Rosh Hashanah Prayers: Foreign, Indifferent, & My Choice
Checkerboard pieces are indifferent. Dice are indifferent. How do I know in what way they will fall? But once the dice have fallen, to use that cast carefully and skillfully –that is indeed my business.
So also in life, the central task is this: distinguish things, stand them apart, and say, “externals are not in my power; the ability to choose is in my power. Where shall I search after the good and the bad? Within, in what belongs to me.”
But in what is foreign to you, never call anything either good or bad, or profit or loss, or anything like that.
– Epictetus, Discourses 2.5.3-5
“And so, too, the righteous will see and be glad, the upright will exult, and the devout will be mirthful with glad song. Iniquity will close its mouth and all wickedness will evaporate like smoke, when You will remove evil’s domination from the earth.”
The paragraph’s final phrase implies that there are different stages in the end of evil: 1) “You will remove evil’s domination from the earth,” 2) “Iniquity will close its mouth,” and, 3) “Wickedness will evaporate like smoke.” What are the three stages?
1) “When You will remove evil’s domination,” begins when we can recognize that evil is foreign to us: “But in what is foreign to you, never call anything either good or bad, or profit or loss, or anything like that.” We do not need to declare something as evil, but as foreign, not pertinent or meaningful.
We define one of the three major evils as Avodah Zarah, or, worship which is strange to us. Evil’s domination begins with distraction. The Evil Inclination wants us to search out the unnecessary and unimportant so that we lose perspective, and cannot focus on what is important for us.
The moment we realize that its temptations are foreign, we have ended its domination, but not it’s power.
2) “Iniquity will close its mouth,” when we stop paying attention to all of the Evil Inclination’s “well-meaning” seductions. We only stop listening when we realize that the Yetzer Harah is indifferent to us. It doesn’t care about us. It cares for us no more than does a checkerboard piece or dice: “Checkerboard pieces are indifferent. Dice are indifferent.”
3) “And all wickedness will evaporate like smoke,” when we realize that, “I have the internal power to choose. I am responsible for my choices. My work must begin within me.” Evil will disappear when we say, “So also in life, the central task is this: distinguish things, stand them apart, and say, “externals are not in my power; the ability to choose is in my power. Where shall I search after the good and the bad? Within, in what belongs to me.”
The last time I can recall being looked at with such an unbearable hatred was when a gang of Muslims sent two dogs after me in Cologne, Germany, yelling, “Raus, Juden!” That is, until early this morning as Debbie and I were waiting in line at the security checkpoint in Newark Airport.”
The intense emotions immediately began to define my mood. I was angry, resentful and shaken. I personalized the experience and in doing so gave it dominion over me. I turned to the man who was still behind me in line, continuing to stare at me with pure hate, and laughed. I immediately regained control over my mood.
I wondered whether the man was still trying to drill holes in my back with the hatred in his eyes, so I turned around. The minute he saw that I didn’t care, he forgot about me. He was as indifferent as a checkerboard piece or dice. He only cared as long as I gave him the power to bother me..
The entire episode was an internal process. I quickly realized that I had chosen how to react from beginning to end.
How many of the issues I allow to fester in my gut are exactly the same; external, indifferent distractions from assuming Responsibility for my internal process?
How many of my desires for things I don’t need, things that can be dangerous to me, share those same qualities?
I find it interesting that this paragraph of the Rosh Hashanah Amidah begins, “”And so, too, the righteous will see and be glad, the upright will exult, and the devout will be mirthful with glad song.” The clarity necessary to fight the ether Harah, and for the victory that ensues, can only begin when we have found joy in our service of God.