Sunday, October 2, 2016

Jewish New Year - Rosh Hashanah 5777

I wanted to wish everyone a Happy New Year. This is the time of year when the Jewish People sit and contemplate the future. It is a time when we review what we did right and what we did wrong in the year just completed. We try to figure out how to make ourselves better people.

As with our secular New Year resolutions, we tend to not always live up to our own expectations, which may make us feel inadequate at times. But I like to think that even if we fall short at least we gave it the old "college try." As long as our gestures were done with a pure heart then we are doing a good thing.

The Jewish New Year is also a time when we pray for a better world. Considering the worldwide news, I think, and this is my personal perspective, that the world needs some understanding, love and compassion. There are parts of the world that are on fire. While there is very little that we as individuals can do to stem this evil, we can demand from our leaders a realistic and humanitarian approach to this modern day genocide. Words sometimes are not enough. Platitudes, cajoling and appeasement of evil only gets you more evil.

Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace laureate, who died this past year, would remind us:

“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the center of the universe.”


I know that many of us in the US live afraid. Residing in New York City, and having lived through 9/11 and the recent bombing attempts, I understand how the unknown can be frightening. Thousands of years of Jewish history has also taught the Jewish people what it is to be persecuted, slaughtered, exiled and scapegoated. Sadly, alot of the antisemitism that we have dealt with for thousands of years is making a roaring comeback.  But also being Jewish I understand that if you allow yourself to be drawn into fear, if you allow yourself to be drawn into hate, then what you do is destroy all that humanity holds dear. What you destroy is yourself and your soul.

No I have no magic bullet or magic idea on what to do. But I do know that the answers are greater than one individual and beyond the reach of the average humanbeing. I suppose the rabbis always knew that too, for in the Talmud, the Jewish book of laws,  it says:

Whoever saves one life, it is as if they have saved an entire world. 

We are not expected to be able to save the world. But we can make a difference in our day-to-day. We have a Hebrew saying for this endeavor and it is called Tikkun Olam. Sadly we find that many in our world have been trying to use this ancient Jewish custom for political purposes to invalidate what others believe when it comes to modern day politics (more about that at another time). But doing the right thing is not dependent upon politics, it is part of the human condition. Remember that the Torah, what Christians call the Old testament, exhorts us to do what is right:

Justice, justice shalt thou pursue.

We are not commanded to seek law. We are not commanded to seek money. We are not commanded to seek privilege. We are commanded to do what is right, honest, and just.

So as you go forth into your world today and every day to come, think whether you are being your best. Think whether you could be more understanding, more compassionate, and more giving.

There is a tradition that when God hears the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah, he opens the Book of Life, to decide who will live and who will die; who will be rich and who will be poor; who will be healthy and who will be sick....The Book is closed at the end of the Days of Awe on Yom Kippur with a mighty Shofar blast. We have ten days to convince God that we are worthy of his mercy.

So to all of my friends, Jews and Gentiles alike. May God bless you and keep you. May he shine his countenance upon you. May he give you peace.

Shanah Tova Umetukah and  Gmar Hatimah Tovah
Happy New Year and May you be inscribed for a Good Year