The congregation of Rabbi Aharon Karliner zt”l arrived at the haunting chant which begins the Rosh Hashanah morning service. The notes soared over the still congregants, the Rabbi in deep meditation. Then, they reached the crescendo with the first word of the service: “HaMelech! The King!” … and the Rabbi fainted to the floor. When he awoke the service continued, but his students were eager to learn what meditation had caused their teacher to lose consciousness. Afterwards R’ Aharon explained, “Now, on the Day of Judgment, I’m declaring with great emotion that He is the King, the absolute source of everything I have. I felt as if He was then asking me, ‘If I am the King, where have you been until now?” (see Talmud Gittin 56a)
The Torah portion details the tragic consequences to befall the Jewish nation when they fail to uphold their covenant with G-d. The principle cause of their failure, says the Torah, is “Because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, in joy.” Rabbi Eliezer Shulevitz zt”l offers this novel reading: “Because you did not serve… at times when life was joyful, when you were successful.” When we need our Father, we’re moved to pray to Him, to ask Him for help. But when life is going well and filled with happiness, our relationship with Him can be neglected; we can forget the true source of our goodness.
We sense the loneliness of a parent whose children only call or visit when they need help paying their rent, or buying a car. A fair-weather friend offers us no real relationship, no personal connection. Declaring the Al-mighty as the King and stating our loyalty to Him can only be meaningful if we see Him and reach out to Him under the brightness of a joyful day, not just between the gusts of a storm.
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
Program Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org