Commentary for Rosh HaShanah

13 Sep

We do a lot of praying on Rosh Hashanah.  Rosh Hashanah morning services are the longest of the year.  We all come together and sit in shul and turn the pages in the machzor from prayer to prayer.  There are many traditions that explain how the wordless primal sounds of the shofar are used to convey pleas from us to God, the different sounds representing raw emotions from within the deepest parts of ourselves.  Just about the only time that we aren’t praying in some form or another is during the Torah and haftarah reading, and there we are reading about other people praying; Sarah in the Torah reading and Hannah in the haftarah (and both prayers are answered with a child born not-so-coincidentally on Rosh Hashanah).
Hannah, in fact, prays twice in our haftarah, and both of her prayers are used by the rabbis as a model for how we should pray today.  Her first prayer is a model for how we conduct ourselves physically when we say the Amidah, our most important prayer: standing up, and “speaking to her heart, her lips moved, but her voice was not heard (I Samuel 1:13)” by Eli, the High Priest, who was sitting in the room with her.
Despite this, it is Hannah’s second prayer (I Samuel 2:1-10), the passage often simply referred to as “Hannah‘s Song,” that the rabbis laud with the highest possible praise.  Although Hannah’s action at the beginning of the passage are described in the I Samuel 2:1 as praying (“And Hannah prayed”), the name “Hannah’s Song” comes from it’s designation by the rabbis as just one of nine true “Songs” that have been recited in all of human history (with another to come after the coming of the Messiah).
A “Song” such as this only occurs at a moment when someone opens him/herself up and creates such a connection to God that things click into place and he/she seems to understand the workings of God’s universe.  Understand why things have happened the way they have, and thus are able to see things the way they could be, and see the path to get there.
The High Holiday season is one of reflection and self-examination.  We forgive others for petty wrongs they have done us and renew our focus on the things that are truly important.  We examine the things we have done, and ask forgiveness from others if we have hurt them.  We try to determine where we need to improve ourselves.  How we can do better and be better.
Before we can work on fixing our flaws, we first need to be able to see them, and in order to do that, we need to be able to examine ourselves honestly, and as much as we hate to admit it, that is something a lot of us have trouble doing.
Prayer is our direct line to God, and is our tool to help ourselves do that.  There is no point in lying to God.  God is omniscient.  God knows what the score is.  And as we pray to God for forgiveness and mercy and help, that forced honesty helps us to be honest with ourselves.
If we pray sincerely, are open and honest with ourselves and with God, we can see ourselves as we truly are, and also as we could be.  We can see our flaws and see the path to fixing them.  We can start to improve both ourselves and our world.   When we pray, we can each find our “Song.”

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