From the pulpit: Messages for the New Year

From the pulpit: Messages for the New Year

The following are responses to New Jersey Jewish News’ invitation to leaders of area congregations to share their High Holy Day messages.

Super seniors

It is incredible to realize that another year has passed and the High Holy Days are here once again, bringing with them bountiful new blessings and new opportunities for growing and giving and sharing all the goodness Hashem has showered upon us.

Chabad House of Holmdel & Colts Neck, now in its fourth year, continues to provide a wide array of educational services, programs, and events for the Jewish community in northern Monmouth County. We are proud to present a new service catered toward the senior community already in progress in honor of the Jewish New Year.

“Super Seniors Group” pairs volunteers with senior residents in nursing homes for an hour of interaction each week. Our main volunteers are our dedicated and wonderful teens who joyfully devote their Sunday afternoon to brighten the lives of seniors.

We thank the entire community and our friends and family for the generous support and constant encouragement. You enable us to continue our vital work in strengthening Jewish identity, pride, and awareness in our youth, families, hospital patients, seniors, and our children — our future.

I take this opportunity to wish you and your loved ones a healthy, happy, and sweet New Year. May we be inscribed in the Book of Life, with peace and prosperity, and may we merit the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days. Shana tova u’m’tuka!

Rabbi Ephraim Carlebach
Chabad of Holmdel & Colts Neck, Holmdel

Lasting changes

To be a Jew — Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, or undecided — means to believe in the possibility, the potential of a messianic age, an era, a moment in history when all will be right with the world — when war, famine, ignorance, bigotry, and senseless hatred will forever be eradicated, a time when the people of the world will work together to come together instead of fall apart.

The messianic age, this great era of peace and brotherhood, has not happened yet, but to be any kind of Jew means to work tirelessly, unceasingly, religiously toward that end. To be a Jew means you believe that the world can be made not only better but, im yirtze hashem, with God’s help, and with everyone’s help, that it can happen in our lifetime. I believe with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my might that belief alone will only get us so far; to make the world a better place is going to take action as well.

The question on these High Holy Days is while our religion might be working toward perfecting the world, are we? Are we trying to bring about lasting change to create the society we all dream about? Are we trying to change the world for the better? Because that’s what we have been praying about all this time. That’s what God expects us to be doing with our time here on earth: making this a better place for each other and for those who will come after us. There is no greater purpose in life; there is no more central practice in Judaism.

Rabbi Laurence Malinger
Temple Shalom of Aberdeen

No place like home

Have you ever had one of those “Wizard of Oz” experiences? In the classic children’s story, the orphan Dorothy goes on a transformational dream journey. Far from Kansas, she and her dog Toto gather a community around themselves as she confronts her inner nemesis, the Wicked Witch of the West.

Though we might not find ourselves surrounded by the Tin Man, Scarecrow, or Cowardly Lion, each time we face a new challenge, we have the ability to turn inward to change our ways. In confronting our true fears, we can then turn outward for support. In that way we gain access to our own courageous heart of wisdom.

In his treatise Halakhic Man, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik writes that the desire to transform oneself is the central motif of teshuva. In turning inward, a person takes advantage of his or her innate creativity. Embarking on an intense inner journey, one can return to God and thus can recreate or even re-fashion the self. And you don’t have to be a storybook character or a great Jewish thinker to get started.

Created in the image of God, we already have everything we need. Our tradition teaches that transformation is not found in the heavens, but can be as close to us as our own mouths, hearts, and hands. Tefilla (prayer), teshuva (turning inward), and tzedaka (righteous acts) are tools in our traveling bags. We need only a community with whom to share the journey. May your serious soul-searching this High Holy Day season set you on the path surrounded by friends and loving family. Hopefully, you will discover in the end, that there is no place like home.

Rabbi Michelle Pearlman
Monmouth Reform Temple, Tinton Falls

Look for the way together

In his book Days of Awe, S.Y. Agnon offered a parable from Rabbi Hayyim of Zans.

“A man had been wandering about in a forest for several days, not knowing which was the right way out. Suddenly he saw someone in the distance. His heart was filled with joy. ‘Now I shall certainly find out which is the right way,’ he thought to himself. When they neared each other, he asked the man, ‘Brother, I have been wandering about in this forest for days. Can you tell me which is the right way out?’

“Said the other to him, ‘Brother, I do not know the way out either. For I, too, have been wandering about in here for many days. But this I can tell you: Do not go the way that I went, for that will surely lead you astray. And now, come let us look for the way out together.’

“Our master added: ‘And so it is with us. One thing we can each tell the other: The way that we have been following until now is not the way. Come, let us join hands and search together.’”

Here at Marlboro Jewish Center we have a wonderful staff, lay leaders, and volunteers, and our members enjoy dynamic programs at a terrific facility. Like the forest, the world at times may seem cold and unwelcoming. Be a part of our community and make your world brighter! For more information, call executive director Bonnie Komito at 732-536-2300.

Rabbi Michael Pont
Marlboro Jewish Center

The ‘newness’ of life

People love “new.” After all, isn’t the newest iPhone version better than the one before? People intuitively understand that anything new carries the potential of greatness. Perhaps that is why every baby naming I have ever seen is about enthusiasm, hope, love, and pure joy.

In the “newness” of life there is the potential and promise that this new life will make our world a better place. Synagogue life can be so powerful, because in the newness and promise of each birth, baby naming, bar or bat mitzva, and wedding there is the guidance and wisdom of tradition. It is tradition that has the power to enrich all of us — from youngest to oldest — and thus help us find our way to greatness.

In a world that increasingly gives us the chance to connect via technology, it is easy to forget the power of personal connection and contact. Synagogues must be a place where people can connect to each other and to something deeper and greater than themselves.

If you are interested in such a journey, contact us. It’s a New Year and potential is unlimited.

We welcome you to TBS — Shana tova!

Rabbi Ira Rothstein
Temple Beth Shalom, Manalapan

Saying ‘I’m sorry’

“I’m sorry” are the two most difficult, misunderstood, and misused words in the English language. This is especially significant during the High Holy Days culminating in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This becomes the day of “I’m sorry.” The dilemma is whether I am sorry for what I have done or sorry for being caught. Those two words have become legal tender, the cost I must pay to get back into your good graces. And thus, they have been diminished because they are expected; nay, demanded. A parent will demand of a child, “Say ‘I’m sorry’” even when the child is not repentant. And once spoken, we are to consider ourselves guileless and purified.

The rabbis refer to this Day of Atonement as Yom Hakippurim, the day of many atonements. This year, I plan to spend the time leading up to Yom Kippur finding the strength within myself to return meaning to my expressions of atonement, of giving weight to my many declarations of “I’m sorry.” The words only gain honor when they are not merely an expression of remorse but when they are accompanied by proof that I have learned from my mistakes and misdeeds, that my future actions reflect that realization.

Our prayer should be to acquire the strength to “own up” to our own actions and honestly and honorably declare, “I’m sorry.”

May the year 5772 usher in a personal era of honesty and expressions of gratitude.

Rabbi Brooks R. Susman
Congregation Kol Am, Freehold

Prayer from the heart

One of my favorite High Holy Day passages is, “Open the gates of righteousness for me; I will enter and [then] praise God.” (Psalm 118). What I like most about it is that it describes a process: First, God opens the gates of righteousness for me; second, I enter; third, I praise God.

Some people think we can simply walk into a service — any service, but especially on the High Holy Days — and just start to pray. What are we praying for? What are we praising? What are we doing there? By itself, prayer makes no sense.

Contrast this with seeing prayer as a response. When we see God opening a path to righteousness and we decide to enter and live our lives righteously, then we praise God for giving us this opportunity. When we see the results of what we have done —the commandments we have fulfilled, the people we have aided, the wrongs we have righted — our hearts fill with joy and prayer begins to make sense.

How many times have we heard, “Prayer isn’t meaningful to me”? But prayer by itself can’t be meaningful; it is only words. Our ancestors knew this; from their spontaneous song at the Red Sea to Moses’ plea for healing for his sister, they understood that prayer comes from the heart, not the head. They knew they had to enter the gates before they could begin to pray, and the same is true for us.

May God open the gates of righteousness, healing, and forgiveness for us this year, and may we have the courage to enter.

Rabbi Donald A. Weber
Temple Rodeph Torah, Marlboro

read more: