Ra’anana Community Kollel

Service, Service, Service!

Rabbi Yissocher Frand

Our Rabbis tell us that three barren women were remembered on Rosh Hashanah  - Sarah, Rachel, and Chana [Rosh Hashana 11a]. What point are our Sages making by telling us this?

The Shemen HaTov quotes a Tikunei Zohar: "The people, on the day of Yom Kippur, bark like dogs, 'give us sustenance' (like an aggressive dog, who barks for bread)." People come on the Days of Awe with a wish list. "Hav, Hav (Give, Give) -- give us food, give us sustenance."
This human tendency to focus on one's physical needs causes us to miss the major focus of the day. If we look at the nature of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy, we will notice that it contains very little by way of asking for personal needs such as livelihood, sustenance, etc. On Rosh Hashanah we primarily ask G-d to "rule over the entire world with Your (G-d’s) Honor". Rosh Hashanah is a cosmic day. Rosh Hashanah does not deal with trivial and mundane pursuits. Rosh Hashanah must be more elevated than that. Rosh Hashanah is really all about the concept that Hashem is Sovereign and we are the servants. Nothing else in our entire life should concern us, other than that we establish that G-d is the Ruler.

A recent article in the Washington Post noted that the United Methodist Church removed the word "Lord" from its liturgy, because "Lord" implies that we are servants (this was in 1993). "That is too harsh! Redeemer is fine; Healer is fine; Friend is fine; but if he is the Lord, where does that leave me? I would then be a servant." That seems to be politically incorrect thinking today.

On the contrary, on Rosh Hashanah, we stress that G-d is the Monarch and we are indeed the servants. The true servant has no other wish in life other than that the Master should be exalted and glorified.

This is true to such an extent that the only time we really worry about our sustenance, about our ability to have children, or about having a little sweetness in our own lives, is when we come home at night after having finished in shul. Then we have the "signs". The context of those "signs" becomes "Yes, G-d, I know what it is all about. It is about serving You. But I can not serve You unless I have a livelihood, unless I have health, unless I have children, etc. Therefore, please help me out."

That is why these three women were remembered on Rosh Hashana. These three women had something in common. They all worried about someone else.

"G-d remembered Sarah as he said" [Bereshis 21:1]. Rash"i cites the connection between this portion and the immediately preceding portion. Since Avraham prayed for a cure for Avimelech, Avraham's own needs were answered. Avraham thought about someone else's needs, and therefore his needs were provided for.

"G-d remembered Rachel" [Bereshis 30:22]. Why did G-d remember Rachel? G-d remembered Rachel because she remembered someone else. Rachel thought about the embarrassment of her sister. She was selfless. That is what Rosh Hashanah is about -- selflessness.

Chana was also remembered on Rosh Hashana [Shmuel I 2:21]. Why did G-d remember Chana? He remembered her because of the reason why she was asking for a child. Chana was not asking for a child because she wanted someone to cuddle. Chana wanted to have someone to dedicate to G-d all the days of his life. Her request was altruistic.

This is the difficult task of Rosh Hashana. It is a day when we must put things in their proper perspective. Life is really about being a faithful servant. As hard as that may seem for modern people living in the end of the twentieth century, that is the name of the game. All the needs that we present to G-d must be in the context of "Can I thereby become a better servant?"

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