Note: This is the first installment. Rabbis’ New Year’s messages will next appear in the Sept. 18 edition.
THERE IS A story about a daughter who complained to her father that her life was miserable, and she was tired of fighting and struggling all the time. It seemed to her that every time she solved one problem, another appeared. Her father, who was a chef, took her to the kitchen. He filled three pots with water and placed potatoes in one pot, eggs in another, and ground coffee in the third and let them all come to a boil. After some time, he put the potatoes and eggs in a bowl and poured the coffee into a
He asked, “Daughter, what do you see?”
“Potatoes, eggs, and coffee,” she replied.
“Touch the potatoes,” he said. She did and noted they were soft. He then told her to take an egg and break the shell, and she saw that inside there was a hard-boiled egg. Finally, he asked her to sip the coffee; its rich flavor brought a smile to her face.
“What does this mean?” she asked. All three items, he explained, had faced the same adversity — the boiling water — but each reacted differently. The potato went into the water hard, but became soft. The egg began soft and fragile, but became hard and strong. The coffee grounds went into the boiling water and created something new.
“Which are you?” he asked his daughter. “When you face adversity, how do you respond? Are you a potato, an egg, or coffee?”
In life, things happen around us, things happen to us, but the only thing that truly matters is what happens within us. As we embark on the new year 5779, may we be mindful of our inner selves, as we choose carefully our interactions with our fellow human beings. Shanah tovah.
Rabbi David Amar
Congregation Ahavat Olam, Howell
ROSH HASHANAH is a time for teshuvah, repentance for our misdeeds; introspection into our character traits and flaws and trying to fix them; and for reconnecting spiritually to the Almighty, “am Yisrael,” our friends, and relatives. I prefer to use the phrase “recalibrating” our lives for maximum physical and spiritual welfare, according to our compass, the Torah.
The Talmud (Berachot 32b) states that four human activities require constant strengthening: Torah study, acts of loving-kindness, prayer, and making a living. Our lives should be balanced between the spiritual and physical — Torah study and prayer on one side, acts of kindness and earning a living on the other.
Torah study is the only way we have of listening to the voice of the Almighty. Only by studying the holy texts can we find direction from the Almighty in these confusing times.
We are probably the luckiest generation of Jews in the past two millennia. We are witnessing the ingathering of the exiles to the Holy Land and should be part of the fulfillment of this dream either by making aliya or by helping those who want to.
Prayer connects us to the Almighty, so we may praise, thank, and reach out to him and unburden ourselves from our troubles, linking ourselves both to our fellow Jews and to the Almighty.
Acts of kindness are the interface between us and other people, family members and others. Opening our hearts and our pockets to the less fortunate is a tremendous mitzvah of tzedakah.
Earning a living is as hard as crossing the Red Sea; to find and maintain an honest trade in today’s economy is extremely stressful. A person’s work should give them satisfaction and fulfillment.
By focusing on these four areas, we will achieve success in our mission in this world.
Rabbi David Bassous
Congregation Etz Ahaim, Highland Park
Time for change
ONE OF MY favorite moments of the year is the evening of Selichot, which, according to Ashkenazi tradition, begins on the Saturday night before Rosh HaShanah. We recite piyutim (liturgical poems) and other prayers that help refresh our souls and prepare us for the High Holy Days. Why is this my favorite? There is something entirely different and magical about the Selichot service.
Some of us may be finishing off a steady year. Things went well with family and friends, work was excellent. Maybe you had a promotion or a raise or perhaps you retired. Maybe you got engaged or married, saw a child marry, or got to see your children grow and mature and succeed on their own.
However, some of us may be grateful to put a challenging year into the past. Maybe you had trouble with work or family, were passed over for that promotion, or are out of work. Perhaps you suffered a tragic loss.
I am sure all of us have bruises or scrapes from the year now ending. We are, after all, only human. Some bruises and scars are superficial and will go away or lighten soon; others are deeper, and we will long remember how we got them.
In Selichot, we acknowledge our frailty. We put words to the concluding year and find the promise of tomorrow. For me, the service is less about what we did wrong and more that we have the power and ability to overcome great hardship and can do it because we live within kehillah kedoshah, a sacred community.
At the service, we exchange the year-round colored Torah covers for the white ones of the High Holy Days, representing the fresh beginnings we all seek.
Selichot is powerful because it is the moment when real change begins.
Rabbi Philip Bazeley
Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple, New Brunswick
AS WE WELCOME in the New Year, we also celebrate a milestone for the State of Israel. Seventy years ago, On Friday, May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion declared “the establishment of the Jewish state in Eretz-Yisrael, to be known as the State of Israel.”
For seven decades Israel has been a country of miracles. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks captures the amazing achievements of the Jewish state when he writes:
“Through Israel, Hebrew, the language of the Bible, was reborn as a living tongue. Jewish communities under threat have been rescued…. Jews have come to Israel from over 100 countries, representing the entire lexicon of cultural diversity. A desolate landscape has bloomed again. Jerusalem has been rebuilt. Economically, politically, socially, and culturally, Israel’s achievements are unmatched by any country of its age and size.”
One of the teachings of Zionism is “livnot u’lehibanot,” “to build and to be built.” The first Israeli pioneers drained the swamps and built the land. But they were also rebuilding themselves as proud Jews in a new homeland.
In this new year, let us take this message of rebuilding into our lives. Let us acknowledge our shortcomings and the parts of our lives that need repair. Let us repent and rebuild our connections to loved ones and friends. Let us work to build greater goodness in our lives and in the world.
L’shanah tovah — May you and your loved ones be blessed with a year of peace and joy.
Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer
Temple B’nai Shalom, East Brunswick
IF THE YEAR is a train, the High Holidays are its engine. A delicate blend of joy and solemnity, feasting and fasting, prayer and inspiration makes up the spiritually charged head of the Jewish year.
All aboard! Our services are refreshingly casual and easy to follow. The English- and Hebrew-annotated prayer book, along with song and commentary, makes everyone an active participant. The kids enjoy special interactive youth programs, just for them.
All are welcome — no membership required.
All services will be held at the Vonage Campus at 23 Main Street in Holmdel (main entrance).
We look forward to welcoming you and your family to start the new year off with us in a most inspiring, delightful, and spirited manner.
Wishing you and your family a very happy and sweet New Year!
Rabbi Shmaya & Rochi Galperin
Chabad Jewish Center of Holmdel
The gift of time
MOST OF THE time our complex lives are on a kind of nonstop auto-pilot, as we try to cram as much as we can into each 24 hours. But, the two days of Rosh HaShanah, according to the sages of the Jerusalem Talmud, should be considered “yoma arichta,” a “long day” (i.e., a 48-hour day). Their spiritual point was that both days of Rosh HaShanah have equal value. In other words, we’ve got an extra 24 hours to do all of the spiritual business of Rosh HaShanah, reminding ourselves that God is the creator and ruler of the universe.
That means both that we are not the be-all and end-all of everything and that we do have a significant role to play in the world, as God, through the mitzvot, calls us to be shutafim — partners in bringing God’s will into the world.
But first we must begin by taking the time to improve ourselves. Rosh HaShanah, through its customs and liturgy, is designed to remind us of the deepest values of Torah and of our place in the world, so we can figure out how to incorporate those ideals into each auto-piloted day.
Usually we have to figure out how to do the best we can with each 24 hours we have. But, on Rosh HaShanah we receive the gift of a day with an extra 24 hours, reminding us how precious time is and giving us just a little extra time to reflect on how to make the most of each moment, bringing greater satisfaction to our own lives and filling the entire world with the light of God.
On behalf of myself and Congregation B’nai Israel, may we all be blessed with a shining year overflowing with joy and goodness. Shanah tovah u’metukah!
Rabbi Dov Goldberg
Congregation B’nai Israel, Rumson
Introspection in order
ROSH HASHANAH IS the head of the Jewish year, commemorating the anniversary of the creation of mankind, and the Day of Judgement. On Rosh HaShanah, we coronate the King, so to speak, acknowledging that the creator of the world is our God, our King. On that day, every being passes before the heavenly throne and is judged on his deeds. The King decrees who will continue to live and what he or she will be blessed with in the forthcoming year.
The shofar is sounded to stir the Jewish people from their slumber, rousing them to return to God. We hope the shofar reminds Hashem of the binding of Yitzchak, arousing Hashem’s attribute of mercy.
During the month of Elul, every Jew would do well to prepare for Rosh HaShanah by reviewing his deeds and committing to improving. Introspection is in order, enlightening each person to meritorious service of the Almighty and lack thereof. Our goal is to expand the breadth and depth of our strengths and quell our weaknesses. We are happy on Rosh HaShanah, because we have faith that Hashem will grant us another year of life to work on ourselves, blessing us with whatever we need to achieve those goals.
Between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, we intensify our efforts to regret our misdoings and our commitment to improve. We seek to make peace with anyone we may have harmed. All our actions — from smiling at one another, lending a helping hand, putting on tefillin, lighting Shabbos candles, or hanging a mezuzah on our home — impact both our souls and the world. Each of us has unlimited capacity to perform good deeds, which brings merit and peace to our brethren worldwide.
May you be inscribed in the Book of Life — a healthy and sweet New Year!
Rabbi Yossi Kanelsky
Center for Jewish Life, Marlboro
Adding meaning and value
WELCOME TO THE New Year! As we begin 5779, we need to talk about the value of congregational life and our personal “Jewish commitment.” At Monmouth Reform Temple (MRT), relevant change is an ongoing conversation. We are more than a place offering Jewish programs for area Jews. We want to add meaning and value to people’s hectic lives, helping each other to find a home in faith. We want to help people evolve this world into the one of peace, justice, and harmony for which we all pray.
Our synagogue does not present services and programs for a regional population; we bring people into service, communal growth, and celebration.
Our synagogue does not just observe rituals and traditions; we engage our families in spiritually motivating and engaging experiences.
Our synagogue does not provide a comfortable place for good people; we provide a haven for celebrating loving souls and healing broken spirits.
Will joining MRT make me smarter? No — unless you connect here.
Will joining MRT make me more beautiful? No — unless the beauty of one’s spirit matters.
Will joining MRT make me wealthier? No — unless one defines wealth beyond the profit into the prophetic.
Investing in synagogue life will: Provide a home and communal family whenever you want to show up. Guarantee Jewish services will be available for Jews in the area for generations to come. Ensure that the social justice voice of Torah and Prophets will always speak with authority in our community. Change the world, as you will experience the blessing that the world has to offer.
Call and let us know you are coming for the Holy Days — We welcome everyone! May all that is holy bring blessings to you this year.
Kol tuv! (It’s all good!)
Rabbi Marc Aaron Kline
Monmouth Reform Temple, Tinton Falls
Inner and outer
THE TORAH, in parshat Mishpatim, among legislation concerning judges and justice, forbids Jews to place an ashera, a tree used for idolatrous purposes, or any tree next to the altar on the Temple (Deuteronomy 16:21). The commentators ask why a section concerning judges and justice should feature such a law?
The talmudic sage Reish Lakish answers: Just as an ashera’s beautiful appearance hides its inner corruption, so too can it be with judges. They may provide the veneer of respectability while actually practicing bribery and other forms of corruption. A judge must prove honorable both outside and in.
The High Holy Days remind each of us to judge ourselves and ask if the outer persona we promote to the world matches our inner goodness. Does our outer religious identity match our inner goodness? Does our ritual support enhance our chesed, our covenantal kindness and love?
If you’re like me, it’s time for soul-searching, confession, and improvement.
May our efforts at teshuvah and forgiveness help us to become the people the Eternal means us to be in the new year. L’shanah tovah t’kateivu v’tichateimu!
Rabbi Ben Levy
Congregation Etz Chaim/Monroe Township Jewish Center
A sense of purpose
AS WE BEGIN this new year, 5779, what is your purpose on this sacred
Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook shared the following:
One of his favorite stories is when President Kennedy visited the NASA space center. He saw a janitor carrying a broom, walked over, and asked what he was doing. The janitor responded: “Mr. President, I’m helping put a man on the moon.” Zuckerberg concludes, “Purpose is that sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are needed, that we have something better ahead to work for. Purpose is what creates true happiness.”
Martin Buber wrote in his book “The Way of Man”: “Every person born into this world represents something new, something that never existed before, something original and unique.” Each person’s foremost task is the actualization of one’s unique, unprecedented, and never-recurring potentialities. As we learn in the Talmud, Rabbi Zusya said, a short while before his death: “In the world to come, I shall not be asked: “Why were you not Moses?” I shall be asked: “Why were you not Zusya?’”
Every person we meet in our life has a purpose. Some are here to test or teach us, others will use us, and some would bring out the better if not the best in us. There are also those who cause us pain and heartaches — but we must learn to move on. So let go of the people who can’t treat us right and hold on to those who love us and see our worth.
Rosh HaShanah is a time of evaluation. According to our tradition, no one has ever or will ever come into this world with the exact same mission as yours. The light you are meant to shine into the world is yours alone.
Rabbi Laurence P. Malinger
Temple Shalom of Aberdeen
‘I am for my beloved’
AS THE SUMMER ends, we can’t help but want to savor every last bit of the season. We also look forward to the High Holidays in the fall. The last Hebrew month of the year, Elul, began this year on Saturday night, Aug. 11.
The rabbis understand the name of month, Elul, to be an acronym for “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li” — “I am for my beloved, and my beloved is for me.” (Song of Songs 6:3)
During Elul, we are charged with examining our relationships. We look, with love, at where we need to grow and be better. The verse starts with the personal “ani,” “I,”; it is telling us, “I am connected to other people and then they are connected to me.” We have to work on our own deficits if we want to grow, be, and do better. Helping others starts with us.
Yet we cannot forget the second part, “My beloved is for me.” God created people to be in relationship with each other. We must be for others, and they must be for us. It can be extremely difficult to ask for help. Yet, in the month of Elul, God tells us that we must help others but we also must accept help from others. Neither is easy. This is why we have an entire month dedicated to working on it!
As we move into the season of the High Holidays, remember that God has created us to be with each other and with God. I challenge you, every day, to do one small thing just for you and do one thing for someone else. Shanah Tovah!
Rabbi Sara Metz
Congregation Beth Mordecai, Perth Amboy
Peace and quiet
I HAVE RECENTLY noticed a new phenomenon that has emerged in our day. It initially surprised me, but after several months of observation I am convinced that silence, introspection, and reflection are rapidly becoming rare commodities in our lives. I made that observation in, of all places, the public library. Often I will go there to read, think, and write in preparation for Sabbath services, but increasingly I have discovered that it is becoming more and more difficult to secure a quiet place, even in a library. Now, I realize that libraries provide many functions, some of which require discussion, conversation, and other activities, but more frequently than not it is impossible to find a serene place for thought even in the one place intended for such use. Whether it is the clack of the mah-jongg pieces, the constant buzzing of cell phones, even the not-so-low voices in conversation, the fact is that these noisome interruptions have a disruptive effect.
One of the great advantages of the synagogue is that it has traditionally provided a place for deep thought, communal singing, and reflective prayer, and this can be used to our great advantage when considering the meaning of the High Holidays. On behalf of the congregants at Congregation Beth Ohr, I welcome seekers searching for a spiritually rich and serene environment to spend the holidays in an effort to drown out some of the noise that intrudes upon our lives and the lives of our families. I offer my most profound hope that we shall discover and appreciate a new year filled with peace, serenity, and comfort and that this new year will be a blessing to us, one and all.
Rabbi Joel Mishkin
Congregation Beth Ohr, Old Bridge