A provocative yet often overlooked passage of our Rosh Hashanah prayers is when we remind God to “Remember the kindness of [our] youth… when we followed God in the [Sinai] wilderness.” What?! According to the Torah, our time in the wilderness consisted of complaint, rebellion, a golden calf, and a disastrous spy mission. Out of all this strife, what “kindness” are we praying God will remember?
Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev taught a parable: Once there was a king who was lost in the woods. Lonely and anxious, he started to blow loudly on his hunter’s horn. A woodsman heard the sound, set aside whatever he was doing, and kindly came to the king’s rescue.
This lends a fresh and surprising perspective to the story of our relationship with God. Once upon a time, God was lost in the Sinai wilderness. By sounding the horn (the Torah tells us that the Sinai theophany was accompanied by heavenly blasts of the shofar), God managed to get our attention. We responded, and have been together ever since.
A relationship may face the occasional bump in the road, but acts of kindness (and remembering them) can help it endure. The sound of the shofar is a reminder of this to God. It is also a reminder to us: People say, “God helps those who help themselves.” Rosh Hashanah reminds us that God helps those who help God.
Rabbi Mitch Levine