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Parshas Rosh Hashanah 5773

The King Who Was Lost in the Forest: A Rosh Hashanah Parable

A prominent feature of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy is the part (in the Mussaf prayer service) where various pesukim (Scriptural verses) are recited which reflect the basic themes of the day: Malchuyos (proclaiming G-d’s Kingship over the world), Zichronos (G-d’s Remembrance of all of creation), and Shofros (the Blasts of the Ram’s Horn which recall G-d’s mercy).

The Shofros section begins with a prayer to G-d to remember the Revelation at Mount Sinai and the shofar blast that was heard then: “Amid thunder and lightning You were revealed to them and with the sound of shofar You appeared to them ...”

The question is what does this have to do with Rosh Hashanah? Maybe on Shavuos, the holiday which celebrates the Giving of the Torah, it makes sense to recall the Revelation at Sinai and everything that happened on that momentous occasion. But why are mentioning it on the Day of Judgment? Is it just because a shofar was sounded then just as we sound one on Rosh Hashanah? There has to be a deeper connection.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev ZT”L, the famous “Defender of the Jewish people”, answers with an amazing mashal (parable):

Once upon a time, a king went out into the forest to hunt wild game. He chased after deer and antelope until he was very deep into the forest. The king lost his way and got further entangled in the woods. He walked for a day or two until he came upon a small village in the thick of the forest. He turned to one of the villagers and asked him how to get to the main road leading back to his palace. As it happened, this fellow and the rest of the inhabitants of the village didn’t speak or understand the king’s language, so they couldn’t help him out.

The king traveled further in a greatly weakened state until he came upon a second village. This time, the people spoke his language, but they had never left the forest their entire lives and therefore had no idea how to get out of there. It slowly dawned on the king that he might be forced to spend the rest of his days in the forest, with nobody to help him and take care of him.

He kept on walking and walking until finally he noticed a man walking towards him. The man recognized the king and started trembling. The king explained his dire situation, and how he had been walking in the forest for days and days with no way out. The fellow told the king not to worry, as he would lead him all the way out of the forest and bring him back to his palace.

Upon their return, the king decided to reward the man who had saved him. He instructed his servants to remove the man’s farmer’s clothing and place them in storage, and replace them with royal robes. The king then appointed his savior minister of all the forests in the kingdom, turning him into a rich man overnight.

Many years later, this same minister became entangled in a conspiracy plot to overthrow the king. He was caught and was sentenced to be killed. The man knew how horribly guilty he was for turning against the king who had been so good to him all those years. He knew that he deserved his punishment, and that his only hope was to somehow appeal to the king’s mercy and compassion. But how?

As was the custom for those being taken out to be killed, the condemned man was given a last request. To everyone’s surprise, the minister asked that he be allowed to wear the farmer’s clothing that he was wearing when he first met the king. The king approved, and the fellow was led past the king on his way to the gallows.

When the king saw the minister wearing his old farmer’s clothing, he was instantly reminded of that very difficult and painful episode in his life when he was all alone in the thick of the forest, walking for days and days with no one who could speak his language or who could guide him out of the forest - until this farmer came along and led the king back to his royal palace from which he could rule his kingdom. The king remembered all this and was filled with tremendous compassion and gratitude for the condemned minister and what he did. He said to the minister, “If you express deep remorse for your actions, and promise never to repeat them, I promise that I will forget what you did and restore you to your former position as minister.”

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak explains that, according to Jewish tradition, G-d first went to all the other nations and asked them if He could be their King and give them His Torah for them to live by - but none of them accepted the offer, leaving G-d all alone, so to speak, with no one to help Him out and to put Him on the road. No one, that is, until we, the Jewish people, came along and said “Naaseh V’Nishma – We will gladly accept this Torah of Yours and make You our King”.

Of course, over the centuries and millennia, we have forgotten how good G-d is to us, and we have become entangled in all types of “plots” and “rebellions” against G-d and His Torah, and are deserving of punishment. And on Rosh Hashanah, the “Day of Judgment”, we find ourselves standing in front of G-d, and we are very worried that we might be sentenced to death in the coming year, G-d forbid, for all the sins we have committed against Him.

So what do we do as our “last request” in the hope that we can gain G-d’s compassion and mercy and merit a good judgment? We recall the Shofar that was sounded at the time of the Revelation at Mount Sinai – the old “farmer’s clothing” that we were wearing - when we accepted G-d’s Torah that nobody else wanted, thus allowing G-d to take His rightful place as King over us and over all of creation. In the merit of what we did then for G-d, we pray that He should have mercy on us and accept our sincere repentance, granting us another year of life, health, and happiness.

My dear brothers and sisters, whether we realize it or not, each and every one of us has a special and unique role to play as part of the collective mission of the Jewish people to be a “light unto the nations” and to bring goodness and G-dliness into this often dark and G-dless world. G-d “needs us” – every single one of us - now more than ever to restore Him to His royal throne from which He can serve as King over the entire world for the benefit of mankind.

As we say in the Aleinu prayer, which features prominently in the liturgy on Rosh Hashanah: “Therefore we put our hope in You, L-rd our G-d, that we may soon see Your mighty splendor, to remove detestable idolatry from the earth, and false gods will be utterly cut off; to perfect the universe through the Al-mighty’s sovereignty. Then all humanity will call upon Your Name, to turn all the earth’s wicked toward You. All the world’s inhabitants will recognize and know that to You every knee should bend, every tongue should swear. Before You, L-rd our G-d, they will bend every knee and prostrate themselves and give honor to the glory of Your Name, and they will take upon themselves the yoke of Your Kingship that You may reign over them soon and eternally.”

Let us pray to G-d this Rosh Hashanah that He bless us with a year of life and blessing – so that we should be able to do our small part in “putting Him on the road” as King of the world. This way, we can be sure that He will have mercy and compassion on us and grant all of our requests.

Have a Happy and Healthy New Year!

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