From the Pulpit: Messages for the New Year

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.

AS I WRITE this message, the white lines in the parking lot outside our synagogue are being redone. Over the years they have faded as the wheels of innumerable cars have driven over them. As the lines weakened, people began to park their cars essentially where they felt like it. No one questioned this practice as long as the marking were barely visible, but now that there are stark lines on the pavement, the cars will be parked in neat rows.

It is amazing how a little white paint can be the difference between chaos and order.

It strikes me that the High Holy Days are a similar moment of drawing the lines. Over the past year the boundaries and values we marked at the last Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur have begun to fade from our minds. We have strayed from the path we put ourselves on last year. This is the power of the Kol Nidrei prayer — we want to have the ability to erase any decisions, vows, or promises we may regret and draw new parameters for our lives.

But the work we do now is not as easy as painting new lines on the ground. It requires serious reflection and a sincere desire for teshuva, return. It requires a sensitivity to the message of the High Holy Day mahzor, with its call to change our lives and acknowledge our duty to serve the other, whether God, our neighbor, or the stranger.

These duties, our own white lines, are expressed in the rich teaching of the Jewish tradition. I pray that over the course of the next year they do not fade from our minds. May your New Year be filled with the blessings of love and fulfillment.

Rabbi Benjamin J. Adler
White Meadow Temple, Rockaway

THE TALMUD teaches us that we should recite “me’ah brachot kol yom” —100 blessings a day. The underlying/greater message of this is clear: We must take the time to slow down, gain perspective, and express gratitude for all the gifts in our lives. This is something we should do each and every day, but especially as the New Year begins.

Given the multitude of challenges facing so many of us, we need to take the time to appreciate all the good in our lives, now more than ever.

As I begin my chai, my 18th, year at Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, I wish to express gratitude to my temple family.

I am more grateful than ever to the members my synagogue community. The care, selflessness, and generosity of spirit that I witness on a regular basis are truly inspiring. I am privileged to work with a dedicated and talented group of professional and volunteer leaders who continue to educate and motivate me on a daily basis.

It is at this time of the year when we are reminded that no individual or institution is perfect, that we are all inherently flawed. Yet, as we work together, mindful of our whole community’s well-being, we bring holiness into the world.

Wishing all of you a Shana Tova — a New Year that is healthy, sweet, and prosperous.

Rabbi Daniel M. Cohen
Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, South Orange

WHAT LIES AT the core of these High Holy Days is an opportunity to look at ourselves carefully and determine if we are proud of the way we have behaved. The prayer book speaks of sin and forgiveness, but that’s often a hard concept for us to absorb. We usually know when we’ve erred, but do we ever know that we’ve been forgiven by God?

Our tradition also speaks of teshuva — of return and renewal as the hallmarks of these days. These days ask us to examine our lives to see if we are being true to ourselves. Have we allowed temptation or indifference to erode our character and slowly transform us into someone who does things and says things that we aren’t proud of? If so, this is the time to return to our authentic selves.

But is there such a thing as an authentic Jewish life? I would say that there is no such thing as “authentic Judaism.” Being an authentic person is one thing — we each have a personality, a soul that is unique. We can be authentically ourselves. But there are many ways to be Jewish. There are, of course, common threads to our Judaism — the idea of one God, social justice, the study of Torah, prayer, living an ethical life. But these are broad areas of Jewish life that have historically had many meanings that have changed over time.

Our task, then, is to continue to learn and grow as Jews and enable the Jewish tradition to give meaning to our lives.

Rabbi Mark Cooper
Oheb Shalom Congregation, South Orange

WHEN WE THINK of repentance, our minds may conjure the image of the street preacher, shouting from atop a soapbox: “Bring God’s love into your life, not His rage! Before the End, REPENT! REPENT!”

During the High Holy Days, the Jewish message of repentance deserves review. Far from a magical incantation meant to appease a scowling, wrathful God, repentance, or teshuva in Hebrew, is for us; teshuva affirms our humanity to ourselves.

Consider the significance of this introspective work. If we can look into ourselves and see where we erred, whom we wronged, what we neglected, and then, out of a sense of embarrassment and remorse, we commit to change our lives. In this subtle yet transformative moment, we reaffirm our free will and empower the endless human potential that resides within.

Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are Days of Awe because our natural response to this revelation — that we are gifted with a divine spark — must fill us with awe: When we realize that the world was created for us and its future is in our hands — that is an awesome truth.

Wishing all MetroWest communities a happy, healthy, and sweet New Year.

Rabbi Menashe East
Mount Freedom Jewish Center, Randolph

A SMALL VILLAGE was having a problem putting out fires when they occurred. So they sent a messenger to a neighboring village to see how it dealt with the same issue. The messenger happened to be in the neighboring village when a fire broke out. He came back home and reported how the fire was fought and extinguished.

He told of how the residents of the neighboring village began beating on drums as soon as the fire was detected, and by morning the fire was out. As a result of the drumming, he reported, the damage was minimal.

So the residents of the small village all bought or made drums. The next time a fire broke out, everyone started beating their drums, but the fire did not go out.

A second messenger was dispatched who returned with the necessary clarification. When the residents of the neighboring town heard the drums, they brought their largest containers of water to the site of the fire to help contain it. The small village refined its system and became much more efficient at fighting fires.

The shofar blasts, which we hear on Rosh Hashana, are similar to those drums. If we hear them and do nothing, then we might as well stop blowing the shofar. However, if we hear them as some sort of call to action, then the shofar is serving its function. In other words, this is the time for every individual to assess whether he or she is living up to the divine ideals as prescribed in the Torah. In this New Year, may we all answer the call.

L’shana tova — may this coming year bring only health, happiness and success into your home.

Rabbi Avi Friedman
Summit Jewish Community Center

WE LEARN THAT “a person must bless God for the bad as we bless God for the good.” (B. Ber. 33b)

Blessing God for the bad things that happen is tough, no doubt about that; just think about how we bless God, our true judge, before we bury someone we love. But I’ve noticed that many of us don’t take the time to bless God enough for the good things that surround us. I am most aware of this when for one reason or another my ordinary life disappears — illness, death, a move, a test, some disturbing news, something that breaks my normal life — and then all I want is my ordinary life back. I want to drink my coffee in the morning without anxiety. I want to walk my dog and have nothing special happen.

And I think of one of my favorite verses from Psalms: “Taste and see that Adonai is good.” (Ps. 34:9) Walk around the block, look at the trees, bite a ripe peach, sing a little song, be with the person you love, and know and feel how good it is to be a part of God’s magnificent creation. Bless God for all this good, always.

Shana tova.

Rabbi Ruth Gais
Chavurat Lamdeinu, Madison

A HASIDIC PARABLE tells us that we walk around with a piece of paper in each of our pockets. In one pocket, the piece of paper reads. “You are created in God’s image.” You are the master of each day. You have the power to make anything happen for yourself daily. The other pocket’s writing says: “You are but dust of the earth.” You can die any day of the year.

Life is beyond our control. It is our job to constantly balance these two pockets. We all know that there are laws of nature in this world over which we have no control. We can all encounter natural disaster, illness, or accident. We may not consider any of this fair, but at the same time, we also have the power each day to control our individual destinies.

The shofar blast is meant to wake us up to trajectory change, to direct ourselves to our core, to be who we are meant to be. We are asked during this sacred time to measure our days, to evaluate our time on earth, to make sure we live our days with meaning and purpose.

Meaning comes in many different forms. Experience all parts of your life with awareness and presence. If we spend our entire lives anxiously waiting for the other shoe to drop, we will simply miss the world around us.

By shifting our focus from the future to the present, we have a chance to enjoy the pleasures and blessings that surround us. B’nai Jeshurun is proud to be a part of this special community. We wish you the very best in this New Year.

Rabbi Matthew D. Gewirtz
Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, Short Hills

THIS SEASON IS dedicated to forgiveness. We are called upon to ask forgiveness from each other even before we can think of asking forgiveness from God.

Two words that refer to forgiveness are — “sliha” and “m’hila.” “Sliha” means complete forgiveness, a forgiveness so total that it has the power to erase the affront or the sin committed. This is sometimes hard to achieve. “m’hila” can be understood as “pardon,” which means that the sin is being set aside, let go. While complete forgiveness connotes a change of feeling, the hurt dispelled, pardon conveys the power to let go of one’s pain, even though the pain still exists. More precisely, it means that one lets go of one’s right to make a claim based on that pain.

Letting go of such pain-based claims is fundamental to the ability of individuals and groups to proceed to grow and flourish. While no one can tell a person who has been hurt not to feel pain, it is to be hoped that the person will come to the point where they will not insist that their pain trumps all other considerations.

I pray this year that we can at least reach a point of “m’hila,” that we can push past the temptation to hold onto our hurts, however genuine, and let go of the “right” to feel hurt, so that we may attain a life that truly fulfills our needs and hopes.

Rabbi David Greenstein
Congregation Shomrei Emunah, Montclair

THEY ARE earlier this year. Early September seems to soon. Next year, they come very late. Yom Kippur in October?

The Holy Days come on schedule every year — the first of Tishrei. It is we who are not prepared. We are catching up, caught by surprise, waiting eagerly for their arrival.

Should it come “early,” we are forced to reflect on our life and journey that much sooner. Should it come “late,” we are fearful that we have missed our chance and that opportunities for renewal are forever lost.

Early, late, or right on time, we always have the chance to battle toward holiness. “The Gates of Repentance are always open,” we read in our mahzor. Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis shares such sentiment in this poem:

The last word has not been spoken,
the last sentence has not been written,
the final verdict is not in.
It is never too late
to change my mind,
my direction,
to say no to the past
and yes to the future,
to offer remorse,
to ask and give forgiveness.
It is never too late
to start over again,
to feel again
to love again
to hope again….

To a sweet, peaceful, and joyous new year.

Rabbi Mark Kaiserman
Temple Emanu-El of West Essex, Livingston

THE HIGH HOLY Days provide a time for introspection, to take stock of our lives, a moral inventory for individual and collective thoughts, speech, and deeds. They require honest self-reflection, looking into the mirror and observing the beauty and flaws in ourselves. It is not easy to admit one’s faults and limitations. But recognition and admission are liberating; they allow us to “clean the slate” and be worthy of petitioning God for another year of life.

There is a spiritual catharsis, as well, as we open our hearts and minds to God in gratitude for the multitude of blessings we enjoy every day. We become more mindful of life as a divine gift that is ours to embrace. The prayers we read boldly proclaim our trust in God’s forgiveness and love. Though there are no guarantees, but we believe our prayers are efficacious, that “the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts will be acceptable,” entitling us to another year.

As much as we may project and plan for the year ahead, there are always unforeseeable variables to which we must adapt. We find ourselves in a time of tremendous uncertainty. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan linger on, taking horrific tolls. The threat of terrorism continues to hang over us like an ominous cloud. On the economic front, greed, the recession, unemployment, and foreclosures challenge so many of us. Education, healthcare, cancer, obesity, and other epidemics demand progress.

These tasks are enormous. But this season requires us to recognize our strengths, target our weaknesses, and follow an internal GPS. Hard work, ingenuity, intelligence, resolve, and optimism will help us cope. To tackle all the predictable and unusual issues of 5771, we must find ways to harness the resources and wisdom in each of us. With vision and leadership, passion and commitment, each of us may be better prepared for our ever-changing world.

Rabbi Ronald W. Kaplan
Temple Beth Am, Parsippany

DURING THE HIGH Holy Days season, we are faced with a challenge of self-evaluation and setting goals. Throughout the Jewish life-cycle, all beginnings are meaningful. The beginning of the year (Rosh Hashana), the month (Rosh Hodesh), and the week (Havdala) are all significant. Beginnings represent an opportunity to evaluate and redirect our lives where necessary. They allow us to draw strength from that which we are proud of and focus ourselves on needed change.

It is tradition that on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the Book of Life is opened before God. Our obligation is to open before us our lives for evaluation. How can we be a better spouse and a better parent? What can we do to feel closer to God? What must we do to let God come closer to us?

How can we be better members of our community? Who is in pain whom we can help? How can we be better human beings? better Jews?

At Rosh Hashana, as we ask God for a happy and healthy New Year, we must realize that we are partners with God and that God says you do and I will help. May this season of High Holy Days help us strive to be higher in our values and holier in our response to life.

Let us pray to God that He grant us a year of peace and plenty for ourselves, for our communities, and for all the Jewish people, wherever they may be. May the Land of Israel, the State of Israel, and the people of Israel flourish and prosper. May all of us continue to give nachas to our father in heaven. Amen.

Shana tova.

Rabbi Shlomo Krupka
Congregation Etz Chaim, Livingston

AS A RABBI in Brazil I had to get used to the High Holy Days in the spring. This was not only contrary to how it was in the ancient Land of Israel, but it was contrary to everything I had personally experienced. It did not seem right, but even more, it did not feel right.

Eventually I got over it. (Living in Rio de Janeiro helps one get over a lot of things.) Spring, I decided, was actually a more natural time: the season for renewal, for rebirth, for newness in general. That worked fine for a few years but it was still a relief to return to the northern hemisphere and the way things should be. The intensity of that relief caused me to wonder — just why was this so important? My preference for observing the High Holy Days in the fall had something to do with how I grew up and my sense of our ancient history, but I realized there was more.

At this time of year, we reflect, reconsider, and repent, and then we begin anew. For me, that last part is not a problem. Seeing how I should be, knowing what I should do, understanding the direction in which to go once the leaf is turned over — that’s easy. The first part is hard: admitting how I have erred, identifying with brutal candor that which needs to be changed — and then leaving it all behind. That is incredibly difficult.

But doing so in the fall helps. Nature slows down. Green turns to brown. I know that this is part of an ongoing cycle and eventually the green will return, so it is as if we are told: Don’t worry. Be frank with yourself. Be blunt. Learn from the world around you. It is neither easy nor without pain, but just as the leaves turning brown will once again be green, so too will you be made whole.

Rabbi Clifford M. Kulwin
Temple B’nai Abraham, Livingston

WE LIVE IN difficult times, with the ominous cloud of a nuclear Iran threatening Israel and complicated by the lack of substantive reaction from world leaders.

When Moses complained “I am closed-up of lips,” God answered, “Aharon will be your spokesman; you will speak all that I will command you and Aharon your brother will [also] speak to Pharaoh.” (Exodus 7:2)

Moses’ function was thus not to convince Pharaoh through cogent arguments, but to state God’s Hebrew words as he would hear them from God. After that Aharon would proceed to: a) “interpret,” i.e., translate God’s Hebrew message into Egyptian, and b) “explain,” expound on the message so that it would sink into “Pharaoh’s ears.”

Moses thus paved the way: The first step, for a true Jewish leader, is to declare the word of God with firm conviction: “God gave the Holy Land to the Jewish people and their descendants, along biblically delineated boundaries, forever, and no force on earth can change this fact with impunity.” Once this is firmly in place, the contemporary Aharons can utilize their oratorical talents to explain to the world whatever it is they don’t understand, and make it sink deeper into their ears and psyches.

Words then have to be backed up by appropriate military strategic planning.

Jewish pride in our destiny and the need for peace and security demand no less, along with all other available means at our disposal, such as removing many ineffective politicians from office through the election process.

May we all be inscribed to a good and prosperous New Year 5771.

Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic
Congregation Ahavath Zion, Maplewood

I WAS IN A bagel shop a few weeks ago, when a couple standing in front of me at the counter began yelling at the young man who was trying to fill their order. Apparently, he hadn’t understood which type of egg salad they wanted, and they were really letting him have it. They went to the shop manager and loudly suggested that he find more competent employees. The whole scene was pretty uncomfortable, to say the least.

When it was my turn to pay, the manager looked at me and said, “You know, rabbis talk about all sorts of important topics on the High Holy Days — repentance, Jewish continuity, charity, support of Israel. I wish they would talk a little more about treating fellow human beings with respect and dignity.”

How right he is.

Rosh Hashana is the anniversary of the creation of mankind, the days that we commemorate and give thanks for our very existence.

The sages teach us that all human beings are created in the image of God; every person has a precious soul and a purpose in life. And patience, respect, and dignity are qualities meant to be shown to all human beings, whoever they may be.

Even the people who mess up our orders in the bagel shops.

This year, on the High Holy Days, let us reflect on this theme and remember that often in life, it’s the “little things” that are most significant. Let us celebrate the anniversary of our creation by focusing on respecting all of God’s children, in any and every way we can.

And may it be a wonderful, sweet, and peaceful year for all of mankind.

Rabbi Shalom D. Lubin
Congregation Shaya Ahavat Torah, Parsippany
Director, Chabad of SE Morris County

ROSH HASHANA is when we draw upon the lessons that we’ve learned in life as we each prepare to pass before God and hear God ask, “Who are you?” How will we respond? Will we go deeper and deeper into ourselves, learning more about ourselves, learning surprising things about ourselves? Or will we attempt to escape the constantly repeating questions and challenges?

How will we explain ourselves? Perhaps it entails examining how we have positively influenced those we have encountered in our lives, our spouses, children, friends, coworkers, or employees? Or how were you positively influenced by those whom you have encountered? Perhaps it is the memories that we have planted in others of ourselves? Perhaps it is the legacy that one day we will leave behind?

As we hear the sound of the shofar, as we recall the silence that followed and the self-meditation on our own lives that the shofar calls us to do, may we use this time, this Yom Hadin, wisely, as we go deeper and deeper into our explorations of ourselves.

When we stand before Adonai, God will ask, “Who are you?” How will you answer?”

God willing, we all will be able to truly explain who we are and whose lives we made better because of our presence in this world. Let that time be long in coming as we should all be inscribed in the Sefer Hachaim — the Book of Life — for a healthy and prosperous year.

Rabbi Mark Mallach
Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael, Springfield

THERE IS A well-known passage in the Talmud: “Unlike other parts of Creation, man was created alone. This teaches that whoever kills one man is as if he destroyed all mankind. Conversely, whoever saves one life is as though he saved the whole world.” Steven Spielberg cited it in his Oscar-winning film Schindler’s List to pay tribute to the gentile Oskar Schindler. However there are two versions of this passage, and the more authoritative is ethnocentric. It is limited to Jews. See Jacob Neusner’s translation of Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5, which is echoed in Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 37a.

This poses a question. Do we value non-Jewish lives as we do Jewish lives? Although not widely reported, an Israeli military investigation has confirmed the main findings of the Goldstone Report on the Gaza War. If teshuva on the High Holidays is to have any meaning, this is a matter that should be of grave concern to Jews, considering our leadership’s overly hostile reaction to the Goldstone Report and the honest, honorable man who wrote it.

Perhaps this Jewish folk tale suggests an answer. Once Shimon ben Shetach bought a donkey from an Arab. When his disciples went to claim it, they found a precious jewel hanging around its neck. They came to Shimon and said, “Master, now you no longer need to work, for the Lord’s blessing brings wealth.”

“How is this so?” he asked them.

“We found this precious jewel on the donkey you just bought.”

“Did the Arab know about this?”

“No,” they answered.

“Then return it to him at once. I bought a donkey, not a jewel.”

When they returned the jewel to the Arab, he exclaimed, “Blessed is the God of Shimon ben Shetach!” (Deuteronomy Rabbah 3:3, Jerusalem Talmud Ketubot 8:10)

Bennett Muraskin
Jewish Cultural School and Society, West Orange

WHEN I WAS a young teenager (and that’s a lot of years ago), Volkswagen advertised heavily in magazines that some of you undoubtedly remember: Look and the Saturday Evening Post. These magazines, like the advertisements, are long gone now, but I remember one that was particularly funny, nothing more than a caption under an otherwise blank page. “No point in showing you the 1962 Volkswagen. It still looks the same.”

Well, I got to thinking how the High Holy Days might look the same year after year. It must be tempting to view them as a blank page with a caption, “No point in showing you the 5711 High Holy Days. They still look the same.” And indeed they do.

But they are not.

Every year we are different, and every year our relationship to God is altered by our changed circumstances. This year, when you chant the prayers, as you follow the Torah reading, when you hear the shofar, reflect on the fact that you are a different person than you were last year, or five years ago, or 10 years ago.

And although what happens in the sanctuary is in some ways a re-run, be sure to catch some details that you missed before. L’shana tova v’tikateivu.

Rabbi Simon Rosenbach
Ahavas Sholom, Newark

HAYOM HARAT olam. Today is the birthday of the world!

If today is the anniversary of the creation of the world, then we are anticipating the creation of humanity in the next breath.

Every day, every moment, every breath is really an opportunity for rebirth. That is an overwhelming thought for our daily lives. There is so much to do day-to-day: work to be done, homes to be maintained, meals to be cooked. mouths to be fed. We are propelled forward and challenged to prioritize introspection, silent meditation, and reflection.

But, for these 10 Days of Awe, we must challenge ourselves to set aside the time and energy to focus on the opportunity we are given to return to life, to do teshuva, to experience rebirth.

The prayers of the mahzor remind us of our mortality and the fragility of life; we don’t want to die and don’t want our loved ones to die. But we know that death is a part of life. And in the face of this knowledge, let us seize the moment and examine what is within our control.

What must die in our lives so that we can be renewed and reborn? What habits must we extinguish so that we can bring more living into our lives? What are the patterns we have fallen into that have impeded us from living lives filled with vitality, meaning and inspiration? What life-promoting and life-sustaining practices can we claim in the New Year?

Let this Rosh Hashana be the moment when you examine your life as the Holy Judge does. Let this Yom Kippur be a rehearsal of the death of those life-hindering practices. And may we all celebrate a New Year of new opportunities and new life.

Rabbi Francine Roston
Congregation Beth El, South Orange

A GUARD WAS standing outside of a minimum security camp in the former USSR. His role was to make certain that no one leaving the camp stole anything. One inmate caught his attention: a man pushing a wheelbarrow of straw. The guard carefully examined the straw; finding nothing, he allowed the inmate to proceed. This identical scenario happened every night for 30 years.

After the inmate was freed and was back in civilian life, he and the guard, now retired, met by chance. The former guard asked the former inmate: “Why did you go to such trouble to steal straw?” The former inmate responded: “You don’t get it. The last 30 years I have not been stealing straw; I have been stealing wheelbarrows.”

Day after day, year after year, media coverage of the State of Israel focuses upon the peace process, upon Israel’s military actions in self-defense, upon Israel’s diplomatic tensions with the UN, the Europeans, and, at times, with the White House. This understandable obsession with “the straw,” takes our attention away from “the wheelbarrows” — the core of Israel’s existence as unique and a source of profound blessing.

Let us take time to refocus upon the miracle that is modern-day Israel.

• Israel is the religious center of our existence.

• Israel embodies Jewish values put into action. (For example, we were inspired by the intervention of Israel in earthquake-distressed Haiti. “The Israeli field hospital is phenomenal,” Dr. Richard Besser of ABC News told Good Morning America. “They were up and running, way ahead of the United States hospital.” The Israeli field hospital — labeled “the Rolls-Royce” of emergency medical care —treated over 1,110 patients, conducted 319 surgeries, and delivered 16 babies.)

• Israel personifies Jewish creativity.

Let us not be distracted by “the straw” but keep our focus upon the “wheelbarrow” — the real Israel that is a miraculous source of inspiration, pride, and Jewish self-awareness.

Rabbi Alan Silverstein
Congregation Agudath Israel of West Essex, Caldwell

THERE ARE TIMES when, for most of us, the world seems calm and peaceful, and we sense the possibilities for happiness and human achievement with endless possibility.

Then there are times when conflict, suffering, enmity, and threats to safety and happiness seem overwhelming.

We are living during interesting times – we yearn for a time of calm and peacefulness. It is up to us to find within our world the abundant blessings that exist no matter what happens.

The spiritual truth of the Yamim Nora’im, the Days of Awe, is that the challenges of life can seem to collect as curses, but in fact, the reality is that it is within our power to turn these challenges into blessings by the way we live. The quality of life will be found in the way we transform our world through righteous living, faith in the future, and devotion to making our world better, one person at a time.

We pray that this coming year may bring renewal of spirit. May all of our distress be replaced by a calm faith in life’s possibilities.

May we open ourselves to divine light on these Days of Awe and spread that light throughout our families, neighborhoods, communities, and our world.

L’shana tova tikateivu v’tihateimu — May you be inscribed and sealed for good in the Book of Life.

Rabbi Amy Joy Small
Congregation Beth Hatikvah, Summit

“MINE IS THE faith that I surely shall see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13) These words serve as the traditional liturgical mantra for this season. They represent our human re-affirmation of the divine refrain that punctuates the creation story, where God time and again asserts the fundamental goodness of the world.

Even so, we look around and see so much that is not good. We see acts of terror and sabers of war. We see demagogues and hate-mongers fomenting anger and violence. We see politicians and pundits yelling rather than discussing. We see fires and floods, oil spills, and dislodged ice caps. Where is the Lord’s goodness in all of this?

The answer resides in the Hebrew phrase of the psalmist. Lirot b’tuv Adonai may also be translated as “to see with the goodness of God,” that is, to look at this world as God does and to see a sublime goodness that eclipses rampant imperfection. To see in the good way that God sees is to find merit not fault, to trust rather than to doubt, to compliment rather than to malign. Yes, we are surrounded by deficient creatures, relatives, rabbis, celebrities, and sports figures. But these very same people, who often disappoint us, also bring us much joy, inspiration, and love.

May this year truly be a shana tova, a year in which we are able to look at the world as God does and see the many imperfect but amazing human beings who inhabit it through eyes of goodness.

Rabbi Geoffrey A. Spector
Temple Beth Shalom, Livingston

IN DISCUSSING WHAT Judaism means to him, Elie Wiesel said, “The mission of the Jewish people has never been to make the world more Jewish, but to make it more human.”

The Yamim Nora’im, the Awesome Days (Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and the intervening week) is the annual season when we are bidden to “humanify” ourselves. As individuals, we contemplate our actions and behavior, the quality of our “human-ness,” during the past year. It is the time for us to take our annual inventory of our being human. There are three “R’s” in this process: Review, Rectify, and Restore.

• Review: We must pause from time to time and individually ascertain where we are in our journey through life. Was everything in order this past year? Did we meet our own expectations of ourselves? Were there behaviors or actions we would like to change? Did we wrong anyone or cause harm, or pain, or suffering — physically, emotionally, financially, or otherwise — in the past 12 months?

• Rectify: Before we can change ourselves, we must first resolve the outstanding issues with those we may have wronged and seek their forgiveness. Only then can we make the serious attempt to modify our own behavior.

• Restore: Having Reviewed and Rectified, we are now able to Restore our relationship with God and the world. Through this process, which we call teshuva, we make ourselves more human and, thereby, influence the world for good.

The entire Congregation Beth Torah joins me in wishing each and every one a Shana tova tikateivu v’t’hateimu — May you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a good year.

Rabbi Kenneth M. Tarlow
Congregation Beth Torah, Florham Park

SYLVIA BOORSTEIN, a prominent meditation teacher, often asks her students, “Why do you want to practice meditation?” The answers are varied: “to reduce stress,” “to reduce anger,” “to strengthen my prayer life,” “to be a better parent,” to understand myself better.” To these and more, she responds: “It’s good for that!”

I am somewhat in awe about the depth and breadth of the impact of my own Jewish Mindfulness practice. I have moved my normal conscious state closer to happiness, away from anxiety or stress. I have more patience with my children and am more present with my wife. I eat better and exercise more. I pray and meditate daily, am more open-hearted in general and less afraid of suffering. I give more tzedaka, watch less TV.

Judaism is at its core a religion meant to inspire the experience of mindfulness. Following the mitzvot is meant to awaken us to our own inner lives and the world around us. Judaism also has a deep and ancient history of meditation practices.

What makes Jewish meditation Jewish is that it is increasingly being done by deeply committed Jews in a Jewish context. I believe that when we look back at this moment in Jewish history we will see a story of profound spiritual renewal with meditation at its center.

This New Year remember: Mindfulness is simple! Take a moment and look out the window, take a deep breath. When you sit down to eat, try to taste the first bite of your meal. Pause in the midst of a heated conversation or stressful day and ask yourself, “What is my larger purpose here?” Say a short blessing of any kind. Anything that allows you to be more awake to the current moment and your inner response to that moment is a practice of mindfulness.

Rabbi Elliott Tepperman
Bnai Keshet, Montclair

read more: