Note: This is the second installment; the third, and final, collection of New Year’s messages will next appear in the Sept. 20 edition.
A MAN BUYS a parakeet, but when he brings it home, he notices that the parakeet won’t talk. The pet shop owner recommends various solutions to motivate the parakeet to talk: a mirror in the cage so the parakeet can see itself, a ladder and bell so the bird can climb up and ring the bell, a cuttlefish bone for the parakeet to peck at — still the bird won’t talk. Giving up, the pet shop owner suggests that maybe this is simply a non-talking parakeet. Returning from the pet store, the man overhears the parakeet speaking: “Doesn’t that pet shop owner sell any birdseed?”
Sometimes, the answer to our problems is so simple and obvious, and we just don’t think of it.
Teshuvah is not a simple phenomenon. It is a complex and deep process, involving remorse, regret, commitment to change — and then actually changing. At the same time, there is something obvious about teshuvah. By looking at what is right in front of us, we can start on the path of repentance.
Who are the people we are closest to? Chances are, it is with them that we have made mistakes in the past year, because the people we love the most are also the people we can hurt the most.
When we look at our professional lives, have we erred in how we conduct business?
When we look inside ourselves, have we treated ourselves appropriately by taking care of our bodies and souls? Have we studied Torah, done tzedakah, strengthened our synagogues and the Jewish community? Have we worked to make our world more just and whole for all people?
Teshuvah is an awesome task, but to get started, all we need is a little birdseed.
Rabbi Laurence W. Groffman
Temple Sholom of West Essex, Cedar Grove
THE BEAUTIFUL summer is coming to an end. That means the High Holy Day season is just around the corner.
If the year is a train, the High Holy Days are its engine. A delicate blend of joy and solemnity, feasting and fasting, prayer and inspiration make up the head of the Jewish year.
The High Holy Days begin during the month of Elul, when the shofar is sounded every weekday morning, a call of return in advance of the sacred days that lie ahead. Rosh HaShanah is the head of the Jewish year, the time when we crown God as king of the universe through prayer, shofar blasts, and celebration. A week later is Yom Kippur-the Day of Atonement. Like angels, we neither eat nor drink for 25 hours. Dressed in white, we pray in the synagogue — united as one people.
Then come the festive holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah, which bring the season to a most joyous conclusion.
So hop aboard! At Chabad, everyone is always welcome to our warm and friendly environment, regardless of background or affiliation.
Wishing you a happy, healthy sweet New Year!
Rabbi Mendy Kasowitz
Chabad West Orange
TEMPLE B’NAI OR is as about as beautiful as a temple can get. It sits in a lovely neighborhood, its new classrooms sparkle, its gallery is filled with light. But during the High Holy Days the sound of prayer will fill its space and, most special of all, the ancient rituals that connect present to the past will be performed.
We create memories on the High Holy Days. Our children will remember falling asleep on their parents’ laps just as we remember how years and years ago we fell asleep on our parents’ laps.
Sadly, we retain only fleeting intimations of the past. How little we can remember what it was like when we were three or four. Would that we could capture the pleasure of the ice cream cone when we were toddlers or how it felt to be sitting in the back seat of the car being driven from place to place.
But there is the miracle of a ritual. In fact, we can return. Just as the rhyme of a poem returns us to a familiar home sound, so too, performing a ritual can physically return us to a memory long past. That is why we teach our children to treasure our High Holy Day customs, so that no matter where they are, no matter how much distance separates us — even when they will live in this world and we in the next — our hearts will beat as one when they hear the sound of the shofar and dip apples in honey.
The words “l’shanah tovah” mean “For a good year,” but literally “shanah” means “repetition” — what we actually are wishing each other during this holiday season is “a good repetition.” We must teach our children “good repetitions” so that they will always be near and they can always come home.
Rabbi David Katz
Temple B’nai Or, Morristown
A STORY IS told that on Rosh HaShanah, a group of angels began celebrating the New Year, singing Hallel, praises to God giving thanks for another year. But when God heard their song, he rebuked them. “I’m sitting here, with the Book of Life open before me, deciding who will live and who will die in the coming year, and you’re singing? How could you celebrate at a time like this? From now on, there will be no Hallel at this time of year.” (Rosh HaShanah 32b)
In a season when God is deciding the fate of the world, God has a job that no one — not even the angels in heaven — can understand. It is certainly a lonely position. The weight of the world rests on God’s shoulders. God must decide who will live and who will die in the coming year, and God is anxious over these life-altering decisions. God can’t possibly share in the joy of the angels, so God outlaws it.
We come to synagogue on the High Holy Days for many reasons. Some come to express our joy and nurture our spirit. But others come feeling incredibly lonely. We face hardships in life: sickness, divorce, death, alienation, and feeling misunderstood. But the High Holy Days are our time to bring our wounded and broken hearts together. If the above text teaches us anything, it is that God too feels like us.
Much of prayer is the act of our lonely selves encountering our lonely Creator and in that unity growing whole together.
If you are lonely, may you find a little more wholeness this High Holy Day season and may you know that someone else, whether human or divine, is ready to share their brokenness with you, if you would only let them in.
Rabbi Marc Katz
Temple Ner Tamid, Bloomfield
EVERY MOMENT, day, holiday, story, and personality in the Bible is a lesson to guide us to live the most fulfilling life possible, to discover our goodness, our wholeness, our Godliness.
As Yom Kippur begins, Jews all over the world sing Kol Nidrei, a holy, haunting, and inspiring tune. This prayer is about annulling vows; if you promised something you could not fulfill, this is the legal procedure to annul your vows.
What? On the holiest day of the year, we pray to annul a promise?
Some say Kol Nidrei was for the Marranos of Spain, Jews who were forced to convert and on Yom Kippur eve cried their hearts out and begged for forgiveness.
So why do we still say Kol Nidrei? Because there are times in life when we are defeated or hurt and begin to define ourselves in a hopeless manner. We judge ourselves harshly. We make vows and conclusions about our capabilities or lack thereof. But these are external issues that do not reflect who we truly are: pure souls created with a purpose that no one else can accomplish. Our birth date is God telling us we matter! He needs us!
So at the Ne’ila service at the end of Yom Kippur — when we have the opportunity to come as close to God as possible, the holiest moments of the year — our relationship is no longer about how we messed up or “I’m not good enough.” That is about what we did, not who we are! In our deepest essence, we are one with God; we are not just forgiven, we are like a child coming home, with God’s arms embracing you to keep you in.
Kol Nidrei is the time to annul those vows and happily jump into the arms of our Creator.
Rabbi Boruch Klar
Lubavitch Center of West Orange
THE PRAYER known as “Unesaneh Tokef,” which is recited during the Musaf service on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, is considered to be a high point of the entire season of repentance. We are moved by the soul-stirring melodies and the powerful words that all too clearly give us perspective on where we stand in life — and death.
“Who will live? Who will die? Who by fire? Who by water?” The list goes on and on and is almost too much to bear.
This year, the second day of Rosh HaShanah fell on Sept. 11. I still shudder when I think back to that fateful Rosh HaShanah in 2001. It is hard to believe how much time has passed since then and how much has transpired in the world.
When you recite those fateful words in synagogue, think about more than just your position in the eyes of Hashem. Remind yourself how you felt right after 9/11. Remember your resolve to combat evil in the world with light and kindness. Think of your entire people. Think of our brothers and sisters in Israel. Pray for them and do your part.
Rabbi E. Samuel Klibanoff
Congregation Etz Chaim, Livingston
Give it your all
I RECENTLY had the privilege to attend the bar mitzvah of a boy with special needs. This boy is severely limited in his ability to speak and has trouble controlling his behaviors.
Everyone in attendance had tears in their eyes when, after months of practice and training, this boy was able to (briefly) put on his new tallis and tefillin and stood in front of the Torah as it was read in honor of the special occasion.
His proud parents and grandparents shared with me that they never even dreamed that their child would ever have a bar mitzvah.
It struck me that while he is unable to perform many of the functions we would consider to be normal, this boy gave it his all and did the best he possibly could to commemorate this special day.
As we celebrate the High Holy Days and the New Year, I remind myself that all that’s ever expected of us in life is to give it our all and to do the best we possibly can.
I continue to be inspired by the lesson I learned from this brave and strong young boy, a lesson I hope can be my resolution for the upcoming year 5779. I hope to give it my all and always do the best I possibly can.
May we all be inspired to do the same in the year ahead.
Rabbi Shalom D. Lubin
Congregation Shaya Ahavat Torah, Parsippany
Chabad of Southeast Morris County
Will you still need me?
I SAW THE following on Facebook not long ago: Two baby boomer men are standing side by side. How do you tell which is one is older? By the length of their ponytails!
To be clear, the term “baby boomer” is used to describe a person that was born between 1946 and 1964. Following World War II, there occurred an unusual spike in birth rates; this phenomenon is commonly known as the baby boom.
Do you know what the national anthem of the baby boomers is? Paul McCartney’s “When I’m 64”: “When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now,/ Will you still be sending me a Valentine, birthday greetings, bottle of wine?/ Will you still need me, will you still feed me when I’m 64?”
This year, the world according to our Jewish calendar is turning 5779, and I have turned 64. On all levels, it seems so overwhelming. And, I know, there are many of you out there who are feeling the same:
Ah, but you don’t have to be a baby boomer to learn the wisdom taught to us by a modern prophet, Paul McCartney. What I’ve come to learn from “When I’m 64” can teach us volumes.
However, I want to spin the question using God’s voice, with a slight twist: God: “Will you still need Me when I’m 5779?”
Rabbi Mark Mallach
Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael, Springfield
Remember God’s presence
ABOUT 200 YEARS ago, on a regular weekday afternoon in the middle of the winter, the great chasidic rabbi, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, sent word to all the Jews of the town to gather at its synagogue. At the scheduled time, people nervously filed into the synagogue. Generally, when the rabbi called the people together in this way, it meant that the Jewish community was in danger.
When everyone was seated, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak walked to the middle of the synagogue, banged on the bimah, and cried out: “Jews! Remember that there is a God in this world!” And with that, he sat down. That was it!
The holiday of Rosh HaShanah is an extraordinarily busy time; it is packed with hours of prayer, speeches, family time, and — last but not least — food. And so it’s possible, amid all the busy family time, apples and honey, and even prayer, to miss the essence of Rosh HaShanah: remembering that there is a God in the world.
Speeches, the shofar, and even our prayers are, ultimately, a means to an end. They are powerful ways of making us aware of God’s presence, that our Father who loves us and our King who determines our fate is here, among us. Intellectually, we may believe that God exists and is present in this world, but on Rosh HaShanah, we seek to experience His presence.
And so the cry of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev resonates quite loudly in our own time: “Jews! Remember that there is a God in this world!”
Rabbi Elie Mischel
Synagogue of the Suburban Torah Center, Livingston