The Struggle of Contradiction

Blessed are you, YHWH, our God, King of existence, King of all Earth, who sanctifies Israel and the Day of Remembrance.
The central blessing of Rosh Hashana brings into focus one of the holiday’s central contradictions. We stress God’s universal sovereignty by doubling the reference to God’s kingship, and by moving from the regular, abstract King of existence to the specific, more tangible King of all Earth. Yet, at the same time we recall our specific relationship with God.
This contradiction is not limited to that one blessing. The entire holiday presents the tension. Tomorrow, the day the God created the world (or humanity) is the same day that so many of us go to synagogue and proudly identify as Jews. The other special prayers of the day continue the same theme. The prayer of remembrance recalls that God knows all, and never forgets anything. We declare that all actions and thoughts, of all people, of all existence, are recorded for God and are present continually to God, and yet we in the same prayer ask God to remember specific events, specific actions, and most importantly, the specific covenant that binds us, the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to God.
Beyond the liturgy, the center of the entire service, the shofar, exposes all of the facets of the contradiction. The simple horn’s blast recalls so many different images. It is the shofar that awakens us, as God’s original call awakened Adam and Eve in Eden, and it is the shofar that calls all of existence to judgement. It is the shofar’s sound that makes us dream of the great horn that will once again be blown for all humanity when we reach the Messianic age. However, it is this same shofar that recalls Isaac – bound and prepared for sacrifice, and it is the same shofar whose bellow brought our people to attention at Sinai.
Tonight, as we, and all of the Children of he who struggled with God and Humanity, gather to crown God as King, let us continue the struggle. While we wrestle with understanding creation, the creator, and all creatures, let us continue to wrestle with who we are as Jews. What does our heritage, our covenant, our mission mean? How can we be different when God is equally the king of all people? What value can this gift have when people across the world continue to suffer? When even the existence of the angels can not be justified, how do we make meaning of our own being?
Let these questions and more be in our hearts, let us all be inscribed in the books of life, happiness, mitzvoth and Torah, and let this be the year when the Great Shofar will be heard, and God’s name in all its glory and majesty be known throughout the world.

One thought on “The Struggle of Contradiction

  1. Josh, this is nice. Maybe you have some insights into something I’ve been searching for since, say, halfway through services on Sunday. All my thoughts kept heading back to some of the themes you mentioned, the tensions between us as individuals praying for our own lives, us as Jews praying in community in the second person plural, and us as members of humanity praying to a God who created humanity and remembers His covenent to all the world. I was struck again and again by the word éçãå (yachdav, together) that occured nearly a half dozen times (Genesis 22:6,8,19 and Jeremiah 31:7,12) during the Torah/haftara. Now I’ve heard my fair share of explanations for the repetitions of the word in the akeida story but I’ve never heard about it in relation to the reading in Yermiyahu and Rosh Hashana. But as I struggled with the issues of individual/community/humanity during my prayer I kept wondering about the significance of éçãå, especially with regard to the disparate people grouped together in the Yermiyahu verses. Any insights? Can you point me to anyone who’s got anything to say about this?

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