Rosh Hashanah: Your First Rosh Hashana
In Israel, there are thousands of new Baalei Teshuva for whom this will be their first Rosh Hashana as observant Jews; Rabbi Lazer Brody gives them useful advice...
by Rabbi Lazer Brody
Someone asked me what advice I can give a new Baal Teshuva on his first Rosh Hashana as an observant Jew.
The Mishna offers us important advice, especially for Rosh Hashana, when it says (tractate Avos 2:4), "Don't separate yourself from the public." When a person prays as a part of the tzibur, the public community, he or she gets judged together with the entire public. Such a trial is much easier, for it's less exacting on the individual. Therefore, it's advisable to pray in an upright community with upright people, preferably led by a righteous person. For this reason, many people travel great distances to pray with a tzaddik on Rosh Hashana. May all those travelling to pray by Rebbe Nachman's gravesite in Uman, Ukraine have a safe trip.
In Israel, Baruch Hashem, there are thousands of new Baalei Teshuva for whom this will be their first Rosh Hashana as observant Jews. The Israeli religious public is used to them and welcomes them. Therefore, there's no need to worry if you don't belong to a synagogue; there are tens of places where one can pray with a tzaddik, have a place to stay with festive meals, and it won't cost you a cent. Miron is a fantastic place to spend Rosh Hashana. In Ashdod alone, a guest can pick from any number of inspiring places; for yeshivishe davening, you can go to Grodno. For chassidishe davening with a Rebbe, you can go to Pittsburg, Neshchiz, Chernobel, or Melitz (the Belzers and Gerrers all go to Jerusalem, while the Vishnitzers go to Bnai Brak). If you like Sephardi davening, you can pray with the Baba Sali's grandsons, Rebbe Raphael or Rebbe Yekutiel Abu Chatzira (each has his own shul) right here in Ashdod, or with the rabbis of the Pinto dynasty, like Rabbi Chaim or his son Rabbi Yeshayahu, or Rabbi David Pinto who visits Israel frequently from France.
If you're a soldier in the IDF - and a new BT - you can be especially happy; there's no angel with the audicity to obstruct the prayers of a soldier, especially if he's on the front lines. If I wouldn't be in Uman on Rosh Hashana, I'd be delighted to pray with a platoon of soldiers protecting the border...
If you're in America, and you either don't have the money for High Holiday tickets or you don't know where to go, or maybe you're an embarrassed newcomer to traditional Judaism, there's no need to worry. My very special brothers at Chabad sent me this Rosh Hashana services link, where you can find the shul nearest you that will welcome you with open arms, including a place to eat and a place to stay.
Praying with the public is important, but sometimes it's worthwhile just to close your eyes, bury your face in a scarf or hankie (if you're a woman) or in your tallit (if you're a man), and pour your heart out to Hashem in your very own words. This way, you have the advantage of the public aspects of prayer (public merits, shofar, kaddish, kedusha, etc.) with the emotion and intensity of your deepest meditation. Don't hold the tears back.
An old story attributed to the Baal Shem Tov zatza"l tells of a orphaned country bumpkin who couldn't read the aleph-bet, yet believed in Hashem with simple and pure faith. He came into town to join in the Rosh Hashana services, but didn't know how to pray a word. When others cried out in prayer, he simply looked up at the heavens, and said, "Dear G-d, I can't read or pray, but I know it's a holy day. I don't know what the others are saying, and I don't even know how to express myself. I do know how to imitate a rooster, so I dedicate this call to you...Cockadoodle-doo! Cockadoodle-doo!" As the orphan crowed, the tears streamed down his cheeks, for this was his personal prayer from the inner walls of a pure heart. The Baal Shem Tov said that the orphan's prayers pierced the heavens, and caused all harsh verdicts for the coming year to be rescinded.
Hashem never turns away anyone who comes to Him with sincerity. Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Kotsk said that nothing is more whole than a broken heart. Don’t underestimate the power of prayer in your own words; don’t feel overwhelmed if you don’t know what’s flying in the synagogue service. Hashem will surely send you a worthy messenger that will help you find the right page at the right time. I remember ever-so-fondly my first bittersweet Rosh Hashana as a brand new Baal Teshuva. Not only could I “Cockadoodle-doo” since I was a farmer, but I imagined that I was piercing the Heavens with spiritual machine-gun fire, for my first Rosh Hashana as a new Baal Teshuva was right after I came home from Beirut in September of 1982 after the first Lebanon War. That was the most naïve and probably the most powerful prayer I ever prayed...
The war still rages, but the enemy – the evil inclination - is still stubbornly resisting. With emuna, we’ll win – this year, for sure! May you have a sweet New Year 5778, and may all your prayers be answered for the very best, amen.
Rabbi Lazer Brody was born in Washington, D.C. in 1949. After receiving his bachelor's degree in agriculture from the University of Maryland in 1970, he moved to Israel and joined the Israel Defense Forces regular army, and served in one of the elite special-forces units. He is a decorated combat veteran of two wars and numerous of counter-insurgence and anti-terrorist missions on both sides of Israel's borders.
Rabbi Brody is the English-language editor of Breslev Israel's highly popular English-language website at www.breslev.co.il, and the founder and director of Emuna Outreach. Between Breslov Israel and Emuna Outreach, he devotes his time to spreading emuna and particularly the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev around the globe.
"Lazer Beams," Rabbi Brody's award-winning daily web journal, has been instrumental in helping tens of thousands of people around the globe find joy and fulfillment in their lives.