Some weeks it’s hard to figure out what I should write about. This week is not one of them. There is plenty to write about, such as the situation in Afghanistan, my first Mets game since the pandemic began, or the Five Boro Bike Tour. However, I will not cover any of those. Instead, I will give a New Year’s message. In the secular New Year, people look back at what happened globally. For us, the focus is on the individual.
Rosh HaShanah is arriving quicker than we think. I believe that it’s harder this year, since the holiday is very early, the night of Labor Day. Many people are in summer mode until after Labor Day.
Rosh HaShanah forces us to consider how we have acted this past year and what will be in the future. If it weren’t for the holiday, who knows how many of us would do any soul-searching.
My columns of the past year are a good example. I have written extensively about Biden and Trump. It is easier to examine Biden’s and Trump’s shortcomings than to examine our own.
If we are willing to have an honest self-evaluation, we will find may areas of our life that need significant improvement. Unfortunately, a lot of these issues have been going on for many years. Every Rosh HaShanah, we say we are going to get better, and maybe for a time we try harder, but we eventually slip back into our old ways.
One of the excuses we give is that there isn’t enough time. I did nothing during Elul and Rosh HaShanah has arrived. But the truth is there is still time. The next four Torah readings describe events that occurred on the last day of Moshe Rabbeinu’s life. This is a reminder that a lot can be accomplished even in one day.
An excuse some use for inaction is we realize that so much must be done and we remember our past failures. The rabbis understood this psychology and told us that we should think of ourselves as having equal merits and demerits. This mindset pertains to the time before, during, and after Rosh HaShanah, during the Aseres Y’mei Teshuvah (Ten Days of Repentance). As a result, even a small change can tip the scales.
One way to increase the chances for a good year for us, our family, our community, and the Jewish nation is to be involved in community needs. This can be done in many ways, including financially and giving of one’s time.
Moshe’s conduct on the last day of his life is an example of the importance of community involvement. Moshe was a “lame duck,” since he knew that Joshua was going to be the new leader and would take the new nation into Israel. Moshe could have said “it’s now Joshua’s problem,” and let him deal with them. As the adage goes, Moshe could have resigned to “spend more time with his family.” Yet to the end he was involved in the needs of the people. We may not be on that level; however, we can learn from Moshe’s conduct the importance of being involved with the community.
We must show that we are like a bank, “too big to fail,” and thus we should be entitled to another year. In other words, our continued existence is necessary for so many people.
Another way is to act in a manner that people who see us will say there is something holy and special about being a frum Jew. I remember years ago when non-Jews would see me wearing a kippah; they thought I was a rabbi. That was a big compliment. Back then, before the abuse scandals, clergy was almost universally held in high esteem. If we truly believe we are the light unto the nations, we must act that way.
I was so proud when I saw Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with President Biden. The prime minister, who wears a kippah, spoke very well and said all the right things. Moreover, since he could not get back to Israel for Shabbos, he had a minyan set up in his hotel with a Torah. This was a big Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d’s Name).
We might not be the prime minister of Israel, but each of us is an ambassador for the Jewish community. If we act in a proper manner, maybe the non-Jewish community will again look at those who wear kippahs with respect and think us as highly as a rabbi.
The task is great, and the time is short, but it can be done. May everyone be inscribed in the book of life for a year of good health and success.