Rosh Hashanah
Day One: Genesis 21 - Day Two: Genesis 22

Maftir for Both Days:
Numbers 29:1-6

Day One: 1 Samuel 1:1 - 2:10

Mountain Prayer ©

By Dr. Akiva G. Belk

This study of the Holy Days is dedicated in the loving memory of Mr. Paul Sakash, may he rest in peace.

It was the early hours of Yom Shi Lee Shee {the third day of the week} before sunrise. A gentle breeze was flowing through the valley across the lake. The mountain air was cool but comfortable for mountain folk. There was little traffic at that time in the morning. A few deer were on the move, grazing in a small meadow near the edge of the forest. Some bighorn sheep were rousting about across the valley on the other side of the highway, a few hundred feet up the mountainside near some rocky clefts. That was one of their many early morning gathering places. A few birds were singing. A very few birds. Their sound was sparse because most had left this small mountain community several days earlier. Their sound was not constant. Their presence was noted only by an occasional call, here and there breaking the stellar silence of a new dawn. This dawn was not any dawn. This particular dawn was the dawn of 1 Tishri 5762, the birthday of the world in Georgetown, Colorado, USA. This was Rosh HaShonah, the Jewish New Year. This was also Oul Yaw Meem - Vi Shaw Neem {And Days And Years} for the Spiritualist.

For a few brief minutes my thoughts drifted down to the morning hustle and bustle of the big city where Jews on all levels of observance would soon begin gathering for morning prayer on this most important day of prayer. This would be the first year in a long time that Naomi, my precious wife, and I would not be joining with the nearest Jewish community. For weeks I had been wrestling with what to do. The opinion of the seriously observant was that praying in the mountains without a minyan {group of ten Jewish males aged thirteen and above} was wrong. Every observant Jew should be packed and crowded into a shul praying, weeping, bowing, blessing and blowing or listening to the shofar together. Naomi and I have done that many times. We just could not force ourselves to do it again.

I remembered the dozens of lectures and studies that we had attended over the years leading up to Rosh HaShonah. On one particular year a friend, a shul rabbi, sent out a book entitled Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur Survival Kit by Shimon Apisdorf. My friend’s intention was to make a statement to the many Jews who would be coming to our congregation. I believe he wanted to encourage attendance from a little different angle. He wanted his congregants to know that it was OK to not say every prayer. It was OK to read from this book during prayers. His intention was to help his congregants make a connection with G-d and with the Torah. It worked! Many of his congregants did make that connection.

As I thought about making that connection I realized that the Torah on Har Sinai was given to one man not to a minyan of men. This one man was Moshe Rabbeinu. He received the most awe-inspiring literature on a mountain. Now that mountainside was not just any mountainside as this day was not just any day. The presence of Hashem flooded the entire mountain peak. This was not a common occurrence. Experiencing Hashem’s presence was much less common than even the annual birthday of the year. Rosh HaShonah was one day among hundreds. Experiencing Hashem’s presence on Har Sinai was eighty days among millions and millions of days.

I returned to my thoughts about davening in Denver. I could not do it. I am a recluse! I don’t like crowds. I like people but not large groups of people. Then my mind reminded me of the slower pace of prayers on Rosh HaShonah. I really enjoy slow, emotional prayer. That is my favorite type of prayer. The best cantors of the shul would be leading services. Their voices would ring out in beautiful praise. We would see old friends. We would make new acquaintances. We would enjoy good food, wine and some liquor. We would hear my friend the Rav give one of his famous talks. He is really good. He is inspiring.

There are many congregations in Colorado. My mind visited some of Naomi’s and my favorite places of worship. I thought of the rabbium there, the cantors and friends. I played the same scenario out at place after place, over and over again. Naomi and I spoke often about this subject. Eventually we decided to stay in the mountains. We did not stay in the mountains because we are rebellious. We stayed in the mountains where we live because we felt we would be better able to make that necessary connection. Rosh HaShonah is about making that necessary connection with the Creator.

Naomi and I are very fortunate. G-d is so extremely good to us. We live in a place of atmosphere. We have more than a half dozen wild flower gardens in and around where we presently live. Each day when we arise these beautiful flowers of Hashem’s Creation encourage and inspire us to pray. Yet it is not like we could not leave the many beauties of the mountains to daven in the city. It was more like there are places that we feel closer to our Creator. Each of the Patriarchs had his own special place of prayer. It has always been like this for me.

This past summer while visiting the west coast, Naomi and I were driven by my brother Raphael Levi to an area that is now a huge marina with sailboats everywhere. It was beautiful. Yet I was heartbroken because many years earlier this expansive land was where I prayed at nightfall. Then it was sand, dirt, weeds, bushes, a few people and an occasional dog. This was a forsaken area then. At night I would walk this area praying while viewing the oceanfront, the light from the lighthouse, the buoys and the ships’ lights passing in the vast darkness. Some nights thick fog would roll in. Sometimes the fog would be joined by steady rain. It was on nights like those that I especially enjoyed going to this forsaken piece of land along the oceanfront and praying. It was so exclusive on those nights. Usually the only sounds one would hear were the mellow sounds of passing ships’ foghorns and waves crashing against the harbor rocks.

This is how my life has been. Thank G-d there has always been this Bethel... this special place of prayer for me. When I lived in Denver’s West Side community my Bethel was this little rundown shul, Zera Israel. It has since closed, been sold and converted to apartments. I miss that place and I miss the people of that place. We were all weird. We were each different. We were a bunch of misfits that shared the same love and pleasure of an old dying shul. It brings tears to my eyes thinking of the special place that isn’t anymore. There I returned to Hashem. There I had my Uph Ruf. There Naomi and I enjoyed some of our Sheva Brachos. There I connected time and time again with our Creator. I had a key and could go there anytime day or night.

Dear ones, the point is that throughout life we find a special place. A place we feel close to our Creator, a place where we feel the Creator’s spiritual hugs. For us who enjoy these types of experiences it is difficult to go somewhere else to pray just to be considered a better Jew or an observant Jew. I don’t know how long Naomi and I will be privileged to enjoy our Creator’s presence in our present place of prayer. Things can change. But for now I must pray on the mountain.

May you and those dear to you be inscribed in the Book of Life. The staff of JewishPath and 7commands joins with Naomi and me in wishing you the best for a year of peace, joy, health, prosperity and continual spiritual growth.

Li Shaw Naw - Toh Vaw - Tee Caw Say Voo
“For a Good Year, May you be inscribed [in the Book of Life],”

Wishing you the best!

Dr. Akiva G. Belk

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