Rabbis’ messages for the new year
Finding a place
AS WE PREPARE for the beginning of the new year, I want to wish everyone a shanah tovah. May this year be a year of personal fulfillment and mutual understanding. As we gather with our family and community over the holidays, I encourage everyone to include personal prayers for peace, hope, support, and love.
May the shofar blasts that we hear on the holidays help us put the difficult days of the past behind us as we look forward to a new year with optimism and hope. In these trying times, we need each other now more than ever. The value of community is critical to the Jewish people. I hope we all find our own little place within the greater community. I encourage everyone to find their place in a Shabbat community at synagogue or at home.
Shanah tovah to everyone.
Rabbi Adam Feldman
The Jewish Center, Princeton
Tears open the gates
DURING A PARTICULARLY difficult period in her life, the photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher started a project taking pictures of her tears under a microscope. She wanted to know if tears of joy would look the same as tears of grief. The result was a book of photographs called “The Topography of Tears.” She discovered that each tear, like a snowflake, is unique, but that there are three basic types: those that lubricate our eyes, those that respond to physical stimuli (like onions), and those that result from emotions.
Even within the larger categories, Fisher found that under a microscope the tears of change look different from the tears of laughter. While all of these tears contain the same essential components — salt water, oils, enzymes — each kind of tear has different molecules and hormones.
You may never have thought about the make-up of your tears, but it should come as no surprise that the different moments in our lives create different physical expressions in these tiny drops. How wondrous that each one of our emotions can create a small, unique physical world, embedded with a map of our pain, laughter, and fear.
The Talmud (Brachot 32b) states that “since the day the Temple was destroyed, the gates of prayer were locked, [but] the gates of tears were not locked.” Prayer is difficult —sometimes it’s impossible to find the right words — but our tears con-tain thoughts even our minds cannot express. On the High Holidays, many of us are overwhelmed by the synagogue service — the unfamiliar prayers, the sheer length of time we spend in shul — but when all else fails, our tears will open the gates. Tears of loss, tears of gladness, tears of new beginning.
Shanah tovah. May this be a good New Year for you and yours.
Rabbi Benjamin J. Adler
Adath Israel Congregation, Lawrenceville
Power of transformation
WATER IS THE source of all life. More than half of our bodies and the planet are made up of the stuff. Water’s life-giving force instills it with great power. Water can be used for good, such as enabling plants to grow, or for destruction, like flooding the earth. Even a small trickle of water can wear through rock if given enough time to do so. Because of water’s transformative abilities, it plays a significant role in Jewish ritual.
On the afternoon of the first day of Rosh HaShanah, it is customary to go to a flowing body of water for a ceremony called Tashlich. As we read in the prophetic Book of Micah: “You will cast (tashlich) all your sins into the depths of the sea” (7:19). We fulfill this biblical instruction by “casting” our sins (represented by breadcrumbs or birdseed) into the water accompanied by prayers and readings. By performing Tashlich, we signify our hope that God will overlook our failings during the past year and grant us favor in the year to come.
There is no inherent magic in this ritual. If becoming a better person was as simple as sprinkling stale matzah into a river, then we would probably do it more often. Instead, the power of Tashlich lies in the potential of the living waters we visit. On the holiday that celebrates the creation of the universe, we go out and interact with the natural world that God created. We remind ourselves of the fragility of life and strive to make the most of the time we have left. We spend time as a community tapping into water as the source of all life. And we stand in awe of the incredible power of transformation that lies within each of us.
Rabbi Adena Blum
Congregation Beth Chaim, Princeton Junction
What’s in a name?
ROSH HASHANAH is not the only name for the Jewish New Year. In fact, it’s not the only new year that Jews have. We have four different new years: one for trees (Tu b’Shvat), one for tithes, another for kings, and Rosh HaShanah. And as if that’s not enough, we have five different names for this holiday: Rosh HaShanah (Head of the Year), Yom Teruah (The Day of Sounding/Crying Out), Yom HaDin (The Day of Judgement), Yom HaZikaron (The Day of Remem-brance), and Yom Harat Olam (The Birthday of the World).
Why do we have all of these names for a single holiday? Perhaps it is because this holiday is a time of transition. All of us react in different ways to times of change, and each name represents an approach. Rosh HaShanah pushes us to think about what will take place in the year to come, while Yom HaZikaron highlights a desire to reflect on the past. Yom Harat Olam asks us to be present in the now, Yom HaDin represents a natural desire to notice only our failures, while Yom Teruah encourages us to show mercy to ourselves, just as the shofar reminds the Divine to be merciful.
As we approach the beginning of the High Holiday season, I hope that we all have a chance to live with each of these names. Look back at the past year, live in the now, and hope for the future. Recognize our mistakes, celebrate our successes, as Jews from all over the world join together to begin the year anew.
Shanah tovah u’metukah!
Rabbi Matthew S. Nover
Assistant rabbi and education director
Beth El Synagogue, East Windsor