From The Other Side Of The Bench
By David J. Seidemann, Esq.
“Like a shepherd inspecting his flock, making sheep pass under his staff, so shall You cause to pass, count, calculate, and consider the soul of all the living; and You shall apportion the fixed needs of all Your creatures and inscribe their verdicts.”
Haunting. Scary. There are people—many people—who read those words last Rosh Hashanah who will not read them this year. It was a year that saw too many people inscribed in the book we all try to avoid, the book that scares us, the book that inspires us to act in a way which we believe will have us inscribed in that other book, the Book of Life.
And it’s ours for the taking, because Adam, the first man, the superlative being whose birthday we celebrate on Rosh Hashanah, was permitted to partake from the Tree of Life, signifying to us that the very life we ask G‑d to grant us is more in our hands then we would imagine. G‑d wants us to reckon with Life, but He eschews our constant rationalization about the Good and the Bad.
How wonderful it would be, therefore, if we could all agree on what the Tree of Life was to mean and how it was to impact our life.
Back in the day, the Tree of Life—what constituted a life worth living—represented universally held truths. Sadly, that is no longer the case. And with the divergence of views as to what a meaningful and wholesome life is, one has to wonder if G‑d would allow man to eat from the Tree of Life these days, or if that would be forbidden, as the Tree of Knowledge of the Good and the Bad is.
As we enter 5775, there is nary a corner of this world where conflict does not rage and where the value of human life has not been degraded. The more tools we develop to stay in touch, the more distant we become from our neighbors. The more man advances in science and technology and sociology, the more barbaric we, or at least some of us, become.
• • •
The shepherd causes to “pass,” without much attention. Some even take the time to “count,” for who would not want to know the extent of his holdings, the depth of his flock. He might even go one step further and “calculate” the difference between this year’s yield and last year’s. But few, if any, will actually take the opportunity to “consider,” as the author of that haunting prayer writes, the effect of his own world on the world of those around him.
The paytan, the author, continues: “How many will pass from this earth and how many will be created. Who will live and who will die.” And the redundancy is obvious. Is not “passing from this earth” synonymous with death? And is not “how many will be created” the same as “who will live”?
And the answer is just as obvious. You can pass right by this earth and not know it. You can be created by G‑d and yet not be alive. You can, as we say in the liturgy, be “ta’avir,” pass; “tispor,” count; and “timneh,” calculate. But if you are not “tifkod,” if you don’t consider, you have not lived.
The utopia of the Garden of Eden has left us, and we are left to wander and wonder. We wander looking for meaning and a safe place to enjoy that meaning. We wonder if that place exists anywhere on earth. We wonder because Israel is called upon to be the light to the world, to expose and eradicate evil, yet we are painted as the villain for our efforts in destroying villains. You would think—you would hope—that the nations of the world would see what we see.
Truth be told, they are beginning to pass, to count, and to calculate. But they still are shofar-blasts away from considering, from making a proper qualitative assessment of the realities that face this world we call home.
The more evil that is displayed by creations devoid of conscience, the more good we are charged with introducing into this world. The more darkness they throw at us, the more light we must shine.
Make no mistake. This is a very dangerous and scary world. Raising our children to feel secure is difficult. All men of reason, not just Jews, are targets. The allure of barbarity is just too great. And not because it offers anything meaningful, but rather because when all one does is pass, count, and calculate, refusing to consider the holiness of this world and of the holiness and uniqueness of each creature, when man simply counts sheep, he becomes an animal himself.
When you pass, count, and calculate, a small amount of hate can blind you to the abundance of good and love invested in the fabric of this world. But when you “consider the soul of all the living,” you can’t help but be warmed by the small fires and bands of light that fight their way to break through from the heavens.
• • •
It was a year that cried over the loss of 67 soldiers—the last soldier to pass, my cousin Shachar. It was a distinction my family could have done without.
Some counted the number of casualties and even hung pictures on their refrigerators. Others calculated in terms of proportionality, the most absurd way to determine legitimacy in war.
Our way is to consider: to consider the loss of 67 worlds—yes, worlds—and the effect of each one’s loss on his family, on our nation, and on our people.
But all is not lost, for this year’s Rosh Hashanah is proof that the ominous decrees of last year’s Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur tell only part of the story. It is a story that can be read only by those who are not satisfied with merely passing, counting, and calculating, with being ta’avir, tispor, and timneh.
It is in a book all its own, the Book of Life—and you can purchase this book if you have the credit of being tifkod nefesh kol chai, of considering the soul of all the living. v
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.