After lunch this past Monday, the first day of Rosh Hashana, I set out to Queens College to blow the Shofar for the Vice President of the college, Adam Rockman. On the walk across campus to Frese Hall, I was stopped by three security guards.
Did I look suspicious in my long black coat, black hat and a curved black item in hand?
“What holiday is it today?” one of them inquired.
I guess I look Jewish 😉
“Rosh Hashana,” I shot back.
“I told you!” he said emphatically to one of his friends. Turning back to me, he continued, “He says it’s Yom Kippur today.”
“Should we give him the benefit of the doubt?” I continued.
“Yes!” the security guard replied.
The exchange was very warm, so I continued, “You know, we all want Him to judge us favorably. The least we can do is to judge others favorably. Know what I mean?”
All three men replied “Yes,” in unison, and wished me a happy New Year.
I continued on my way to VP Rockman’s office to blow the shofar. The loud sound attracted Barbara from a nearby office, who, when I concluded the blasts from the ram’s horn, remarked, “my grandfather used to blow the shofar.”
The call of the shofar is a clarion call for inner change. Or perhaps it is acall, which comes from inner change. Or both.
* * *
In the year 1866 — on the very same day as this Shabbat, the 6th of Tishrei — the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe (after whom my son Shmuel shares abirthday and name) recited a Chassidic discourse in the Russian city of Kishinev.
The main topic discussed was the concept of “giver” and “receiver” in the spiritual realms. Rabbi Shmuel explained that since our world is areflection of the spiritual realms, so just as there is a giver and a receiver Above, so too, there is a giver and receiver below in our world. The poor person is the receiver, while the rich person is the giver.
Rabbi Shmuel interrupted his recitation of the discourse. Raising his voice, he said in Yiddish, “It’s true that since this is the way it is Above, it must also be this way below. There must be a poor man and a rich man. Yet the poor man wants to know, why does he have to be the poor man?
“And in fact,” declared Rabbi Shmuel emphatically, “he has a good point!”
On hearing these words from their Rebbe, everyone present burst into tears.
One of the Chassidim stated, “Halevai* that I will merit to cry with such earnestness on my last day in this world.”
(*Halevai is a Hebrew word which translates as “If only.” The flavor of the word is lost in translation).
When Rabbi Shmuel’s grandson retold this story years later, he related that he heard from his father that these Yiddish words of Rabbi Shmuel should remain forever engraved [upon one’s heart].
Rabbi Shmuel’s grandson, who became the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, concluded that this statement of Rabbi Shmuel — that the complaint of the poor person is a valid complaint — need constantly remain in front of you. It gives us strength to to do good things to help other people.
Please take this in context, but sometimes it’s okay to question the One Above — when it come from love and compassion for another. Helping someone else is not just a nice thing to do, it’s something that need remain engraved upon our hearts.
L’chaim, Shabbat Shalom, and have a great Yom Kippur!