Showing posts from September, 2022

Looking in the mirror (Rosh HaShanah Day 2, 5783 / 2022)

Every year shortly before Rosh HaShanah, there’s an Israeli music video that I like to watch, which presents a thoughtful metaphor about our interpersonal and spiritual goals at this time of year.  The brief video set to the music of Israeli musician Evyatar Banai, shows us a young man who is carrying a full length mirror under his arm. We see that that mirror has a number of dots on it - some of which are black, and some of which are white, in neat, orderly rows.   While he is carrying this mirror through a beautiful Israeli wilderness trail, ‘e see some scenes in his life that are presented as flashbacks, and we also see how this mirror came to have all these dots painted on it. We see him talking with a friend in a way that makes a third person feel excluded. And then we see a brief scene of him, ostensibly at home, dipping his brush into a container of black paint, and painting a new black dot on the glass mirror. Then we see a scene of him visiting an elderly woman, apparently a

Awe in the new year (Rosh HaShanah Day 1, 5783/2022)

Let’s start by taking a vote on a very important issue. We are voting on the correct way to refer collectively to these days of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.  Option #1 is to refer to them as the “High Holidays” - 2 words.  Option #2 is to refer to them as the “High Holy Days” - 3 words. <VOTE>  There are various ways to address this question.  You can do a Google search and you find that “High Holidays” - 2 words - has 1 million 600 thousand hits,  whereas  ‘High Holy Days’ - with 3 words - has a paltry 692,000 hits.  So the people have spoken: “High Holidays” with two words is vastly more popular than “High Holy Days” with 3 words.  And yet -- “the people” are completely wrong.  (In my humble but correct opinion.)   High Holy Days is correct - and I will show you why. The Hebrew words upon which this expression is based are Yamim Nora’im -- often translated as “Days of Awe,” because “ nora ’’ is a Hebrew word for “awe.”     Yamim is “days.”  If your preferred phase is  “High

Et Shaarei Ratzon: A remarkable piyyut about the Binding of Isaac, for Rosh HaShanah

This article is to introduce people to the remarkable piyyut Et Shaarei Ratzon, which I will be discussing with the Rabbinical Assembly in September 2022. See here for the text of the piyyut and two English translations. Of the thousands of piyyutim written over the centuries, only a very small fraction are still recited regularly in any contemporary synagogues.  Over the past 800 years, the piyyut " Et Sha'arei Ratzon Le-hipateach, " which retells the story of the Binding of Isaac, has become one of the best known and most beloved piyyutim in the Sephardic and Mizrahi traditions.  No one can explain definitively why some piyyutim attain great popularity in many different liturgical traditions, while others are neglected and fade into history.  However, some of " Et Sha'arei Ratzon "'s distinctive features may have been factors in its massive popularity, including its clear language, its unusually emotional content, and the poet's own unconventiona