For a fourteen year old South American student, the cold and cheerless halls of Yeshiva University High School were often a lonely place. However, there was one prominent face I could always count on for a warm smile and a friendly word: Rabbi Yosef Blau, the mashgiach (counselor) of the Yeshiva.
In the dark, gothic building in Washington Heights, NY, Rabbi Blau’s friendship was a beacon of light.
Many years later, at a lecture, I had the pleasure of hearing Rabbi Blau introduce his son Yitzie, a Torah Scholar in his own right, who is also a friend and neighbor of mine. Rabbi Yosef Blau claimed that Yitzie’s achievements and successes were wholly based on his own hard work and continuous efforts and not as a simple result of his illustrious parentage.
I believe the claim.
In preparation for the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana (September 18 & 19 this year), there is a tradition of soul-searching. We stand before God, contemplating our actions, begging for Divine compassion and praying for another chance to do the right thing in the coming year.
One of the prominent themes in the Rosh Hashana liturgy is that we depend on the “merit of our forefathers” (“zechut avot”) in our pleas for mercy.
However, Rabbi Ovadia Sforno is not satisfied with this theological crutch. He demands much more of us.
Deuteronomy 30:8-9 declares:
“You shall return and listen to the voice of Hashem, and perform all His commandments that I command you today. Hashem will make you abundant in all your handiwork – in the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your animals, and the fruit of your Land – for good, when Hashem will return to rejoice over you for good, as He rejoiced over your forefathers.”
Based on these verses, Sforno claims that if we repent from our misguided notions and ways (‘tis the season…), if we wholeheartedly embrace God’s path, to the best of our understanding and capabilities, then several things will happen:
- Our sins will be forgiven.
- Not only will our sins be forgiven, the sins will be considered as merits.
- God will be very happy with us and bestow on us great good.
- God will bestow on us the greatest good we have ever experienced.
- Our place in the world and in the scheme of things will be based on our own efforts and merit and not on that of our forefathers.
I’ve been privileged to know a dynasty where each member is a role model in their own right. May they always continue to be so, and may we always have opportunity to learn from them.
Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova U’metukah,
To Rabbi Yitzie (Yitzchak) Blau. A gentleman and a scholar.
Congratulations on the release this week of his first book,”Fresh Fruit and Vintage Wine: Ethics & Wisdom of the Aggada”. Based on many articles of his I’ve had the pleasure of reading, I’m sure this book will be both uniquely enlightening and highly captivating.
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