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ב"ה

WHAT IS LIFE?

Thursday, 2 September, 2021 - 7:30 pm

The main course at the big civic dinner was baked ham with glazed sweet potatoes.


Rabbi Cohen regretfully shook his head when the platter was passed to him.

"When," scolded Father Kelly playfully, "are you going to forget that silly rule of yours and eat ham like the rest of us?"

Without skipping a beat, Rabbi Cohen replied, "At your wedding reception, Father Kelly."

On Rosh Hashana in the Avinu Malkenu prayer, we define G-d’s relationship with us as our father and our King. The image of G-d as father conveys a relationship of closeness, love, and forgiveness.

The image of G-d as king conveys authority and implies justice and penalty for sinful behavior. This prayer brings together both aspects of G-d, giving supremacy to G-d’s love over and above justice.

He is first and foremost our loving parent, even before he is our sovereign.

Abraham Lincoln arrived home one day worn out from leading a country in crisis and sat down at the dinner table with guests to eat and relax.

His son, whom Lincoln loved dearly, made a disrespectful remark to him. There was a sudden hush in the room and Lincoln became thoughtful, but oddly said nothing at all. But Mrs. Lincoln, upset, was less tolerant and exclaimed: “Aren’t you going to punish him?”

Lincoln answered: “If the remark was addressed to me as his father, he certainly will be punished. However, if he addressed it to the President of the United States, that is his Constitutional privilege.”

A similar insight lies behind the genius of this prayer.

G-d is Sovereign; we are His subjects. We understand that He is judging us but at the same time, we are also His children, and a father wants only good for his child. A loving parent goes out of their way to excuse their child’s bad behavior in the hopes that he will learn and improve, just as Lincoln used a constitutional loophole to show compassion to his son.
Avinu Malkenu. We approach G-d first as His children. We beseech paternal kindness so we may grow. Everything else comes later.

Two shoe salespeople were sent to Africa to open up new markets. Three days after arriving, one salesperson called the office and said, “I’m returning on the next flight. I can’t sell shoes here.

Everybody goes barefoot.” At the same time, the other salesperson sent an email to the factory, saying “The prospects are unlimited. Nobody wears shoes here!”

It all depends on perspective. Every challenge is also an opportunity to discover your wings.
 
During the early part of the second century, the Talmud tells us that there was a terrible drought in Israel. The people turned to Rabbi Eliezer and asked him to pray for rain to fall copiously on the parched lands. Rabbi Eliezer spent days meditating, fasting and preparing himself. He poured his heart out in prayer while the whole community stood behind, watching and listening, hopeful that the Rabbi’s words would soon bring the required downpour.
They waited and they hoped.

They waited some more—and hoped some more.
But nothing happened.

Then, Rabbi Akiva stepped up and cried out a short prayer, beginning with the words, “Avinu Malkenu, Our Father, our King, have mercy on us…”
Suddenly, storm clouds swept over the darkening sky and heavy rain poured down in sheets. This is the origin of the Avinu Malkenu prayer.

But why were Rabbi Akiva’s prayers answered and not Rabbi Eliezer’s? Did Rabbi Akiva pray better?

Was he holier than Rabbi Eliezer? Did he just hit upon the right words that G-d had been waiting to hear?

No, says the Talmud, he was not greater and his prayers were not superior in any way.

G-d answered Rabbi Akiva because of one aspect of his character. Akiva was able to forgive those who had wronged him, whereas Rabbi Eliezer was not.
The Talmud is giving us the key to unlocking the gates of heavenly compassion, granting forgiveness to those who have wronged us. There are few things more liberating than forgiving someone when we feel ourselves hurt by them, letting go of those grudges, and mending a relationship that has been broken. If we do that, the heavens will open up for us.

Holding grudges and refusing to grant forgiveness blocks the path to communication with G-d, and a man cannot successfully pray for G-d’s benevolence and His gracious gifts if he is too uncaring to make gifts of his own.

Today in honor of the New Year Rosh Hashana I want to give my child freedom—the knowledge and conviction that he or she is never a victim of circumstances, but is always capable of using his or her realities as a springboard for awareness and growth.
 
Today I want to give my child the gift of the Torah and its values, to live a life of meaning, clarity, and goodness.
Today I want to give my child the courage and resolve to realize he or she must be a giver in our world; to live a life of dedication to a spouse and to a family.
Today I want to give my child the gift of independence. To empower him/her with the conviction that G-d wants him/her as a co-partner in the work of repairing creation.
My child, what is Life?

Life is a challenge... meet it
Life is a gift... appreciate it
Life is an adventure... dare it
Life is a duty... perform it
Life is a game... play it
Life is a mystery... unfold it
Life is a song... sing it
Life is an opportunity... take it
Life is a promise... fulfill it
Life is a beauty... praise it
Life is a struggle... grow from it
Life is a goal... achieve it
Life is a puzzle... solve it
Life is fun… celebrate it!
 
Shanah Tovah! A happy and sweet New Year,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky
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