Saturday, March 3, 2007

High Holiday Anxiety II

D’oreisah or D’rabanan. Two of the most powerful concepts in Judaism. Roughly speaking they refer to mandates which either find its authority in Torah, that is, Biblical text divinely given, or from the Sages and Rabbis and the tools they use such as Takanot and Gezerot. In normative Judaism, oftentimes the rabbinic opinion trumps that which is found in text. For example, Lo Tivaaru Aish, the Al Taaseh of using or building fire on Shabbat. Come the sages and institute the use of lighting candles with a Bracha on Friday evening prior to the onset of Shabbat. Not only are we directed to light candles so that there is light in our homes, but we are commanded to enjoy the light. This law was instituted by the Rabbis in their infinite wisdom as a way of dealing with the Karaites, who insisted on observing the Shabbat with a literal understanding of the text and thereby sitting in the dark until Shabbat was over.

Judaism has flourished, grown and developed over thousands of years, most of which being spent in exile, due to the astute logic and wisdom of our Sages and their ability to read well and understand those whom they served: Ein Gezeirah Ella Im Kein Rov Hatziboor Yecholim Laamod Bo. So while the Rabbis and Sages had significant power, it was balanced with concern and consideration for their public. Indeed, rabbinic literature ascribes to the Rabbis not only the power but also the authority to initiate and carry out significant alteration to the sacred text: Yesh Coach Biyad Chachamim La’akor Davar Min Hatorah B’shev V’al Taaseh. Our sages have been vested with the power and authority to institute change in the Torah when necessary. The Rabbis and Sages were also mandated to systematize our ritual in ways that are meaningful. An example of this is Prozbol. Basically, according to Biblical text, every seven years, as shemitah reigns supreme, the land remains fallow, debts forgiven. As the Shemitah year would draw closer, business would come to a faltering hault. To avoid this, the Prozbol was instituted by the great sage Hillel, who claimed that the shmitta year wouldn’t affect business and commerce since they were passed through the Beit Din. Thus, Shemitah was regulated and limited to the agrarian sector, but business which operated through the Beit Din was literally saved. Thus, we see a case where the Rabbis, via the powers vested in them, based upon the Talmudic concept of Yesh Coach Biyad Chachamim La’akor Davar Min Hatorah B’shev V’al Taaseh, and the power of logic and good sense, were able to finesse a possibly devastating situation, by reinterpreting the meaning of the text.

What happens however, when as a result of laws instituted by the rabbis conflict is created with the biblical text. Again, the Sages trump the text which according to those very same rabbis was given directly by the Almighty. How can it be that our faith which is based on Divine manifestation has been trumped by the Rabbis? In a sense it reminds me of the Frankenstein classic: man’s creation overtakes the creator. Two illustrations of this are apropos of the season we are entering.

The first example takes place when the first day of Rosh Hashanah falls out on Shabbat as it does this year. Because it falls out on Shabbat we are proscribed from sounding the shofar. Blowing the shofar and hearing it is a D’oreisah, ascribed to Biblical text, its origin being divine. The Rabbis were concerned that the shofar might be carried on Shabbat and thus prohibited its use. No matter that it would stay in the Beit K’nesset, no matter that there is an Eruv, the rabbis had a concern that somehow the shofar may be transported to a public domain and vise versa. Unlike the “carmalis” there was no remedy for transporting from a public domain to a private domain which concerned the Rabbis. But how real is this fear. The most significant mitzvah of Rosh Hashanah is hearing the blasts of the Shofar, so much so that from the first Bracha over the Shofar to the last blast one is not allowed to talk-to break that mystical and spiritual circuitry between the listeners and the blower of the Shofar, thus stressing the significance and all importance of hearing and feeling the sound of the shofar, its sound penetrating our very core and touching our soul.

A second example which illustrates my point is the use of the Lulav and Esrog on Succot. Again, apart from eating in the Succah, it is a paramount Mitzvah that defines the Chag. The same issues and concerns that Rabbis had with Shofar apply as well to the Lulav and Esrog. By the time the Lulav and Esrog can be used on the second day of the chag it is only a D’rabanan. By observing the rules of the Rabbis, the D’orisah has been foregone to satisfy the concerns of the Rabbis. Ridiculous. Maybe.

Beyond being incapacitated to fulfill the D’orisah at the expense of the Rabbis there is another shortcoming. The Rabbis have denied us of an emotional experience, without which the respective holidays are diminished in the power to emote in youngsters and adults alike the spiritual connection with our history and religion. For a child or adult not to hear the shofar is like an immigrant arriving in America without passing under the caring and watchful gaze of the Statue of Liberty when first arriving to the shores of liberty and freedom. Not to smell the fragrant Lulav and Esrog when Hallel or Hoseana is chanted is like experiencing the fall season without its crisp fragrance. There are things that go to the very core of our Jewish experience as a people. Interestingly enough, when we had the Temples, Shofar was blasted on the Shabbat and the Lulav and Esrog was waved on Shabbat.

Clearly, Judaism is the richer, fuller and more meaningful because of the wisdom of our chachamim. I do believe, however that there are times and circumstances when they come up short. These are two instances. If you disagree let me know.