Guest Column by Rabbi Binyomin Alon
It was on the plane ride home from studying in Israel that I began to think seriously about my future. I was single and eager to settle down and begin a family of my own. Having spent close to a decade in the insular confines of a yeshiva setting, I hardly felt confident embracing the outside world and balked at the idea of teaching in a public forum.
My sister Batya, ever the outgoing, confident type, would constantly prod me with a carefree smile, “You have to embrace your inner awesome,” coaxing me to emerge from my shell.
The entire Rosh Hashanah prayer seems to revolve around the obvious theme of declaring G-d’s kingship. In fact, nearly every prayer seems to mention this fact, making the entire service seem rather redundant. Wouldn’t it suffice to state once that G-d is king? Why the endless repetition?
King David writes in Psalms that the performance of mitzvot (divine commandments) brings great joy. If this is true, then why is it such a struggle to go to synagogue or to study a Jewish text? Surely we should eagerly await the unique opportunity to serve G-d.
Perhaps the answer lies in what the Talmud refers to as “the concealment of the heart.” Our heart, in its most pristine, purest form, wishes to perform G-d’s will and would derive great joy in doing so, but the daily routine of life with its endless distractions desensitizes our moral sensitivities.
We’re constantly bombarded with headlines in the media that hardly inspire us to strive to be more perfect Jews. That’s when tragedy strikes, our heart is hardened, and the joy in divine service dissipates. Like a corrupted palate that can no longer discern the fine tastes of wine, we remain indifferent and unmoved in the performance of mitzvot as we lose our ability to detect the unique joy that King David described.
As we stand in prayer on Rosh Hashanah, repeating the ultimate truth, we attempt to unwrap the layers of concealment and, as my sister would say, unleash our inner awesome. Not in the way the word is often used, to connote something cool or hip, but in the way the word actually means: to describe something so great that it evokes a sense of awe or fear in a person.
The kabbalists tell us that the soul or essence of a person is referred to as “a daughter of G-d” because the soul is actually formed from a part of G-d Himself. That means there is something inside us in our very core that is awe-inspiring and larger than life.
Very often this godliness is never tapped into and lies dormant for years, covered by the many layers of concealment. With every proclamation of G-d’s glory, we attempt to tap into the reservoirs of godliness within us and discover what we really want out of life.
We beseech Him: “G-d, intellectually I know You are the king of the world, but let me feel that truth. Let me live a life which will proclaim Your glory. Help me to understand that You orchestrate all world events and everything is part of Your master plan. Help me to strive to be a better Jew, a more loving soulmate and a caring parent to my children. Let it be clear to me that I should emulate You and be a giver, not a taker. Let me experience the sublime beauty of prayer and the unparalleled joy of Torah-study.”
It has been only a short few years since I landed from Israel, but it seems like a lifetime. Both my sister and I are hardly the same people we were then, as the many vicissitudes of life have transformed us dramatically.
I’m now married with several children, living in a city that was previously foreign to me. In a few short days, just short of Rosh Hashanah, Batya will be tying the knot. It has been quite a journey, and as my sister stands under the chuppah (bridal canopy) with her groom, ready to start a new chapter in life, I know I’ll be rooting for her: “Batya, embrace your inner awesome. Unleash the godliness, the unlimited potential, and let it influence your every action to build a life of virtue.”
Rosh Hashanah is an opportunity for all of us to begin a new chapter in life. Jews from all over the globe will gather in synagogues to proclaim G-d as king. For many, this may well be lip service, but for others this will be a challenging, soul-searching journey to discover their inner godliness, whose most fervent desire is to serve G-d.
Rabbi Binyomin Alon is part of the faculty at Kollel Ner Hamizrach.