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Thought for the Day: HaShem Is In Charge, Our Ancestors Lived That, We Need to Improve

I have this wonderful machzor, the Machzor haM'foresh.  It has lots and lots of stuff I've never read.  To be way more honest than I should be, I bought it because I thought it was so cool to have an all Hebrew machzor with lots of footnotes and margin notes explaining the t'filos.  It is also chock full of all those piyutim we never say.  I got the whole set when I went to Israel with my wife for our 20th wedding anniversary.  Of course it was 80% or more gaiva to buy them at that point in my career.  On the other hand, my Hebrew has improved a bit over the last 16 years and I saw recently that R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach held them in very high esteem.

This year I decided to take some time to learn through the kavanos for shofar section of my machzor,   Heady stuff.  Lots of cool Zohar's and medrashim with a translation into simple Hebrew in the margin.  Paradise!  The first thing I learned made me feel pretty silly because I had never thought of it before.  Remember the the midwives who defied Paroh's orders?  There names were Shifra and Pu'ah.  "Shifra" because she straightened the babies limbs... she mended them, made them better, from "l'shapehr" -- to improve.  Shofar, it seems, comes from the root meaning to improve.  And that's what the section of musaf known as "shofros" is all about; to wake us up to to t'shuvah -- to improve.  So I needed the Zohar to teach me something that just paying attention to Rashi should have taught me.  Sigh...

In any case, it got me thinking.  The three sections of the Rosh HaShana musaf -- Malkiyos, Zichronos, and Shofros -- are interdependent.  One is not allowed to say one without the others.  The Rosh HaShana musaf lays out a three pronged strategic course to perfection:
  1. Accepting and declaring the absolute sovereignty of HaShem as the King.
  2. Looking to our exulted ancestors as a source of both inspiration and merit for us.
  3. Awaking ourselves to self-improvement.
We have very potent and tangible examples living among us of how any one of these by themselves can lead to to horrific consequences.  Christianity is all about malchus... just believe in oso ha'ish (literally: that guy) and everything is fine.  No requirement for anything but belief; their king died for their sins, they can can live in their sins.  Islam, as much as it talks about their god, he is really just a rallying point.  They are all about dynasties and the power of rulers being passed father to son.  Ethical humanism, reform judaism, and the like are all over self-improvement.  You can believe in a god if you want, but the bottom line is deciding morality and ethics by logic.  You know, like Nazism -- very logical, very ethical by Darwinian standards; human ethicists are, after all, simply smart animals.

The Torah haK'doshah says only all three together can lead to perfection.  Which is why that message is proclaimed loud on clear on Rosh HaShana -- the head of the year; the head which directs and supervises the rest of the year.


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