyone was awestruck. Finally, at the conclusion of the recitation, the entire crowd was in tears. After the old man was finished reciting, the man who thought he had won the prize came to the rabbi and said, “Rabbi YOU deserve this prize!”. The rabbi turned to the young man and said “No! I am not doing this for any sort of honor”.
Then the young man said, “I have a question for you. Why was it that when I recited this Psalm everybody cheering and when you recited this Psalm, everybody was crying?” The old man turned to the winner and said, “Everyone was crying, because I know the Shepherd….I have a relationship with the Shepherd”.
Rav Soloveitchik ztl. noted that the assumed conflicted emotions of Rosh Hashana – those of dread and joy - are not in conflict at all when we realize that they come from the same source: the recognition that we stand in the presence of Hashem. We rejoice in his presence, recognizing that he is our salvation, BUT, V’Gilu B’raada – we need to rejoice with a sense of reverence not just revelry. We approach God and actively bring him into our lives on Rosh Hashana by verbalizing our acceptance of his mandate, and seek the close relationship that this relationship can provide.
The great poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning writes “The earth is crammed with Heaven and every common bush afire with G-d. Every bush is a burning bush, the miracle that is taking place around us. But only he who sees takes off his shoes, and the rest sit rounded and pluck blackberries”.
Rosh Hashanah is about seeing G-d in everything around us; in nature and the symmetry in the world around us, in the birth of a child, and in the death of a loved one. The year we are currently leaving has had its share of Simachot of joyous celebrations and its share of tragedies. Our challenge needs to continue to be to see G-d in all of these experiences.
Do YOU know the Shepard?
How can you get to know Him better in the year ahead?
Let’s “table” the discussion – by discussing it with our children, spouses, families and guests and open an exciting discussion into our homes and communities.