Monday, October 03, 2005

A new year

The Pesikta on Rosh Hashana says:
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
"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.


Blogger Lipman said...

This is a beautiful thought. It fits neatly to the idea that we celebrate Rosheshone with a sude and dress festively.

2:43 PM  
Anonymous פלא יועץ said...

This is great! I always sleep, but never knew where my minhag came from... thank you!

3:38 PM  
Anonymous Lia said...

I was taught that we don't sleep on RH because how could we sleep when the book of judgment is lying open before the Lord. And in fact, I envy anyone who is confident that when the Lord Almighty looks her or him in the face, the judgment will be wholly positive. (I don't believe in literal judgments sealing fates and God punishing me for that lashon hara by killing my dog, but figuratively, standing before God to be judged is pretty important if you ask me, and attention to how I imagine God would perceive me is a pretty worthwhile way to spend RH.) Of course, I fell alseep reading on Tuesday afternoon like everyone else, but still...

6:18 AM  
Anonymous justme said...

OK, but surely you don't mean to say that they actually had a minhag of sleeping (sorry for being so literal, just checking).

I guess this gives support to the notion that what's judged on rosh hashana is spiritual life in the coming year:

7:50 AM  
Anonymous Limited said...

There is Midrash somewhere which says that we Jews are so sure that th scales will tip in our favor, that we celebrate the day, eat & drink, etc. This Minhag seems to be going in the same optimistic direction.
As a friend of mine said: With the luck I have, I hope it will sleep the whole year through. Yet another maintained: One who does not sleep on Rosh Hashana will remain tired for the rest of the year.

3:20 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Fascinating. Does that idea that "some say we sleep on RH" mean that some allow sleeping, or that some say that we should davqo sleep?

I'm looking forward to checking out that article.

3:05 AM  
Blogger manuscriptboy said...

It means they say "we sleep" on RH.

8:16 AM  
Anonymous justme said...

"It means they say "we sleep" on RH."

where do you get that from? Is there something there that you didn't copy?
"v'eneman ata l'hachyos nirdamim - She'onu nirdamim ad yifsak hadin" doesn't seem to be describing a minhag to sleep, just an existential state on rosh hashana?

12:48 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

i prefer the form of the superstition that says "whatever you do on Rosh Hashana, you'll do for the whole year".

6:16 PM  

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