One of the challenges of contemporary life is the treadmill we often unwittingly find ourselves on. The tempo of modern life simply does not allow time for reflection, for introspection, for self-awareness.
Indeed, the frenzied pace of our lives presents one of the greatest obstacles to having kavanah betefillah. For what is tefillah if not inward-directed reflection? if not a brief moment in time dedicated to facing the critical questions in life: Where am I headed? What do I want out of life and why? Ideally, tefillah should raise one above the petty concerns of every day life and help clear the clutter of the soul. But quieting the mind in order to prepare for prayer—as the Chassidic rebbes used to do—demands time and energy—both of which are rare commodities in contemporary life. As Chief Rabbi of the British?Commonwealth Sir Jonathan Sacks notes in this issue in his stirringly beautiful piece on tefillah, “It is not easy to create the silence in the soul where prayer begins.”
And yet, there are moments in one’s life—moments of crisis or of intense emotion—when kavanah betefillah seems natural, almost effortless. Such has been my experience these past few months as I recite the Kaddish prayer for my beloved father, Aharon Menachem ben Chaim, of blessed memory, who passed away on Hey Nisan.
Despite having to work my daily schedule around the need to say Kaddish three times a day, I find myself anticipating going to shul and leading the congregation in saying Kaddish, one of the most sublime prayers in the siddur. Kaddish makes no explicit reference to death or to dying; rather it emphasizes God’s dominion over earth. To the mourner, strangely enough, this is deeply consoling. For what we are essentially saying is that even at this time of intense personal loss, we acknowledge God’s presence in our lives and His control over the universe.
In his insightful book Consolation, Rabbi Maurice Lamm calls Kaddish a “vigorous declaration of faith.” And indeed it is. The mourner’s testimony to God’s presence and submission to His will—at a time that he least understands it—is remarkably comforting and even uplifting, not only to the mourner himself but also to the entire congregation. Saying Kaddish has intensified my own connection to tefillah; it is my fervent hope that I will be able to sustain this inspiration even when my year of mourning ends.
The extraordinary potential of prayer is the theme of this Rosh Hashanah issue, which features a seminal article on prayer by Chief Rabbi Sacks as well as a poignant piece on the tefillot of the Yamim Noraim by OU Executive Vice President, Emeritus Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb. We hope these articles will help deepen and enrich your own tefillot during the Yamim Noraim, a time when Hashem is exceptionally close to us and is receptive to our pleas.
In this issue, we also pay tribute to a number of extraordinary individuals who have managed to become outstanding Torah scholars despite their immersion in the corporate and business worlds. To paraphrase famed author Rabbi Berel Wein, who wrote the profile of Elihu Levine, a former electrical engineer who is involved in translating Kli Yakar’s monumental Torah commentary for the English-speaking public: The men profiled in these pages are meticulous Torah scholars and are living proof that Jewish scholarship and Torah wisdom are not the exclusive properties of rabbis and teachers.
In these pages, we also honor the 400th anniversary of the Maharal’s yahrtzeit. Unfortunately, Maharal, who lived in sixteenth-century Prague, is all too often associated with the creation of a golem. His enormous genius, along with his intellectual and philosophical contributions to Jewish thought, is sadly overlooked in favor of this legend, which, in fact, has no basis in reality. We present a few articles exploring Maharal’s approach to Aggadah, including one by Rabbi Yehoshua Hartman, one of the foremost experts on the writings of the Maharal. In addition, the well-known historian Dr. Shnayer Z. Leiman exposes the legend of the golem as largely based on a literary hoax.
Of course, we also offer our usual array of articles on timely topics—such as travel, kosher cooking, Jewish books and more. I hope you enjoy this jam-packed issue and, as always, I look forward to hearing your feedback.
Before signing off, I would like to wish all of our readers a Gemar Chatimah Tovah. May the year ahead be one of true blessing, joy and prosperity for all of Klal Yisrael.