A new year
ר' ברכיה בשם ר' ירמיה פתח - אורח חיים למעלה למשכיל למען סור משאול מטה. אורח
חיים - אין אורח חיים אלא דברי תורה, דכת' עץ חיים וג'. ד"א אורח חיים - אין אורח
חיים אלא ייסורים, דכת' ודרך חיים תוכחות מוסר.
R. Berechia opened in the name of R. Yirmiyah: "The path of life
goeth upward for the wise, that he may depart from the nether-world beneath" (Proverbs
15:24). "The path of life" - there is no path of life other than Torah,
as it says "It is a
tree of life". Another opinion: "The path of life" - there is no path of
life other than suffering, as it says "and reproofs of
instruction are the way of life".
(Piska 23, 5, ed. Mandelbaum p. 338)
I don't think anyone actually chooses a path of suffering in life. But there are plenty of people whose path chose them. And I shudder at the thought that this path is meant to steer them away from the nether-world, when that nether-world itself yawns at their feet every day. I can't say I understand why someone chose to place this second choice after R. Berechia's homily. But there is definitely something sobering about it, something that reminds me that homilies about the value of learning Torah fall short of the reality of existence.
One of the most annoying things I remember from Rosh Hashana in yeshiva was the people who would constantly remind those around them of the custom to avoid sleeping too much over the New Year. "If you sleep on Rosh Hashana, your luck will sleep all year".
So I was gratified to find, just a few days ago, a short article by Yisrael M. Peles (Moriya 17, 7-8, 1991, pp. 106-108) titled "Some say we sleep on Rosh Hashana". Apparently, Minhag Zarefat (and, to some degree, Ashkenaz) modified the words of the second blessing of the Amida. Instead of ונאמן אתה להחיות מתים, "and we trust You to resuscitate the dead", they would say נרדמים, "the sleeping". Because, as an anonymous glossator said, שאנו נרדמים עד יפסק הדין, we sleep until our fate is determined.
Sleeping is a great act of faith. Someone whose existence is in jeopardy will not sleep. He will stay awake as long as he can.
Wishing all my readers, my friends, family and everyone else a somnolent year.