WHISTLE BLOWER

A week ago, there was much ado in our national news about the Whistle Blower. Americans were reminded, yet again, of how divided this country has become. Regardless of how you feel about events last week, I sincerely hope that there is not just agreement, but unity as well, among our people when we bring to mind a “whistle blower” of a totally different nature. The “whistle blower” who appeared before our people this past Monday and Tuesday, typically during synagogue services, is accorded the honorific title of Ba’al Tokea. Unlike the Washington Whistle Blower, our Ba’al Tokea does not make national news, nor does our Ba’al Tokea provide fodder for talk show hosts.

Our “Whistle Blower” is positioned for all to see and for all to hear. There is nothing secretive or furtive about him. More important, however, our “whistle Blower” succeeds in uniting the masses rather than dividing them. However well intentioned, many a rabbi has been known to create acrimony among congregants because of his sermons. However well thought out, many a rabbi has been known to take on the role of Hypnos, the Greek deity of sleep, because of his sermon. But the Ba’al Tokea? Before even setting his lips to the shofar, the Ba’al Tokea has created an aura of riveting silence, as those assembled wait to hear those age-old notes that speak volumes.

Unlike the “Whistle Blower” who divulges, the Ba’al Tokea indulges. Hearing those holy sounds emanating from a hollowed horn,  HaShem is both figuratively and literally, in seventh heaven.

There are no doubt those who will insist that the “Whistle Blower” betrayed a confidence. Others will argue the exact opposite. In contradistinction to whether or not a confidence was in fact betrayed, suffice it to say that all who heard the shofar being sounded Monday and Tuesday, will agree that the Ba’al Tokea displayed confidence. Because the T’kiah, Shvarim and Truah flowing from the shofar are both age-old and time-tested, the Ba’al Tokea has every reason to feel confident that the holy sounds will be a resounding success, as they find their way to the very soul of the Master of the Universe. As powerful and moving as the High Holy day liturgy is, it can be said that the wordless prayer offered by the Shofar speaks to our creator, in ways that defy our imagination.

Unlike the “Whistle Blower,” it is  highly doubtful any Ba’al Tokea makes headlines in the press. Nor is this the purpose of any Ba’al Tokea. Rather than make any headline, the goal of the Ba’al Tokea is to make a beeline to the depths of the soul – both human and divine. Most of us would agree, that the sound of the shofar is spine chilling. However true that may be, the sound of the shofar ought to be soul stirring as well. Let those who hear that haunting inter-generational sound of the shofar, realize what a potential source of naches we are to the Creator of the Universe, as the Ba’al Tokea communicates with Him through the horn of a descendant of the ram caught in the thicket on Mount Moriah. Conversely, let the Creator of the Universe be reminded through the horn of a descendant of the ram caught in the thicket on Mount Moriah, that He is a unique source of naches to His people as well.

Headline or a beeline, betraying a confidence or displaying confidence, dividing or uniting, the  Ba’al Tokea is the antithesis to the “Whistle Blower.”

Let’s leave “whistleblowing” – necessary or unnecessary – to those who believe that they have an obligation to society. Let’s approach the Ba’al Tokea – a master of the skill or not – with a belief that he has an obligation to his people. Just as HaShem breathed the breath of life into the ground on the first Rosh Hashana of creation, so too does the Ba’al Tokea breathe a breath of life toward heaven on every Rosh Hashana thereafter of celebration.

HOW SWEET IT IS

Unlike non-Jews whose lives are guided solely by the Gregorian calendar and unless we Jews give in to copy-cat behavior, we do not wish one another a Happy New Year. Instead, we extend blessings for a good year, a healthy year and a sweet year. It is this third wish that ought to appeal to our tastes more than any other wish that we either extend or reciprocate.

Wouldn’t it make for a much more interesting Rosh Hashanah, if at each meal, instead of honey, we dipped a piece of our  round challah as well as a slice of our apple into a different type of sugar? We could begin with brown sugar at the first Rosh Hashanah meal, segue into confectioners’ sugar for lunch the first day, go over to sanding sugar (coarse granules, often dyed different colors) for dinner that night and conclude by using table sugar for the final Rosh Hashanah meal, at lunch, the second day of the festival. Aside from the argument found in the Talmud that the honey in question was fig honey rather than bee honey, we would do well to wonder why, in emphasizing a sweet year, we grant honey – that is to say bee honey – an exclusive each Rosh Hashanah?

Those who insist that bee honey is not kosher are unfortunately jumping to conclusions. Savannah Bee, Busy Bee, Sue Bee are three companies that to the best of my knowledge have kosher certification. All three, sell honey derived from bees and honeycombs. Perhaps one of the reasons that honey is our dip of choice is to remind us that an essential ingredient for a a good year is not to jump to conclusions. Just as there is no foundation in claiming that honey from bees can’t be kosher, so too could many a rift have been avoided, innumerable friendships could have remained strong, and untold individuals would have been spared from looking foolish, had all the facts been assembled and carefully assessed a situation. Once someone forgoes the necessary facts and jumps to conclusions, there is simply no way of knowing where that individual will land.

Life is complex. Rarely, if ever are things straightforward. No different is the explanation that while the bee is germane to the production of honey, the bee does not actually “produce” the honey, the same way the cow produces milk. That too is anything but straightforward. Each year, we are apt to find that our pathways of life are filled with blind curves, hairpin turns, lane closures and detours, false stars, breakdowns and accidents. Perhaps for these reasons, we never wish one another an “easy” year. Life is not intended to be easy.

It might very well be that honey is the best visual lingual aid when it comes to explaining the aphorism “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Like so many other foods that any number of us simply love to eat, what is of essence is not the process, but the final product. Few, if any are interested in how hotdogs are made, how hamburgers start out and how Jell-O comes into being. Similarly, I have yet to meet anyone who has been devastated or even hurt  by somebody else’s intentions; I have yet to encounter someone who has been publicly humiliated by another person’s thoughts. It is the bee that stings, not the honey.

We ask HaShem’s blessing for a year that is mere days old. Let’s develop a taste for wishing each other  sweet times ahead. We pray that 5779 is as honey of a year. .

NOW IS NOT THE TIME

Not that I’ve conducted any studies, but I can’t help but feel that there will be topics that any number of rabbis in this country will address in their sermons. Unlike so many other rabbis, the rabbi of Tiferet Israel wouldn’t touch these topics with a ten-foot pole. To borrow a cliché: “Now (Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur) is not the time.”

Now is not the time to talk about the state of the world, the state of this country, or the state of this state… Unless, of course, some high elected officials are present in the congregation. And even then, why not have a private conversation with that high elected official? Unless it is election time and the rabbi is foolish or reckless enough to speak politics from the pulpit, the average congregant can do precious little, if anything, to change the world, this country, or the state or city he or she is living in. You may disagree, but I was always under the impression is that the High Holy Days are all about changing oneself. Please understand, I rant and rave about North Korea, Qatar, Syria, and the Myanmar Rakhine exodus as much as anyone. However, I’ll do my ranting and raving at the breakfast table.

Now is not the time to talk about social action. Come to think about it, rarely, if ever, does the rabbi at Tiferet speak about social action. The rabbi at Tiferet leaves that to other clergy. Let other rabbis talk social action from their pulpits until their hearts content. When it comes to social action, the rabbi at Tiferet is occupied with not talking, but undertaking social action on the other side of Fair Park, Tuesdays at lunch time. The rabbi at Tiferet must be doing something right, because from time to time a Tiferet congregant joins him in this mitzvah of social action. And that’s in addition to the regulars who accompany him on an ongoing basis. Isn’t Rosh Hashanah a time to focus in on oneself? What better social action is there than giving oneself a sense of worth? What better social action is there than getting oneself to establish a stronger connection with HaShem? No different than charity, shouldn’t social action begin at home?

Now is not the time to harangue congregants. Quite frankly, the rabbi of Tiferet sincerely doubts that any time is the time to harangue congregants. Can you imagine any salesperson at Sanger’s department store haranguing a customer? Can you fathom a Liberty Mutual agent haranguing a client? Why then should a rabbi reprimand a congregant? Shouldn’t the very opposite be the case? Isn’t the role of a rabbi to welcome a congregant and embrace that congregant? Why must “you are loved” be the sole domain of televangelists? Why should “love” be a concept that when mentioned in connection with a synagogue makes Jews feel so uncomfortable? If “teshuvah,” a word so typically attached to the High Holy Days, means “return,” shouldn’t “teshuvah” apply to the synagogue as well? Shouldn’t every congregant be reminded, time and time again, that he or she will always be most welcome and will be embraced with outstretched arms and a loving heart at his or her spiritual home?

Let’s leave this year’s High Holy Day sermon topics a secret for the time being. Be assured that they were prepared with you in mind in the hope that they reach your hearts and souls.