Parsha Ha'azinu Shabbat Shuva October 4, 2003/8 Adar 5764 Rabbi Moshe P. Weisblum
Several days ago someone asked me a question. The question was why are there so many differences among prayer books? The wording, order and groups of prayers can vary from one prayer book to another. In order to understand why we have these differences, we need to go back to our history.
Our forefather Jacob and his family left the Holy Land and our people were in Egypt for 213 years. Then, when we returned to the Holy Land, there was a bloody war led by King David against those nations who refused to return the Holy Land to us. We had to work very hard and to endure much suffering to get our Holy Temple. King Solomon built the Holy Temple, which was the most beautiful, gorgeous structure that was ever built. The Talmud illustrates how the Kohanim had one set of prayers, and the Levites had a very special way that they chanted the music. It was one single set of prayers and one single set of melodies that all Jews from all of the twelve tribes used in the Temple. Unfortunately, our main problem was ourselves, because our people worshipped idols and had meaningless hatred towards one another.
Several days ago was the Fast of Gedaliah. Why do we need to fast right after the celebration of Rosh Hashanah?
At the very end the second Book of Kings, there is a description of the destruction of the beautiful Holy Temple by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylonia. Nebuchadnezzar murdered massive numbers of Jews and exiled many other Jews.
Nebuchadnezzar appointed a Jewish governor to be in charge of those who remained in the Holy Land. This Jewish governor’s name was Gedaliah. However, there was another Jew in the Holy Land by the name of Ishmael who was very envious. He was especially disappointed because he considered himself to be a close friend of the Babylonian king and expected to be appointed governor. Ishmael planned to murder Gedaliah, the governor and a fellow Jew. Although many officers informed Gedaliah that Ishmael was instigating a murder plot against him, Gedaliah did not take it seriously. Ishmael went out one night and killed Gedaliah. This was a shocking death to all the remaining Jews in the Holy Land. To Ishmael’s great surprise, the Babylonian king sent his army to kill the rest of the Jews. Ishmael not only didn’t get appointed as governor; he was the one who was responsible for the mass killings and he himself was murdered by the Babylonians. Gedaliah was the last governor. After his murder, Nebuchadnezzar killed and/or exiled the remaining 4,600 Jews.
The nation of Israel suffered exile and mass murders because of the great trauma of the event, of one Jew killing another because of jealousy. Gedaliah was the last appointed governor of the Holy Land. The reason that we fast is not just for a ritual of remembrance but so that we learn not to repeat the mistakes of our ancestors. The notion of having Jews fighting against fellow Jews has been a cause of great sorrow throughout generations. This is the reason why we have the Fast of Gedaliah after Rosh Hashanah.
We were exiled and scattered all over the world, causing people to have different customs, text, melodies, etc.
This Shabbat is called Shabbat Shuva because it is between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, during the ten days of repentance. The word "Shuva" means repentance. This is a time that G-d expects us to return to him. However, it is written in the Talmud and then codified in the Code of Jewish Law that Yom Kippur will not bring forgiveness for a sin between man and man. The rabbis tell us that the Almighty said "Do not come to please me, or to ask me for forgiveness if you do not reconcile the problems between you and your fellow human beings." The Code of Jewish Law has instructed us unequivocally to ask one another for forgiveness before The Day of Atonement. In order for us to approach G-d and prepare for atonement, we have to be "at one ment." Tomorrow many Jews around the world will perform the ritual of "Kapparot" by waving money around their heads and saying, "This money goes to charity and I will go to a good life."
Our first task at this time before doing anything else is to meditate and search our souls to find out if there are any people we know whose feelings we may have hurt intentionally or unintentionally. My rabbi, Rabbi Auerbach, before going to sleep at night, used to write on a piece of paper, a list of things that he felt he did wrong during that day and the list of things that he did right. Before he went sleep, he asked G-d for forgiveness. He made up in his mind for the next day how he would be able to fix his mistakes from his daily list of soul searching. He tried to repair and make amends for his wrongs on the next day or the next opportunity.
The three items that the Rambam says are the foundation of Teshuva are soul searching over the past errors, confessions of past wrongs and promises for better actions in the future including repair of the results of bad actions. The main points of Teshuva (repentance) are confessing bad deeds, regretting one’s bad deeds and promising to do better in the future including restitution to those we harmed. Our fasting and praying on the Fast of Gedaliah and on Yom Kippur express these ideas.
This is our task now that it is Shabbat Shuva, meaning the Sabbath of Return (repentance). We have to return to ourselves and to our source of life. With that in mind, let us hope and pray that G-d will accept our prayer with compassion and mercy and that He will bless us with a prosperous, healthy and Happy New Year.