Jewish Calendar - Rosh Hashanah parables

Rosh Hashanah parables (meshalim) help clarify and reinforce the spiritual, ethical and moral values of the ten-day penitential season. The specific genre of Jewish literature was employed by itinerant preachers (maggidim) who spiced their sermon with parables as they traveled from town to town in Eastern Europe, and harangued their listeners to amend their sinful ways. Foremost among these preachers was Jacob ben Wolf Kranz (1741-1804), better known as the Dubner Maggid, since he resided for many years in Dubno, Russia. His homiletic interpretations of the Bible and his ingenious parables attained wide popularity, so that numerous maggidim embellished their discourses with meshalim originated by him.

The Dubner Maggid's parables included here (see sidebar) are rendered in free translations. His homilies have been recorded in Ohel Yaakov (Josefow, 1830) and in other works.

While the parables cited above were originated some two centuries ago, it should be pointed out that rabbinic literature tracing back two millennia abounds in the use of the mashal. Rabbi Elazar's parable, in which he claims the Creation was completed on Rosh Hashanah with the formation of Adam, introduces this genre. Above and beyond the belief that Rosh Hashanah memorializes man's and the world's birthday, Rabbi Elazar's parable teaches a majestic truth: The beginning of the world cannot be dissociated from man's renewing his world every Tishrei; in renewing himself and his world he adds a spiritual layer that will enrich his existence.

Not infrequently the rabbinic mashal is introduced by mashal le-melekh -- "it is comparable to a king. . . ." -- a phrase which juxtaposes God (the King of Kings) and a human king. One of the three sections in the Rosh Hashanah shofar liturgy is Malkhuyot, glorifying the sovereignty of God; the long liturgical pieces recited in unison by reader and congregation stress the theme: "The Lord is King, the Lord was King, the Lord will reign forever." This Avinu Malkenu group is alluded to in Parables 2-6.


excerpted Paraphrased from The Rosh Hashanah Anthology, JPS, 1993.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

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