Food For the Soul
Rosh Hashanah: a time to take inventory
Rosh Hashanah – the head of the Jewish year – begins at sundown on the eve of Tishrei 1 (Sept. 6, 2021) and ends after nightfall on Tishrei 2 (Sept. 8, 2021). It is more than just a holiday; it is Judgment Day. That’s why the traditional greeting at this time is not “happy holiday,”or even“good yom tov”or “chag sameach,” but rather “shanah tovah” or, in Yiddish, “ah gut yohr” (“good year”). The heavenly court will be deciding our destiny and determining our fate for the new year, so our wish for each other is that these days of reckoning go well, and that we each be blessed with only good things for the new year.
And this is precisely what makes our New Year observances distinctively different from those of so many others around the world. No late night partying for us. No drunken revelry as the clock strikes midnight. Actually, I’ve often wondered whether New Year’s Eve partygoers are just having a harmless, fun night out, or if there is some kind of subconscious drowning of sorrows in drink as they mourn the passage of another year and all its unfulfilled dreams.
And I’ve also often wondered what we Jews would do without Rosh Hashanah. This is the season when we take inventory of our most personal, intimate moments. We reflect on the year gone by, our successes and our shortcomings. We consider and reconsider our relationships with G-d and with other people. We try to pinpoint our failings so that we may correct them for an improved year to come. But what if we didn’t have Rosh Hashanah? I imagine that we would just continue along the same tedious treadmill of life until something drastic arrived out of the blue to jolt us from our lethargy.
These Days of Awe give us the chance for at least an annual “compass reading” to establish our sense of direction so that, if necessary, we can alter our course and reroute ourselves. So, if we didn’t have this once-a-year challenge and opportunity for personal introspection, what are the chances we would actually sit down and do it of our own volition? Probably very small indeed. Well, thank G-d we do have Rosh Hashanah. And the time for stocktaking is now. Or, as the legendary Hillel put it in Ethics of the Fathers, “If not now, when then?”
Adapted from an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldberg
Ethics of the Fathers: Chapters 5 and 6
During the summer months, from the Shabbat after Passover until the Shabbat before Rosh Hashahah, we study a weekly chapter of the Talmud’s Ethics of the Fathers (“Avot”) each Shabbat afternoon. This week, we conclude this year’s study cycle with the study of Chapters Five and Six.
Mind Over Matter
Judaism is replete with the belief that there is no such thing as failure, no room for despair. As low as a person has fallen, as fiercely as his appetite and addictions have taken control of him, he can always turn around and clean up his mess. G-d shows patience to those who sin, because He believes in the human being and in his capacity to change. He is “a G-d compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin.” But change is not possible unless we have the autonomy of free will. The ability to turn yourself around can come only from within you.
From an article by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
As the redemption will be brought about by teshuvah-repentance (“you will return unto G-d”), it follows that just as the redemption itself will be for “every single individual… one by one,” so, too, every single one shall return unto G-d. “On that day, a great shofar will be blown, and those who are lost in the land of Assyria and those who are cast away in the land of Egypt shall come, and they will bow down before G-d on the holy mountain in Jerusalem” (Isaiah 27:13). In other words, even those who are so deeply immersed in the galut that they became “lost” and “cast away,” they, too, will be awakened by teshuvah.
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
Standing as a community
There is a story of a teenage boy who was suffering from typical teenage angst, and went to the Rebbe for advice. He was having a difficult time and kept slipping back into situations that he knew were not right for him. He asked the Rebbe: How come G-d didn’t just create us as angels? If He had, we would be perfect, and we wouldn’t make such mistakes and create such problems. The Rebbe explained to him that G-d doesn’t want us to be perfect; He wants us to be unique individuals who grow and learn from our experiences and mistakes. He asked the boy if he understood the difference between a photograph and a portrait.
When you want to capture a perfect replica of something you see, you take a picture. The picture can be beautiful, and is exactly what you witnessed with your eye. Yet the typical photograph costs pennies to reproduce. A portrait, on the other hand, is something that is always filled with inaccuracies. It can never be a perfect reproduction of something, like a photograph can. If anything, the better the portrait, the more creative license that went into it to bring out the meaning and color and beauty that does not always exist in the surface look.
Unlike a photograph, the portrait can sell for millions. People pay for the portrait because it is a reflection not only of the subject, but of the artist as well. That person’s creativity is part and parcel of the portrait. The Rebbe explained that the angels are G-d’s photographs. We, however, are G-d’s portraits.
The Torah portion that we read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, Nitzavim, begins: Atem nitzavim hayom kulchem lifnei Hashem Elokeichem—“You are all standing this day before the L-rd, your G-d: the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers—every person of Israel.” The idea is that before we head into Rosh Hashanah, we gather together as a group, as a community.
It is easy to want to forget those who we don’t feel are worthy of our respect, who we don’t feel deserve to be included. Yet this is our reminder that everyone is part of our community, and no one can be left out or forgotten about. So to have a community, there needs to be a feeling of interinclusion; and to truly feel like we are one united group, we need to have empathy and feel that we are all a part of one another. But this is not as simple as deciding that I just need to work on connecting to my neighbor who is really obnoxious. Or that I need to reach out to that woman who is always so rude to me. It is far from that easy.
Nor can we look at the levels of the community in the acronym, that of the righteous, the intermediary and the not-so-righteous, and start deciding where we or others belong. It goes much deeper. It is not that you are righteous, you are the intermediary, and I am the wicked one. But rather, you are all three, he is all three, and I am all three. We are all righteous, intermediate and wicked—all in different ways and at different times—and what forms a community is when all of our different ways join together, with empathy for the other, and unify.
When we can recognize this about ourselves and about others, then we can start to understand how we are all here to teach one another, and it is only through learning from others and teaching others that we can start to develop and grow. This is why we read this statement, of how we all stand together before our Creator, right before Rosh Hashanah. And He knows we are not angels, because He didn’t create us to be perfect. But He did create us with the ability to connect with others and become better people. For, after all, a community is comprised of a diverse group of individuals, each with his or her own unique talents and abilities, and each an essential part of the whole.
May we be blessed to enter this new year with the ability to reveal our potential and help others reveal theirs. May it be sweet, healthy and productive!
Condensed from an article by Sara Esther Crispe.