By Getzy Markowitz
It was a delight to speak with many of my friends around the world, and to wish them a sweet new year before the arrival of Rosh Hashana. Many informed me that they would be attending services at local Chabad Houses, including a few who would be praying at newly established centers.
However, one friend told me that he would be following his tradition of staying home, as he has done every year, preferring to read a book. I assured him that the nearby university Chabad House was inviting and that he would find a free seat occupied by a book that he has never read before. With a snicker, he told me that he would consider, and initiated a conversation on the economy and United States foreign policy. Being as he is a lover of history, I asked him what he thought of Titus Flavius Vespasian. “He restored the Roman economy and military power, pray for that,” he answered.
He was also the architect of the destruction of Judah and the decimation of Israel. In fact, the great Talmudic sage Rabbi Yochanan is recorded to have been smuggled out of a besieged Jerusalem. He met with Vespasian to plead for him to spare a city that would become the pride of Jewish academia. Meeting the commander, the Rabbi greeted him as “your majesty.” Vespasian, who was not the emperor, but “his majesty’s general,” declared that the Rabbi was deserving of capital punishment on two counts. Firstly, for mistaking him as king, and secondly, had Vespasian been king, why hadn’t the rabbi come to pay homage sooner? Moments later a delegation from Rome arrived to inform Vaspasian that he would assume the throne.
The Rosh Hashana liturgy is replete with references to G-d as “the king,” as it is the day of His coronation. Upon uttering those words one Rosh Hashana, the Chassidic master Rabbi Aaron of Karlin fainted. When he came to, the Rabbi explained that he was reflecting on the story of Vespasian and Rabbi Yochanan, and thought of the Almighty asking, ” If I am King, why have you not come until now?”
My friend attended services, crowned G-d as sovereign ruler of heaven and earth, and discovered his place in His kingdom.