Rosh Hashanah is a time of awe and humility, in which we once again crown G-d as our King. In an effort to instill in my students that kind of emotion, which is also crucial to properly study the Torah, I started my Chumash class this year in the same way I started last year's: with the introductory poem found in the beginning of the famous Torah commentary of the Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, also known as "Nachmanides"). When reading the Ramban's words, one cannot help but be struck by its raw passion. Here's the beginning (with the aid of the Artscroll translation and slight paraphrasing):
In the name of G-d, the Great, the Mighty and Awesome
I shall begin to write insights in interpreting the Torah
With fear, awe, trepidation, trembling, and reverence
I pray and confess with crushed heart and broken spirit
Asking forgiveness, seeking pardon and atonement,
Bowing and kneeling, prostrating every bone of my spine.
My soul knows with full knowledge that an egg of an ant
Compared to the Outermost Heavenly Sphere is not tinier
Than how my wisdom is small and my knowledge is short
Compared to the secrets of the Torah, hidden in Its chambers.
For every precious thing and every wonder, every deep secret,
Is hidden within it, sealed in its storehouses, in its statements...
Yet what shall I do? For my soul yearns for the Torah!
It is in my heart like a burning fire: consuming, devouring,
Longing to go forth in the footsteps of my predecessors
To enter with them in discussion, and write as they did...
Reading these words, one would think that the Ramban was probably just beginning his career. Perhaps he was still in his twenties or thirties, his greatness still to be revealed. I was shocked to find out that he was actually in his seventies and an uncontested leader of world Jewry at the time. He had already written all his extensive and renowned Talmudic commentaries, and had famously and victoriously defended Judaism in public debates before the King of Spain. And yet he approached the Torah as no more than a child, a servant, fully knowing his place compared to G-d and his Torah.
And so it is with us every year on Rosh Hashanah. Some of us might know a little more than others, but hopefully that will only lead to realizing, like the Ramban, how much more there is that we do not know; how small we are, and how great He is. On the Day of Judgement, we approach the King of kings with unfathomable trepidation.
But not to worry. As Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach would say, "the Judge is also my Father." Wishing a Ketivah veChatimah Tovah LeShanah Tovah uMetukah to the entire Hebrew Academy community.
Rabbi Daniel Kahane
High School Judaic Studies Teacher