From the Pulpit: Messages for the New Year
The following are the responses to New Jersey Jewish News’ invitation to leaders of area congregations to share their High Holy Day messages.
A special feature of Rosh Hashana this year is that the holiday occurred on Thursday and Friday, leading directly into the holy Shabbos. Thus, we had three consecutive days filled with holiness.
The Rebbe spoke about this particular situation. He explained that there is a well-known principle in our holy Torah: “What is repeated three times acquires the force of hazaka [permanence].” The term is derived from the word hozek, strength, and carries an assured presumption that having occurred three times, it will take hold and continue the same way.
If this principle applies in regard to non-obligatory matters, it is certainly true in regard to matters of holiness that already have the quality of everlasting Torah endurance.
How much more so in the case of Rosh Hashana, which is designated the “rosh,” the “head,” of the year. In addition to being the beginning of the year, it is also and essentially the “head of the year.” Just as the head directs all the organs of the body, and it is only in this way that each organ carries out its purpose in the fullest measure, so Rosh Hashana directs and animates every day of the year.
Hence, it is understandable that since there is a hazaka in the state of holiness mentioned above, it exercises a strong influence on the entire year, so that all one’s activities, in all days of the year, are carried out under the strong influence of the sublime holiness of the first three days.
May 5771 be a year of holiness for all of us. I wish you and your loved ones a shana tova u’m’tuka, a happy, healthy, and sweet New Year.
Rabbi Mordechai Kanelsky
Bris Avrohom, Congregation Shomrei Torah Ohel Yosef Yitzchak, Hillside
As we welcome the New Year 5771, our liturgy reminds us: “On Rosh Hashana it is written; on Yom Kippur it is sealed.” In reality, we have precious little control over the quantity of our lives. We do, however, exert considerable influence over the quality of our daily living. While we cannot determine the length of our days, we can determine how we choose to live.
For we Jews, the center of our lives is Torah. Through story, law, and commandment, the Torah offers guidance, direction, and inspiration. Our biblical ancestors represent models for emulation. We learn both from their noble characteristics and their glaring flaws. Yet, for the Torah to influence our daily conduct, we need to be familiar with its teachings.
The world in which we live is filled with challenge and opportunity. The High Holy Days come around each year to remind us to re-prioritize our goals and desires. Attention is to be paid to actions and activities that add meaning and depth to our lives. It is no mere coincidence that as the Holy Days draw to a close, we open the Torah anew. Each letter, word, and story has a lesson to teach. It pulls us back in time to learn from our past while pushing us forward into new days of purpose.
May our days of 5771 be filled with the teachings of Torah that will inspire the best of intentions of our hearts, minds, and actions!
Rabbi Randi Musnitsky
Temple Har Shalom, Warren
The 21st-century American Jew treasures his/her autonomy. Compared to past generations, today’s Jews feel less obligated to observe Jewish ritual and less responsible to support the Jewish community and Israel. Most American Jews still attend a synagogue on the High Holy Days, but a growing number have stopped doing even that. Many feel they have “moved beyond” God and religion.
That is not to say they have no religion. We all worship something, though we aren’t always aware of what it is. Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, “The gods we worship write their names on our face, be sure of that. And we will worship something — have no doubt of that either. We may think that our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of the heart, but it will out. That which dominates our imagination and out thoughts will determine our life and character. Therefore it behooves us to be careful what we are worshipping. For what we are worshipping is what we are becoming.”
The Yamim Nora’im are the time we should examine what it is we really worship. Is it the golden calf of wealth or the seductive god of leisure? When we replace synagogue and mitzva in our lives with other priorities, are we not worshipping another god, one who “writes his name on our faces”?
Come back to shul on these High Holy Days. Come rediscover the God who created us, who teaches us a better way to live, and who stands ever ready to welcome us back.
Rabbi George Nudell
Congregation Beth Israel, Scotch Plains
Each day of the Hebrew month of Elul, the days leading up to Rosh Hashana, we blow the shofar at the morning prayer service. The shofar is, in a sense, a Jewish alarm clock; its daily blasts wake us up, reminding us to be alert to the significance of this time of year and to recognize the great obligation and opportunity that are before us.
For us as Jews this “awakening” inspires us to partake in the annual exercise of heshbon hanefesh, a very personal assessment of our very souls — What kind of person have we been over the course of the year that is drawing to a close? What kind of child, spouse, relative, friend, and colleague have we been? What values and sensitivities have we modeled by our actions? What have we learned from the acknowledgment of our shortcomings and our errors? What is our “action plan” for doing better in the new year of 5771 ahead?
It is a momentous time in our calendar year, one not to be ignored. What a profound chance for meaningful growth! My hope is that each of us will “seize the days” of this High Holy Day season to reflect, review, and ready ourselves to be the best people we can be.
Wishing all a Shana Tova U’m’tuka, a happy and sweet New Year!
Rabbi Stuart Saposh
Temple Beth O’r/Beth Torah, Clark