Yamim Noraim: Meaning & Significance
Yamim Noraim And The Difference Between Awe And Fear
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
What Is The Meaning Of The Yamim Noraim?
In this lecture, Rabbi Fohrman discusses the Days of Awe (“Yamim Noraim”), days during which many of us associate with guilt and fear. But is “awe” the same thing as “fear”? Can we give ourselves permission to break free of the painful emotions that often accompany these days, and experience this inspiring time of year in a brand new, uplifting way?
For those of you familiar with Aleph Beta, there's a lot of Yamim Nora'im material there, so I encourage you to take a look. For those of you who don't know, Aleph Beta is also an app, so it's really easy to take with you. One of the nice things about Aleph Beta on an app is that you don't actually need internet to watch it when you are watching, because you can just download stuff at home and you can take it on the go. So there's lots of great Yamim Nora'im stuff there, you can just download it, you can look on your app store for Torah videos and you'll find it pretty easily.
This is the first time I'm presenting this material, so I'm using you guys as guinea pigs, so I hope you don't mind. We'll get a chance to work it through together and maybe in a little bit of an interactive way and see where it goes. Some of these ideas are crystallizing now, so it will be a bit of a Socratic back and forth and we'll see where it goes.
What Are the Yamim Nora'im Really About?
Let me begin with a couple of questions about Yamim Nora'im in general and Rosh Hashanah in particular, the holiday that is facing us in just a few days. One of the difficult things is that amongst all of the major holidays that we have in the Torah, in our holiday cycle, Rosh Hashanah is in many ways most enigmatic. It's just hard to get your hands on exactly what it is.
On the one hand it seems almost redundant to some of us. I remember when I was growing up, you know, the Yamim Nora'im would come and you would be nervous and you would dress in white and you would be in shul for a really long time. You would stand up and do this long Shmoneh Esrei, and you would hear the Yamim Nora'im trop (tune). Then you would do them Rosh Hashanah and then 10 days later you would do it all over again for Yom Kippur. So it almost felt redundant. Like, I've got these two holidays, hard to understand how they interact.
It's not just in our own practice of the holiday that it's hard to confuse with Yom Kippur. It's just an enigmatic holiday because, well, just for so many reasons. The holiday, actually, as it appears in the Torah, believe it or not, is not even really known as Rosh Hashanah, it becomes known as Rosh Hashanah in the Mishnah. In the Torah it's not referred to that. If anything, if you actually look at the verses in the Parshat Hamoadim, in Parshat Emor, which is the most significant laid out listing of the various Holidays. You'll find Rosh Hashanah actually at the paradoxical place of the end of the year.
If you go through the holidays, so it starts with Passover, then you've got Shavuot and then you've got Sukkot. Sukkot is described in Parshat Emor as "B'tzeis Hashanah", the end of the year. Which means, if you think about it in the agricultural sense, the seventh month really is the end of the year. It's when the agricultural cycle is winding down, winter is coming, it doesn't count really as part of the year. So it's strange, it's enigmatic. Is it at the end of year or is it at the beginning of the year?
So Rosh Hashanah as it gets started in the Chumash, if it's not known as Rosh Hashanah, what is it known as? We don't get a lot of discussion about it, we don't care about how it's one of the High Holidays, we don't care about any of that. We just hear something very enigmatic. Two words really three words and elsewhere in the Chumash, two words. Those words are, "yom zichron teruah," it's a day of remembering teruah. That's really all it is. Sometimes it's called yom teruah, it vacillates between you can call it a day of teruah and a day of remembering teruah.
So the question is, what are we supposed to make of that? How do we get from a day of teruah into the Rosh Hashanah that you and I experience? How do we understand the sort of evolution, as it were, of Rosh Hashanah?
It's also strange because if the Torah in Parshat Emor, sort of, describes these holidays. Describes Passover as Chag Hamatzot, the time we came out of Egypt. We sort of get what that is. We describe Sukkot as the time when we remember that God took us out of Egypt and put us in Tabernacles along the way. So we've got some basic explanation there.
Rosh Hashanah comes, all we hear about is the day of teruah, it's a yom zichron teruah, it's a day of remembering teruah. So you've got to figure that if the Torah describes it that way, the Torah must think that that's a good enough description, that you should be able to figure it out. Which makes it all the more maddening, because it seems so hard to figure out. Like, what are we missing that the Torah wants us to understand that it should be just so obvious. The Torah is going to say, a day of remembering teruah and everyone's going to say, oh yeah, of course we remember that, we know exactly what you're talking about. What is it that the Torah is talking about?
If we think a little bit deeper, historically or a little bit later historically, if we go from the times of the Torah to the times of our Sages, in the Mishnah, we know that one of the facets through which we celebrate Rosh Hashanah, is through three distinct parts of the Mussaf Service, which is distinct for Rosh Hashanah, no other holiday has this kind of thing. With those distinct parts, of course, which are called Malchiyot, Zichronot and Shofrot. Then the question is, so where does that come from, Malchiyot, Zichronot and Shofrot?
Our Sages seem to have some sort of idea that this is the holiday, that the day of remembering teruah should be a holiday that, sort of, breaks into three parts. It should have a Malchiyot session, a kingship session. It should have a Zichronot session, a memory session and it should have a session that has to do with shofar.
So if you think about it, if you get back to the Torah. You say, well, okay, I get that I should have to do a shofar because it's called yom zichron teruah, so it's a day of remembering teruah, the blast of the shofar, so I get why we do shofar. I get why we emphasize zikaron, why we emphasize memory, because it is after all called a yom zichron teruah, whatever that means, a day of remembering teruah. But where do we come up with this idea of kingship? Where does that come from? How does that emerge from the Torah's description?
As our sages put it in the Braita, "Imru lefanai malchuyot k'dei shetamlichuni aleichem," say before Me verses of Kingship so that you should make Me King over you," God says. Say before Me Memories so that zikaron, your memory should come up before Me in a good way. "U'bameh," and how should your memory come up in a good way before Me? How? By shofar. A very strange statement by our Sages. What really does it mean? So what I want to talk to you about tonight a little bit, is the evolution of Rosh Hashana, where it comes from? How are we supposed to understand a day of remembering teruah, how are we to understand the evolution of Kingship, Remembrance and Shofrot a little bit?
What I really want to talk to you about today is a very famous statement of our Sages, one that many of you know and love or learned about in school or learned about just because you heard about it for year after year after year. What I want to do tonight, is actually talk to you about a couple of famous statements that the Rabbis make in the Midrash, statements that many of you will know. But, to be perfectly honest, I think they are statements that you know, but I think that we puzzle over.
Confusing the Satan
It's not always that you know, you can think of all of this like a group therapy session you puzzle over this, but it's, sort of, embarrassing to talk about how puzzled you are with your friends, because you think you're supposed to know all of this. Right? So tonight, we're just, kind of, going to lay it all bare. All right. Here's the Sages' statement, this is what we all learned about in school, but isn't it strange. Okay. So let's start with our Sages' statement number one.
Our Sages' statement Number 1, which I think is really strange, which we all know about, has to do with the special power of shofar. What do our Sages tell us about the special power of shofar? What do we hear always? Shofar's great because it does something. What does it do when we blow the shofar?
Audience Member: It wakes us up.
Rabbi Fohrman: It wakes us up. Our Sages tell us that it confuses the Satan. Specifically, the Talmud in Rosh Hashana says, that we blow shofar earlier then you would expect and even before Mussaf, we start with blowing the shofar. The reason why we do that is to confuse the Satan.
The Satan is going to come on this day of Din, this day of judgment and the Satan is the prosecuting angel and he's going to get there and he's going to prosecute. But we've got a trick, we've got this really great instrument and it's going to be wonderful and we're going to win the day and it's the shofar. If we blow the shofar early, the Satan is going to get all confused and he's going to be incapable of properly prosecuting this case. Therefore, we do more shofar than is necessary and we blow shofar early. This is what our Sages say.
So let me just, sort of, put this out there to you. Is this puzzling on any level? Does this bother you at any level? Right? Just group therapy session. What's wrong with this picture? Anybody? You don't have to be embarrassed, I won't tell anybody. What goes on in this room doesn't leave this room. Right?
Audience Member: Why is, actually, the shofar confusing?
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. So why should the shofar confuse our friend the Satan, Right? Why should it confuse him? Okay. What about the shofar is going to confuse him? What else is strange?
Audience Member: We do it every year, why didn't he catch on?
Rabbi Fohrman: I mean, hello, it's like a little dumb of the Satan, don't you think? I mean, you would imagine a sharper prosecutor would've figured out the trick. You know, but every year he’s just like Charlie Brown and Lucy. You know what I mean? Like a football. It's like that Satan you can always count on fooling him. That shofar, just do it a little bit early and you know you'll get him. It's like a practical joke. What's going on? The Satan can't even figure it out? What is the special power of the shofar that's going to really confuse the Satan? It just seems like the strangest thing to say. How do we understand this notion that our Sages say, seriously, that the shofar is there "l'arveiv et ha'Satan," to confuse the Satan?
So the Aruch Hashulchan talks about this a little bit. The Aruch Hashulchan actually quotes Rashi in Rosh Hashana and talks about it a little bit. The Aruch Hashulchan explanation, based upon Rashi, says, "Mashma d'hachi peirusho," this is how he understands it, "keivan shehaSatan ro'eh kamah chavivin mitzvos al Yisrael she'osim vechozrim v'osim, mishtateik mil'lameid kategoriah."
So the Aruch Hashulchan makes it a little bit better. He says that, well, you know, that we can see how the Jews delight in commandments, they're willing to blow the shofar more than they have to and once the Satan sees that he's unable to prosecute. But it still seems like a strange kind of thing. It's, like, not a very sharp prosecutor. I wouldn't be that confused. What exactly is going on? So that's one issue.
In trying to figure that out, what does it mean that the shofar confuses the Satan, I happened to stumble on something which I thought was an interesting clue that I wanted to share with you. It is another Chazal, another statement by the sages. But it seems, suspiciously, as if it should be connected to the statements which I've just told you about, about why we blow the shofar. I'm going to read this other statement of our Sages for you. It turns out that there is another time that the Sages talk to us about the Satan and there is another time that the Sages talk to us about confusion, with reference to the Satan.
It just strikes me and it's the same word for confusion; l'arveiv, this confusion that's associated with the Satan. It just strikes me that it doesn't seem coincidental, it seems like something is going on, like these two statements of our Sages are connected. So let me introduce this second statement of our Sages that talks about the Satan and about confusion of the Satan.
So this is a Talmud in Tractate Shabbat, Page 89, Side 1. I'll just, sort of, quote the Talmud for you. Many of you will know the shorthand version of this Talmud; this is a little bit of a longer version. Again, this is a famous statement of our Sages, because Rashi quotes it in the Chumash, in the story of the Golden Calf;
Here is what our Sages say. Our Sages are commenting on the words that describe the catalyst for the Golden Calf story. When Moses comes down the mountain and he's late coming down the mountain. The words are, "vayar ha'am ki boshesh Moshe," the people saw that Moses was late coming down the mountain and they were very worried and they didn't know what happened to him. So our Sages say the following and, again, I just want to ask you, group therapy session, you know, if you're listening to this sage for the first time, it's also a strange statement of our Sages. What's strange about this statement of our Sages?
So this statement of our Sages is based upon a play on words, on the word boshesh. Turns out that that word for late, boshesh, is an unusual word, it doesn't appear often. So our Sages sort of made a play on words and divided the word in two, as it were and said you can read boshesh, the word for late, as "ba'u shesh," as if it means six has come;
Six has come. What does it mean six has come? So our Sages explain, "Al tikri boshesh elah ba'u shesh," don't read it as boshesh, Moses was late, just read it as six came or as the sixth hour came. Our Sages explain. You see, here is what happened, they say, "Besha'ah she'alah Moshe l'marom," when Moses went on high, up in the heavens to accept the Torah, "amar lahen l'Yisrael," he said to the Israelites waiting below, "b'sof arba'im yom, bitichilat shesh ani ba." You guys should know that I'm going up for 40 days and I'm coming back in the first six hours of the 40th day, that's when you should expect me.
"L'sof mem yom," 40 days came and as the sixth hour was approaching and here's this language "ba Satan v'irveiv et ha'olam". The Satan came, v'irveiv there's that word for confused "v'irveiv et ha'olam," the Satan came and confused the world. What did he do to confuse the world? "Amar lahen," he said to the people, "Moshe rabchem heichan hu?" Hey, guys, Moshe, your Rebbe, where did he go? "Amru lo," so the people said, "alah l'marom," you know, he's up in heaven. "Amar lahen," so the Satan says, oh, no, the Satan looks at his watch, "ba'u shesh," the sixth hour has come and you know, he's not around. What did the people say? "Lo hishgichu alav," they didn't pay the Satan any mind, they didn't pay him any attention.
So the Satan kept on pushing a little bit. The next thing the Satan says is, mate, you know why he's not here? He's dead. "Lo hishgichu alav," the people still didn't listen to the Satan. So the Satan pushed it one more step. "Herah lahen d'mus mitato," he showed them a picture of a dead Moses being carried off in a coffin in heaven. He showed them that picture;
"V'hainu d'ka'amru lei," and that's why, our Sages say, it later on says, on the story of the Golden Calf, that when the people came to Aaron and asked him to create the Golden Calf, their language was, "Ki zeh Moshe ha'ish," because this man Moses. This man Moses, suggests that they were pointing at something. What do you mean, this man Moses? Our Sages say, they were pointing at this picture in heaven that they had. You see that? That's his coffin. This man Moses, we don't know what happened to him, he's gone. Then they went and they asked Aaron to make a golden calf and the rest is history.
So this is our second story that our Sages tell us, involving confusion and the Satan. I think the stories might be connected, but before we explore the connection, let's just look at this statement of our Sages, in and of itself and play a little therapy game. Anything strange about this statement of our Sages?
So imagine, there you are in Beis Yaakov or yeshivah or wherever you are and you're learning about this. It's the first time you've come across this statement of our Sages. What question might you have on this statement, so to say? Does the statement make perfect sense to you or do you have any problem with the story that the Sages tell you about the Satan and the people and Moses? What do you say? Nobody has any problems. You guys are all okay with this?
Audience Member: It's not a complete story.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah, go ahead. What do you mean?
Audience Member: It's putting words into the Satan's mouth, it's not showing any reaction. Not showing it in reality.
Rabbi Fohrman: Well, it is getting a little bit of reaction of the people. The Sages are giving you what they think of the back story to the Golden Calf. How did the Golden Calf get made? This is how the Golden Calf got made. Right?
Let me ask you this. If the Satan is the prosecuting attorney, imagine that you are the defense attorney. You're the defense attorney for the people of Israel in the matter of the Golden Calf, in the People versus God. Alright? The Satan is the prosecuting attorney and you are the defense attorney. Imagine the prosecuting attorney comes forth and in his opening statement says this. He says, here's the deal, there was a sting operation and here is the back story of how I got this people to do what they did. Now you rise, you're the defense attorney; you're going to speak before God in defense of the people, given what the Satan has just said. Can you think of any line of argument you might make for your defense? Anybody?
Audience Member: No. The picture is false, he gave them the wrong information.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yes, Your Honor, this is entrapment. Do you know what I mean? This is fair? I mean, like, this is dirty tricks, you're not allowed to do that. You know, aren't there some rules to what the Satan's allowed to do and what the Satan's not allowed to do? You know what I mean? The Satan can do anything?
The Satan showed them a picture that was blatantly false, lied to them. Showed them something that wasn't true and on the basis of that lie, he manages to entrap them and to panic them. So that's fair? Right, that's not fair. You can't do that. That's hitting a ball above. You can't do that. Right? So wouldn't that be the greatest defense possible? Yet somehow, that defense is never raised. So if our Sages want us to take this seriously, if they are really advocating for this approach, doesn't that undermine the guilt of the people, right? They don't have any guilt for what happened. They were completely basted. What do we make of this? So it's a strange statement of our Sages;
was Okay. So we're going to come back to that question, but for the meantime, could it be that these two statements of our Sages are connected to each other? If they are connected to each other, perhaps in some way they shed light on each other. Here we have two statements of our Sages that involve the Satan, that involve prosecution, that involve confusion. Yet they're a little bit different too. In the first statement of our Sages we blow the shofar, to confuse who? The Satan, and in the second statement of our Sages, the Satan confuses us. But it seems like they're connected somehow. Could it be that the connection between these two statements somehow will explain what's going on in each?
Here's another reason to believe that these two statements of our Sages are actually connected to each other. They are connected to each other, because in some deep way, they both surround the same event. Let me explain what I mean by that;
Let me go back to one of the first questions I asked you, about the Torah's own description of Rosh Hashanah. The Torah describes Rosh Hashanah as "a day of remembering teruah," and again it's not just a day of remembering teruah. It's not just that the Torah labels it a day of remembering teruah. As I mentioned to you, the key clue is that you're supposed to be able to figure out what that means. The Torah is confident enough in the fact, that it's just going to say, a day of remembering teruah. You're going to immediately know. Of course, I know what that holiday is about. So let's figure this out. What could we be talking about?
If we get the answer to this, by the way, I think we'll begin to understand why it is that our Sages also tell us that Rosh Hashanah is the day of Kingship, Remembrance and Shofrot. Let's go back to "a remembrance of teruah." What could it possibly be? What memory of teruah could this possibly be? Let me put it to you this way and it might be easier to discern the answer to that question.
A day of remembering a teruah, a day of remembering a blast of the shofar. It's as if there is this communal memory that we have, that we all remember; we all remember a blast of the shofar and there's this day in which we remember it. Indeed, even perhaps the distinction between the two types of ways in the Torah that Rosh Hashanah is described, "a day of remembering teruah" on the one hand and "a day of teruah" on the other hand. The answer to that contradiction, as it were, might lie in the simple idea that we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. Which is to say, it is a day of teruah, because that is our way of jogging our memory, for the day of remembering teruah. We all remember a time when we heard collectively the blast of the shofar. How do we make that more vivid? By blowing the shofar ourselves.
It's like, you know how, if you want to remember some incredible event that happened 30 years ago and you want to really feel it, right? What do you do? Really important event. Your wedding day, the day you graduated from college. You just want to, like, really remember it. One of the really interesting things you can do is ask yourself, okay, so when was that? That was like 1980. You know, whatever. Then go back to that date and then say, what were the songs that I was listening to then? If you play the song, there's something about music, there's something about sound, that I can just transport myself back to that moment. I feel like I'm there. I can taste the taste, I can smell the smells and I'm transported back into the moment;
Through the blast of the shofar which we enact, we take ourselves back to this communal memory we have of the cry of the shofar. What was that event?
Audience Member: Mount Sinai.
Rabbi Fohrman: The answer, of course, is Mount Sinai. Which is strange, because we think Shavuot is Sinai day, but maybe it's not true. Maybe, on the deepest level, it's Rosh Hashanah that's Sinai day, that takes us back to the day that we heard the blast of the shofar.
Now, the question is, but why of all things would we think of Sinai day if it's true that Rosh Hashanah is Sinai day. Isn't it strange that the two words that the Torah would use to describe Sinai day, would be "a day of remembering teruah," of all things. In other words, as if the most important thing that you should remember about Sinai day, is the sound of the shofar that you remember from that day;
Because if I gave you a poll right now of top 10 things to remember about Sinai, that would not be on it. It wouldn't even be one of the 10. What would you tell me? Give me top 10 things to remember about Sinai day. Give me number one.
Audience Member: We got the Torah.
Rabbi Fohrman: We got the Torah, number one. Number two. Give me a two.
Audience Member: God gave us the Torah.
Rabbi Fohrman: Well, that God came and gave us the Torah, so it was a revelation at Sinai. Number three. God made this covenant with us that we're going to be a chosen nation. There're so many things to remember about Sinai day. The last thing I would remember is "the day of teruah," the sound of the shofar. So now the question is why was the sound of the shofar, at Sinai day, so significant? So let's think about that. Why was the sound of the shofar so significant?
First of all, let's actually go back to Kingship. If it's true that Rosh Hashanah is remembering Sinai day, you can begin to understand why it is that it's a day of malchut, or a day of kingship, that we should express verses of kingship. What does kingship have to do with Sinai day?
We accepted God's Kingship. Indeed, God actually comes to us and says, if you accept the Torah "atem tihyu li," what are you going to be for Me? "Mamlechet kohanim v'goy kadosh," you're going to be a kingdom of priests for Me. Oh, where's the kingdom? A king has a kingdom. How does a king express his executive power, as it were? Right? What does a king do? The executive enforces the laws. Well, to the extent that Sinai day is Torah day, it's a day when we all accepted the laws. By accepting the laws, by accepting a great Law Giver, in the sky, we were accepting His jurisdiction over us. We were accepting Him as king.
So there is this kingship aspect which is inherent to Sinai day, which seems to get replayed in Kingship, Remembrance and Shofrot. If Remembrance and Shofrot come from zichron teruah, remembering the shofar, then somehow Kingship has to do with, you know, an aspect of the day. But now, the question is, okay, so how does shofar fit into this? So I get it. So Sinai day is the day of kingship, but why shofar? Why would the Torah say the one thing you really, really have to remember about Sinai, is the shofar blast? Why? Now the question is what function does the shofar blast have at Sinai?
Here's where we really got to get a text for this. So I'm just going to, kind of, move over here to my little iPad and see if we can wake up our little projector and show this to you.
Audience Member: Rabbi Fohrman? Who blew the shofar?
Rabbi Fohrman: Ah, so that's the question. So who blew the shofar at Sinai? Was it Moses? Who blew that shofar? Okay. Well, I'll just read you the verse. So here's the question as, so why was there a shofar at Sinai and who blew the shofar? Was there really a shofar at Sinai? So here's a trivia question for you, was there really a shofar at Sinai and if so, who blew it? Anyone know? So let's listen to the verse and see if we can figure out the answer to this question. Was there really a shofar at Sinai and if so, who blew it? Ready?
So here we've got this It happens a couple of times. The Torah says right before revelation, "Bimshoch hayovel heimah ya'alu bahar," the shofar rings out and finishes its call, that's when the people can touch the mountain safely. But here's the next time you have it. "Vayehi bayom hashelishi," this is the moment of revelation that happened on the third day, "bihyot haboker," in the morning, "vayehi kolot u'berakim," there was fire and there was lighting, "v'anan kaveid al hahar," and there was this cloud that descended upon the mountain, "v'kol shofar chazak me'od," and the sound of the shofar was getting louder and louder, "vayecherad kol ha'am asher bamachaneh," and the people all trembled.
A couple of verses later, "V'har Sinai ashan kulo," Sinai was completely filled with smoke, "mipnei asher yarad alav Hashem ba'eish," because God had come down in fire, "vaya'al ashano k'ashan hakivshan," and smoke went up like the smoke of a furnace, "vayecherad kol hahar me'od," and the entire mountain trembled. As that happened, "Vayehi kol hashofar holeich v'chazeik me'od," the sound of the shofar just grew louder and louder, "Moshe yedaber," Moses would speak, "v'Elokim ya'anenu b'kol," and God would answer him in voice;
Now, back to my question. Was there a shofar at Sinai and if so, who blew it? So it's a trick question. Let's go to the first part first. Was there a shofar at Sinai? No. If there wasn't a shofar at Sinai, then what does this all mean? Listen carefully, "Vayehi kol hashofar holeich v'chazeik me'od." We don't know that there was a shofar at Sinai, what we hear is, there was a sound of a shofar at Sinai, a sound of a shofar getting louder and louder. The next words we hear is that "Moshe yedaber," Moses would speak, "v'Elokim ya'anenu b'kol," and God would answer him in voice;
What's the difference between speaking and voice? Speaking is cognitive, you're forming words, voice is precognitive, it's just voice without words. "Moshe yedaber," Moses would speak, but when God would answer, at this point there were no words. All there was is that sound. Now, later in the narrative there are words. The sound is going to coalesce into words, which become the Ten Commandments. but before the Ten Commandments, revelation took the form of sound, a sound that to us approximated the sound of the shofar. There was no shofar, it was God's voice;
Now, what's amazing about this is, if you think later on to how revelation is characterized. For example, if you look to the book of Deuteronomy, in the parshah which we just, kind of, finished reading. Let me see if I can find it for you. Chapter 4 or so. So we have a review of the Sinai experience and here we hear, "Rak hishamer lecha u'shemor nafshecha me'od" Deuteronomy, Chapter 4 be very careful lest you forget the days that you were at Sinai, that you have to teach your children about. "Yom asher amadta lifnei Hashem Elokecha b'Chorev," the day that you stood before God at Horeb, when God said bring the entire people to me so that I may teach them, "l'yirah oti," to fear Me, "kol hayamim asher hem chaim al ha'adamah v'et beneihem yelameidun."
"Vatikrevun vata'amdu tachat hahar," you came and you stood beneath the mountain, the mountain was on fire, "choshech anan v'arafel," darkness, clouds, fog. "Vayedaber Hashem Elokim mitoch ha'eish," God spoke to you, "kol devarim atem shomim," you heard a voice, "u'temunah einchem ro'im, zulati kol," you didn't see anything, you only heard, you only heard a sound;
If you think about revelation, the truth is, the strangest thing, the most important thing to remember about Sinai. The number one thing to remember about Sinai before everything else, even before the giving of the Torah, is that shofar sound, that sound that's imprinted upon our collective memory. If you think about it, if we had never experienced revelation, and you were being interviewed on the news. You would say, so do you think it could ever happen that God could reveal Himself to mankind in the world? You could be excused for being skeptical about that. Why? I'll tell you why;
Enough you guys see movies here, but back in the day, there was a science fiction movie that was entertaining, but was a really dumb science fiction movie. Okay. If you really thought about it, it was really dumb. The movie was called Independence Day. Did anyone see Independence Day? You all remember that, right? Aliens come, they invade, right. So in Independence Day the good guy managed to foil the aliens house. Anyone remember how? The aliens are taking over the earth, but the good guy, he's got a plan. What's his plan? Anyone remember? He's going to upload a computer virus from his computer into the alien computer. It's going to completely mess up the alien computers and take everything down and it works;
Now, why is this such a stupid movie? What's wrong with this picture? Anybody? Do we have anybody in technology here? Anybody in computers? Why is this so stupid? Who says their computers are IBM compatible? Do you know what I mean? Your virus is going to affect their computers? Right? No, that's ridiculous. Why did no one catch it? Why did everyone think, oh, this is a really great movie? Because there is a sort of bias into thinking that, yes. You know, I am a human being, I am carbon based life form and aliens are probably just like me, they just like to look a little different. You know what I mean? They maybe have longer noses or slantier eyes or something like that, but their computers are probably just like mine;
Right? But the notion that no, extraterrestrial beings might actually be really different from you and really, it's the question, like, if there was ever extraterrestrial life that was ever found, how would you ever communicate with them? How would you even know that a common way of communicating could be found? If you think about the greatest extraterrestrial being of all, right, being from outside this world, is God Himself, the being from beyond. The greatest question you have to ask is, who says you can actually connect? God says in Deuteronomy, as we said, remember that there are some red herrings here. "Temunah einchem ro'im," you didn't see anything. Why didn't you see anything?
Notice how, by the way, God shuts down your sense of sight at Sinai. Imagine, it's crazy. If somebody said to you, what sense would you like to perceive Sinai with? Imagine you would walk out here and Sinai is going to be reenacted right over here on 73rd Avenue in Queens. You go outside and there's a mini science of Sinai event. Actually, Chazaq has arranged this, it's an extra plus for this lecture. Your admission buys, it's great. As you're filling in a little intake form over here and you can choose which sense you would like to experience revelation with. Right, one of your five senses. Pick a sense, any sense; sight, sound, whatever you want. Tell me what would you choose? The sight, right, you'd want to see;
So here you are, imagine, you're coming to revelation and you're ready to actually see God, because God is now coming into the world, it's going to be amazing. You get there and on actual Sinai day, "choshech anal v'arafel," it's dark, it's cloudy and it's foggy. It's like, you know, when you take a cruise to see the eclipse and it's cloudy and it's like give me my money back. You know what I mean? Like, I want my money back, I can't see a darn thing;
So God says, no, I know you human beings, you're into sight, but sight doesn't work. You can't see Me, I don't exist that way. I'm not this spatial being. I'm outside of time, I'm outside of space, so you're not going to see anything. But I know you're going to be so biased for sight, that if I don't shut down your sense of sight, you're going to go looking around and seeing what you couldn't find. You have to remember you didn't see a blasted thing. It was dark, you couldn't see, "zulati kol," all you could hear was sound. That's the way we connected, that was the only authentic way we connected. Voice that eventually became words. That's how we connected at Sinai;
So what's kind of fascinating here is that if you go back to these two statements of our Sages that we've been talking about, about the Satan and about confusion, you find a, kind of, interesting thing. You find that they're both talking about the same event. In other words, we have one event which is Rosh Hashanah. On Rosh Hashanah, we blow the shofar to confuse the Satan, that's statement number one. What's statement number two? Once upon a time, in the Golden Calf, Moses had gone up to heaven and the Satan came and confused the world;
Now, having done the work that we've done about remembering the teruah, we can now say something about Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah recalls a certain event. What event does it recall? It recalls Sinai day, but Sinai day wasn't so wonderful because something went wrong during Sinai day. What went wrong was the Golden Calf. It's all the same event; it's the original Rosh Hashanah. The original Rosh Hashanah was foiled, because the Satan came and confused the world and we had the Golden Calf. Now, forever more, our Sages come and say it's time to get revenge on the Satan, as it were. We're going to confuse him. We're going to confuse him by blowing the shofar and embracing the sound of the shofar;
Now, it's interesting because on Sinai we remember a shofar that we heard that came from God, but now what are we going to do? We're going to blow a shofar that comes from us, that somehow mimics that voice and somehow, our embrace of that will confuse the Satan. What does that even mean? How can we really understand that? So I want to introduce one last statement of our Sages to help us begin to piece this puzzle together. I think one question you have to ask is, exactly who is this Satan? What really do we mean by the Satan? We asked before, it doesn't seem fair what the Satan does at the Golden Calf. It's just not fair, you can't lie, he lied. He showed us a dead Moses in heaven, that's not fair. Let's try and answer that question now. Why was it fair what the Satan did? Why was that kosher?
So one last statement of our Sages that will help us, I think, identify exactly who this Satan is. I don't have the exact text of the statement, I wasn't able to find it from my notes, but it's an Otzar Hamidrashim, it's a statement that ties together the Book of Job of all things, to the story of the Binding of Isaac. Of course, we read the Binding of Isaac on Rosh Hashanah. I'll just sort of quote freely from memory this statement, because I don't exactly have the language in front of you. It's also a statement of our Sages which many of you know and many of you have heard before. It basically goes like this.
The way the Otzar Hamidrashim puts it, there's a backstory to the Akeidah, to the Binding of Isaac and the backstory goes like this. We know that it took three days for Abraham to travel with Isaac to the Binding of Isaac. So they're travelling along. Our Sages fill in the path story. What happened during those three days?
So our Sages say, easy. Abraham was accosted by the Satan and we have another story involving the Satan. In that story, Chazal tell us, the Sages say, that the Satan came dressed up as an old man and approached Abraham. He said to Abraham, so where are you going? And Abraham says, I'm going to pray. The Satan says, to pray? What's the fire? What's the wood for, if all you're going to do is pray? All right. So I'm going to offer some offerings when I'm there. Really, I don't see a lamb anywhere, where's the lamb? Abraham's kind of stuttering and the Satan says, it's your kid, right? It's like God, Himself, after all these years, He promised you everything and then you're 100 years old and He's going to take away your kid? That's what He's going to do? Abraham says, you know, I'm going to do it anyway.
The Satan, finding no luck with Abraham, approaches Isaac. When he approaches Isaac, he dresses up as a young strapping lad. As a young lad he approaches Isaac and says, so where are you going? So Isaac says, oh, I'm just going to pray with my father and he, kind of, goes through the same spiel with him. He says, you're going to pray with your father, but what's the wood there, what's the fire there? Oh, we're going to offer offerings. But where's the lamb? Isaac says, I don't really know and the Satan says, don't you know you fool, the lamb is you. Your crazy father is going to sacrifice you after all these years, he's going to put you on top of the altar. And Isaac says, even so.
Okay. That's a simplified version of our Sages' statement, but if you just, sort of, pull back from there. Now, let me, kind of, ask you a question. Who really is the Satan? Let me ask you a question about this statement. Why did the Satan show up to Abraham, in the guise of an old man, according to the Sages and why did the Satan show up to Isaac in the guise of a strapping young man? Why change the costume? What's the answer to that? So who is the Satan really now? The Satan is you, it's a reflection of you. What part of you is the Satan reflecting?
Audience Member: The yetzer hara, the evil inclination.
Rabbi Fohrman: So yetzer hara is just a word, let's translate it into English. What part of you is the Satan reflecting? What's the Satan playing on over here?
Audience Member: Doubt and fear.
Rabbi Fohrman: Doubt and fear, right, it's fear. What's your worst nightmare? For those of you who have read 1984, right, what's your worst nightmare? The worst nightmare for Abraham going up the mountain is what the Satan peels back. Is your whole life going to be meaningless now because God is crazy, because God is asking You to kill this child? That God's capricious and He's going to break all His promises to you and nothing matters anymore. Is that really what's going on here? That's the greatest fear.
For Isaac, what's the greatest fear? The fear isn't that God is crazy, the fear is my dad's crazy. Is my father crazy? For both, fear becomes what it's all about. If you think about that and translate it into the Sages' statement about the Golden Calf, we can now understand why what the Satan did was kosher. Let's just transpose it back. Who is the Satan? The Satan is you. What part of you? Your fear, your deepest fear. What's the deepest fear the people have at Sinai? The deepest fear they have, is what? The Torah actually tells you. If you actually look right after the Ten Commandments, you'll find an interesting story. Let me read it to you. Right after the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20;
"V'chol ha'am ro'im et hakolot v'et halapidim," the people saw the whole fire and light show, "v'et kol hashofar," and the voice of the shofar and they saw how "hahar ashein," the mountain was full of smoke, "vayar ha'am," and people saw, "vaya'amdu meirachok," and they stood back and they stood from afar. "Vayomru el Moshe," so they said to Moses, "daber atah imanu v'nishma'ah," you go talk to God and tell us what He said, "v'al yedaber imanu Eloikim pen namut," don't let God talk with us because we might die.
Remember, this is revelation and revelation hasn't happened before. The notion that the Master of the Universe, the author of it all, should come out, out of space and time and come into the world and that we could survive the experience, isn't so simple. As God Himself says "ki lo yirani hadam v'chai," people can't see Me and live. Now, here God isn't seen, He's heard, but you can understand the fear;
"Vayomer Moshe el ha'am," so Moses says to the people, "al tira'u," don't be so afraid, "ki l'ba'avur nasot etchem," God is just testing you. I'll come back to this verse in a moment, but you see the people are afraid. What are they afraid about? They're afraid that this whole plan is complicating, this whole plan just is not going to work. The notion that God is going to come out of the clouds and talk to everybody is a really nice idea, but He's going to incinerate us all. God doesn't understand what fractural carbon based life forms we really are;
Along comes Moses and says, no it's going to work. So the people say, you go. So Moses says, fine I'm going. Forty days, sixth hour, I'll be back. But of course, what's their fear? The crazy man Moses is up in the clouds. You think he's going to survive? All right, he did it, we want that connection to God, but the fear is maybe this whole thing isn't working. So what happens? As the sixth hour approaches, fear begins to speak with them. Fear shows them a dead Moses in heaven. That's their fear, that's what it is;
Our Sages, in this portrait of evil inclination, actually add one more ingredient in, which is quite fascinating. It's not just fear, it's fear and one other thing. Go back to the language that our Sages use when they talk to us about this and they said, "b'sha'ah she'alah Moshe el hahar," when Moses went up into the sky, "ba Satan v'irvev et ha'olam," the Satan came and confused the world. So one other piece of the picture, which is confusion. Fear plus confusion. Confusion is I don't really know my bearings anymore. Is Moses around, is Moses not around? Am I leaderless? Who am I? Where am I as this revelation is happening? When revelation happens, it's easy to lose your bearings.
Fear and confusion, if you put those two things together, what happens? If you're fearful but not confused, you can somehow hold it together. But imagine those times in your life when you're deeply fearful that your worst nightmare is coming true and you're confused and you don't feel like you have your bearings. You don't quite know which way is up, you don't know quite which way is down. What happens if you feel fearful and confused? What's your bodies reaction to fear? Physiologically, what's your reaction to fear? Adrenaline, which means fight or flight.
So if your instinct Is telling you fight or flight and you're confused and you don't really know which way is up, what's the danger now? You'll do anything. Right, you will do things which are irrational, because you just don't know where you are and you've got to do something. That's what adrenaline does, adrenaline pushes you to do something and before you know it you're making a Golden Calf. You're doing something that's the craziest in the world. Here you are, you're supposed to be accepting the Torah from God and you're making a Golden Calf? But the mixture of fear and confusion will do that to you. It's a dangerous, toxic mix. That's what the evil inclination really is, that's what the Satan really is;
What's the antidote? How do you deal with that kind of fear and confusion? It's interesting, because isn't it strange that the Golden Calf episode didn't just happen at any moment in history, it happened at a really weird moment in history. It happened at the very moment where the most sacred thing in the world was happening; we were experiencing revelation at Sinai. God, for the first time in history, and the only time in history, was coming down for a mass revelation and you're dancing around a Golden Calf. Like, couldn't you wait? Couldn't you find another time? But it's not a coincidence. There's something about revelation, the experience of God coming into the world, which as wonderful as it is, is also dangerous. It can lead to fear and it can lead to confusion and therefore it can lead to a Golden Calf, it can lead to sin;
What's the way out? Our Sages said there is a way out. The way out, what we do when we remember Sinai day forever more, is we have a yearly memory of Sinai day. On Sinai day we have to do something, we have to blow the shofar. If we blow the shofar, we can confuse the Satan. There was a time when the Satan confused us, but we can confuse him. Now let's just translate this into the language we've been using, who is the Satan? Fear. So what does that mean? There was a time when fear confused us, but through the shofar, we can confuse fear;
What does that mean? What does it mean for us to confuse fear? That everything we're doing Rosh Hashanah is about confusing our fear. By the way, it's an amazing insight. In other words, if you think about what your spiritual avodah (service) of the day is, it's that whatever sense of fear that you have, you are meant to try to confuse and you're going to confuse it through the shofar. How would you do that? What does that even mean? The answer, I think, takes us back to one last memory;
Rosh Hashanah, a day of remembering teruah, a day of remembering this moment in history, this collective cry of the shofar. It's interesting, at Sinai we hear something about that shofar, it was "holeich v'chazak," that it was growing louder and louder. Why would the sound be growing louder and louder? If the sound was the voice of God, was what the voice of God sounded like to us, why would it be getting louder? How do humans relate to a sound that's getting louder? What does it mean that the sound is getting louder. When you're listening to an ambulance and the sound is getting louder it means that the source of the sound is getting closer, that's why the sound is getting louder. It means God was coming closer, revelation was happening. God was coming closer and closer to the world. That's what it meant, that the sound was getting louder;
Now, what if asked you, was there another even earlier moment in history where this happened? Where collectively we all heard a sound, the sound that must've been the sound of the shofar, the sound of God's voice approaching, earlier than Sinai? Where would that have been? The answer is in the Garden of Eden. In the Garden of Eden, what did the moment of revelation look like, the moment after we ate from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? "Vayishme'u," the people heard something. What did they hear? "Kol," they heard a sound, "kol Hashem Elokim mithalech bagan l'ru'ach hayom," they heard the voice of God walking, strolling through the Garden, in the afternoon;
Isn't that a strange picture? A voice strolling through a garden, a disembodied voice strolling through a garden. Who strolls through a garden in the afternoon? The owner of the garden. The owner of the garden looking to enjoy his garden, his special place, he goes out on a stroll in the afternoon, but isn't it strange that the owner isn't there, the voice is strolling. Why only the voice? Go back to what we said at Sinai. Because God, who is beyond space and time, doesn't come into the world physically, there is no body, you can't touch Him. All that you can perceive is the voice. So the voice was strolling in the Garden and we heard the voice;
When we heard the voice what must've been the sound of the shofar, the same sound at Sinai when we heard that voice, what happened? What did we do? We hid. Why did we hide? We were afraid. "Et kolcha shamati bagan," Adam says, I heard Your voice in the Garden, "va'ira," and I was afraid. There's that word, the same thing. It's fear. Fear got in our way in the Golden Calf, when we heard God's voice at Sinai and fear got in our way back in the Garden, when we heard God's voice. "Va'ira ki eirom anochi," because I was naked, "v'eichavei."
Such a strange thing, Adam worried that he is naked. It's like God has never seen him that way before? It's like that's how he was created, what's he so scared about? Somehow, his being naked makes him very confused, very worried, so he hides, doesn't even know where he is anymore. God calls out to him and says, where are you? Now, of course, where are you is a strange thing for an omniscient being to say. I mean if God knows where everything is why would God have to say where are you?
So I talk about this a little bit in the book out there, The Beast That Crouches at the Door, but the theory that I suggest there is that there's two Hebrew words for where, eifo and ayei. Eifo is a true request for location. Whenever you would find eifo in the Torah, someone is asking for the actual GPS coordinates of something. Ayei is never a request for location. Ayei never means where is something. It means where did something go. How come it's not here?
Like, so for example, when Isaac says at the Binding of Isaac, "ayei haseh l'olah," he wasn't asking where, give me the GPS coordinates of the lamb. Where did we leave the lamb, behind the shed? Or tied to the lamppost? That wasn't the question. The question is, hey, dad, ayei haseh l'olah, where did that lamb go? There is no lamb, there's no lamb there. Right, that's a whole different question, there's no lamb.
Ayekah, God said, not eifah atah. Ayekah, where are you? Not give me your GPS location. Where did you go? I expected you to be here, how come you're not here? God was strolling through the Garden. Interestingly, the word strolling through the Garden is conjugated in a way that suggests that it was an invitation. It's in reflexive form, suggesting neutral action, as if God was inviting us to put on our jogging shoes and stroll with Him. Come with Me. A benevolent God was saying, look, I love you, let's go walking together, let's go hanging out together.
Except, here was man, unsure of who he was. A man that ate from God's special tree, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. As if to say I can be You, I can be in Your shoes. Who all of a sudden, is uncomfortable with being naked, because when you look at yourself and you're naked, what do you know about yourself? You're human and you're not God and if that's your issue, there's no greater coming down to earth than that. There's fear and there's disorientation, I don't even know who I am anymore. Not sure if I am a human, I'm not sure if I'm God and I'm scared;
So now the question is, if one could redo Eden, what would be the right way to redo it? Imagine you are Adam, you are Eve, you've just eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. You feel terrible. All these trees and the one thing that you had to do was stay away from the one tree and you couldn't do it. Very embarrassing, right. And all of a sudden, here you hear God's voice, the voice of the shofar. That voice is getting louder and it's coming closer and you have a choice. What Adam and Eve chose to do was to hide because they were naked. What's your other option? You feel terrible, you've sinned. What's your other option? Your other option is not to hide. What are you going to say? It's, like, so embarrassing, what are you going to say?
If you didn't know what to say at that moment, if you were flustered, but you wanted to connect and you believe that there was this God who wanted to go strolling with you and wanted to walk with you in the Garden and you felt, kind of, stupid, but you heard His voice there, what could you do? You could answer with that voice too. You could cry out, without any words, just a sound, that deepest sound without any words that just says here's me, this is me, this is my voice. I've heard your voice. I want to let you know I've heard your voice and I want to find some way to connect to You. You're coming to connect to me through voice, let me give you my voice as a way to connect. That's what you could've done. That's what we do;
On the day that we remember the moments in time when we heard God's voice, zichron teruah, the day of memory of teruah. The day when we heard that shofar sound all the way back to Eden, all the way back to Sinai. On that day, we try to say, God we remember that day and we want you to remember us too. How, "bameh?" "Bashofar," with the shofar. We're going to give that voice back to you and somehow that voice is going to be the solution. It's going to confuse the Satan, it's going to confuse fear. The shofar confuses fear. Why?
I want to leave you with this last thought. If you think about the moments of revelation, the moment that God comes into the world. It seems like it was a failure to relate to those moments in fear. We failed at the Golden Calf because fear took over, we failed back at the Garden because fear took over. What's the other option? The option is not to get confused by fear. The option is to confuse fear itself. How do you confuse fear?
So I want to leave you with one last verse about the Sinai experience which is very strange and paradoxical. The verse goes like this. At that moment, remember, when the people said we're too afraid. God is coming down and He's coming down on Sinai and He's going to speak to all of us. Moses you go, we're afraid. I want to read you the whole verse and tell me what the paradox on this verse is. "Va'yomer Moshe el ha'am," Moses said to the people, "al tira'u," do not be afraid, "ki l'ba'avur nasot etchem ba ha'Elokim," don't worry, God's just testing you, "u'ba'avur tihyeh yirato al peneichem," and He's just doing this so that his fear should be upon you, "l'vilti techeta'u," so that you shouldn't sin. Don't worry about a thing, don't be afraid;
What's the paradox in what he just said? Should I be afraid or shouldn't I be afraid? Listen to it one more time. "Al tira'u," don't be afraid, "ki l'ba'avur nasot etchem ba ha'Elokim," God's just doing this to test you, "u'ba'avur tihyeh yirato al peneichem," so that His fear should be upon you, "l'vilti techeta'u," so that you shouldn't sin. This doesn't make any sense. It's an absolute paradox. How could you say, al tira'u, don't be afraid and the very next words say and God is just doing this so you should be afraid? But you just told me I shouldn't be afraid. What do you mean God's doing this so I should be afraid?
Audience Member: There's two kinds of fear.
Rabbi Fohrman: Exactly. There's only one way out of this paradox, there's two kinds of fear. What are the two kinds of fear? Don't be afraid, don't experience fear, experience fear. What's the second kind of fear? Awe. In Hebrew there's a word for two kinds of emotions. One is garden variety fear; that's what we've been talking about until now. It's your worst nightmare coming true, that's fear. I recoil, my adrenaline goes up.
The Difference Between Fear and the Days of Awe
Let's talk about fear. What does fear do? When you experience fear, what happens? A, you have a sense of adrenaline; B, I feel all confused, I'm liable to do anything; C, it's fight or flight, which means there's a source of my fear and what do I try to do? I want to get rid of it. So either I banish it by fighting it or I retreat and I get far away. So that's what fear does. It makes me retreat to get away quickly, to get as far away from the source of fear as I can. It shoots up my adrenaline levels. I get confused, I have these butterflies in my stomach, I feel uncomfortable. Okay. That's fear;
Now, let's talk about something else; awe. When do you feel awe? What is awe like? So let me ask you this. In what way is this awe like fear? Why should the same word in Hebrew be used for fear and awe? There must be some similarity. What's the similarity between fear and awe? Let me ask you this. So both of them are reactions of something that is much larger than me; that's one thing. And what else? What else is similar between fear and awe? How do you feel? You have the same kind of helplessness. Physiologically even how do you feel?
So when you feel awe, you have that same butterflies in your stomach, you know what I mean? That same nervousness is there when you feel awe. But now what's the difference between fear and awe? With awe, I don't want to pull away, I want to come close. With fear, I get confused. Typically, with awe, I'm not confused, I'm very centered. As a matter of fact, you can't even feel awe unless you know two things. Who you are and what it is that you're feeling in awe of. You've got to just really concentrate, what is that thing I'm feeling in awe of and who am I?
The Grand Canyon. You're there at the Grand Canyon. It's amazing, it's awesome, I'm looking up at the stars. I have the sense that I am human, this little human, but there's huge expanse out there and I want to be part of it. I just want to be part of it and I want to lose myself in it. I don't want to run away. I want to allow it all to wash over me because there's is something wonderful about this being. "Atah yadati ki yerei Elokim atah" at the Binding of Isaac now, I know that you're someone who can experience awe of God. Who can let it all wash over you, who can just become part of that;
God says if I am this Master of the Universe, beyond space and time and I am this being who is benevolent, who wants to walk with you in the Garden, then the proper response when I come is not fear. The proper response is awe and if you feel fear, that's understandable. "Al tira'u," don't be afraid, "l'ba'avur nasot etchem ba ha'Elokim u'ba'avur tihyeh yirato al peneichem." God just wants you to feel awe. Awe can confuse fear. What does this mean? If you find yourself feeling fear at the moment of revelation, right, this is the secret of the High Holidays. Why does all this matter, what does the Yamim Nora'im mean? The Days of Awe. What are these days, why are they the Days of Awe? Because they're Sinai days, they're reenactment days of Sinai. So we sense, when we hear the shofar, that the voice of God is getting closer;
I know how there's that part of you that doesn't really look forward to the High Holidays. It's, like, not your favorite time of year. It's not like Purim, it's not like Passover, all that is nice, but this time of the year is like, I don't know, right. Because fear is pretty uncomfortable. So God says, I know, I get that. Your job is to confuse fear. If you experience fear, which is normal, your first gut instinct when there's some big being that's there as you want to just pull away. No. You say, but I can't, I've sinned, I'm not even worthy, God's going to get so mad at me. No. God is benevolent, He is your father in heaven. He actually loves you. He wants to go walking in the Garden with you. Don't run away. Understand who you are. Don't get nervous, be calm;
It's the opposite. Instead of disorientation, orient yourself. Understand, I am not God, I know I am human. I'm okay being in my own skin. I can accept my nakedness as a human being. I am who I am, I'm me, that's God. God loves me. I've sinned, okay, I've sinned, I'll give you my voice, I'll cry out to you with the shofar. I've heard your voice, I'm willing to stand here and give you my voice. I'm willing to respond in awe. Awe confuses fear;
What's going to let yourself let go of the fear? Here's a very deep thing. How do you let go of fear? You're so fearful, how do you let go of it? You trick fear. You say, oh, I know what fear feels like, it feels butterflies in the stomach. I know how nervous you get with fear. I've got another emotion. It's just like fear, has the same butterflies. Then you pull a little bait and switch. You take fear and you say, I know what you feel like, fear, I don't need you anymore. I'm going to let go of you. I'm dealing with a benevolent God, a God who loves me, who can accept me, even as I sin. I heard His voice, I remember His voice."
This is a day of remembering that voice, this is a day of responding and not hiding. Therefore, fear, you can go away. I've got another emotion with butterflies in my stomach that I want to put right in your stead. When the Satan sees that, fear is confused, fear leaves you alone. Because fear says, oh, yes, you feel me, you get it; it's those butterflies in the stomach. Great, I'll leave you alone, but it's as far as fear as can be, it's awe;
What emerges from this, I believe, is that the central service of the High Holidays may well be different than we remember it as children. If you think back to when you were a child, what were these days like? These were scary days. It's easy to get lost in the fear, it's easy to just worry. I have so many things I'm worried about, I have so many things I'm worried about life, I have so many nightmares and here comes God and all of these nightmares can happen right now. But if you do that, you're giving into fear and you're giving into disorientation and you're doing the exact thing that makes you vulnerable to a Golden Calf moment at the very moment that you should be reveling and standing there and letting it all wash over you;
The one thing you have to remember is that along with kingship, there's one word that goes along with God, our King, Malkeinu and that is Avinu, God, our Father. A father loves you, we have a father king. Yes, there are laws and yes, there are rules and yes, there is majesty. But it is loving majesty and a loving majesty is something you get close to, it's not something you run away from. Loving majesty is not something you're supposed to be afraid of, it's something you're supposed to be centered about. To understand who you are, to be able to understand the magnitude of the experience that I have and to be able to embrace it. If we can do that, we can let go of the fear, the fear that plagues us, embrace awe, confuse the Satan and say "kamah chavivin mitzvos", how pleasant the commandments are. We're willing to embrace the shofar. It's the strangest thing in the world, but we embrace it and we let go of fear and embrace awe;
So this is what I want to leave you with. I want to wish you a very good Rosh Hashanah and a very good High Holidays.