Rabbi Ari Weiss
Agudas Achim Synagogue
“Hayom Harat Olam. Hayom Yaamid Bamishpat kol Yetzurei Olamim.” “Today is the conception of the world. Today all creations of all worlds stand in judgment.”
Only a few short Shabbatot ago, in the portion of Shoftim, we read the commandment of tithing one’s produce, which is immediately preceded by the commandment of not cooking a goat in its mother’s milk. The rabbis seek to understand the significance of the juxtaposition of these two exhortations in the Torah. They explain that God is telling us that should one not tithe his produce at the appropriate time, namely, before the produce has fully ripened, then God will cause the produce to be cooked in its husk (like a goat in its mother’s milk) before it is able to ripen, thereby destroying it. What message is the Torah trying to convey which the rabbis are elaborating for us?
The message is that one must learn to look at the potential rather than the actual, the possible rather than the visible. One who can see the potential in the produce before it is ripe, and is able then to dedicate it to God, will be blessed with further sustenance and plenty. However, one who cannot recognize the potential before it is actualized, as one who waits for the food to ripen before separating his tithe, will not merit seeing the blessing that is within. Just as one must first invest firewood in his fireplace, understanding the potential of gaining heat, before one will benefit of the warmth of the fire which is generated, we must first see the potential, long before it is actualized, if we hope to receive the blessing from G-d.
We must similarly strive to see the potential in everyone with whom we interact rather than his or her track record. We should treat people not as who they are, but as who we believe they can become. In this way they will live up to our vision of themselves and will actualize that potential we have detected within.
This is also the message of our prayers on Rosh Hashanah. “Hayom Harat Olam” – “Today is the day the world is conceived.” At the moment of conception, all that exists is the potential, waiting to be actualized. What do we see in that potential? What are we looking forward to in the new year? What do we hope to accomplish, and whom do we hope to become? It is this which we bring to our prayers and supplications before the Almighty. In spite of what we may or may not have done this past year, in spite of what we might have built or destroyed, and despite our resolutions of previous years upon which we may or may not have followed through, we approach God with our focus on the potential. We focus on what could be.
Rabbi Gary Atkins
Beth Hillel Synagogue
A colleague recently shared a beautiful story about a Hebrew school child who was once asked by his teacher, “Can you tell me who made you?” The child answered, “God made me.” The teacher smiled and said, “Very good.” Then the child continued and said: “Yes, but God only made a part of me.”
Puzzled by his answer, the teacher questioned him further, “What do you mean – that God only made a part of you?” The boy replied proudly, “Well, you see, God made me real little, and I just grew the rest myself.”
This wise child’s insight has a direct application to the upcoming High Holy Days. God places us here on earth as babes. The rest is up to us! Not only to grow physically, but also to grow spiritually in our understanding of God, our relationship to God, and the commitment to live a just, good, and observant life.
It is in recognizing this need to grow ourselves spiritually that we sense the message and meaning of Rosh Hashanah and the New Year. Summer is ending, another year lies ahead. The “lazy, crazy days” of summer vacation, with which most of us are blessed, are over and the “routine” of life renews itself. Our tradition urges us to ask ourselves, “How much of an effort did we make to grow ourselves spiritually and ethically this past year? How much of an effort will we apply to this task in the coming year?”
The Conservative movement this past year published a special book, “The Observant Life,” making conveniently accessible the many ways that as serious Jews we can relate to God and reflect on God’s world and our being created in God’s image. I invite you to read it; but even if you don’t — in one way or another draw close to God and make 5773 a year of blessing for you and all who know you.
Rabbi Joel Levenson
Congregation B’nai Jacob
In the coming year we will face challenges to us personally and to us as a people, as Americans and as Jews. But the question before us now is: What will next year bring? During these High Holy Days together we read these words: “B’rosh Hashana yi’katayvu u’v’yom tzom Kippur y’chataymu. On Rosh Hashana the decree is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed. Who will live and who will die.” The emotional weight of Unatana Tokef is this: we just don’t know what the future holds. This section of the service presents a litany of what might happen in the next year. Who by fire, who by water? We don’t know. But the most important message of Rosh Hashana is this: don’t be afraid of change. Don’t be afraid of what the new year will bring. Not because it’s going to be good, but because even if it’s tough, you have the resources to handle it. Judaism’s promise is not that it can keep us safe, but that it can make us strong, strong enough to overcome whatever the new year may bring, because of your own strength, because of community, because of your faith. Consider this prayer included in the Machzor Chadash:
We look to the future with hope – yet with trembling, Knowing that uncertainties accompany the new year.
Help us, O God, to look forward with faith, and to learn from whatever the future may bring.
If we must face disappointment,
help us to learn patience.
If we must face sorrow,
help us to learn empathy.
If we must face pain,
help us to learn strength.
If we must face danger,
help us to learn courage.
If we must face failure,
help us to learn endurance.
If we achieve success,
help us to learn gratitude.
If we attain prosperity,
help us to learn generosity.
If we win praise,
help us to learn humility.
If we are blessed with joy,
help us to learn sharing.
If we are blessed with health,
help us to learn caring.
Whatever the new year may bring, may we confront it honorably and faithfully.
May we know the serenity which comes to those who find their strength and hope in God.
Rabbi Andrea Cohen Kiener
Congregation P’nai Or
There is an aspect of Jewish practice, halacha, which is universal for all Jews. These are the mitzvoth – ritual and social, which guide our behavior vis a vis our shared social fabric. There are also mitzvoth, between “ourselves and God,” so to speak. Perhaps “between ourselves and our essence” is a more psychological way to say this. These mitzoth cannot be judged or punished or rewarded by “flesh and blood.” These are the mitzvoth that pertain to experiences which do not reverberate into our shared social norms. They are private and spiritual.
The realm of “between ourselves and God” includes such mitzvoth as intentionality in prayer, sincerity in speech, humility, and other emotional virtues. And who can judge these things? Aren’t they truly between ourselves and our Maker?
This realm is sometimes called lifnim mey-shurat ha-din, the inner reason of the law. I am required to say my prayers, but it cannot be required that I have a sincere intention in prayer. I can only do my best. It is the ‘inside reason for the law’ that I practice when saying my prayers with humility and true self reflection.
The inner reason for the law becomes apparent when I try to practice the laws of speech, for example. What is my motive for gossip, to comparisons, and “tale bearing” or telling my version of things when I veer or stumble into the areas of sins of speech? This beast, this inner urge to sin, must be confronted if I am to do the inner work of “you shall not go around telling tales among your people.” It is the inner work, which only God can judge, that we are speaking of.
We are seekers. We are “going to ourselves,” the first commandment to the first Jew Abraham. We must examine the emotional and attitudinal root of our social sins.
Am I too passive? Am I too aggressive? In the realm of lifnim mey-shurat ha-din, it is my job to measure. I am required not to gossip. But there are times when I need to give up my passivity and there are times when I need to give up my self-satisfaction or my defensiveness to reach the heart of the mitzvah. This is work for a mature seeker. It is between us and God, as I understand God. It is between us and our essence.
It is truly hard to see ourselves as we are. It is our hopes for ourselves, our finest self- image, which is at risk when we see how we truly are. I think of myself as “hard-working” and I glimpse how much time I waste. I think of myself as “generous” and I glimpse how much I withhold, emotionally and in other ways. I think of myself as “loving” and I glimpse my rivalries and my fears that put me in a distinctively unloving frame of mind. Can I bear the contradiction? Everything depends on this.
In this season, the whole month of Elul, we imagine that God is near, like a dear friend. We imagine that we can confide in our BFF: our doubts and our imbalances and our “glimpses.” And our BFF can hear our confessions and say “Yes, you might be too passive here or too aggressive there…” Our BFF can love us anyway, accept us anyway. Accept us for trying. When we feel this acceptance, this loving “Amen” to our humanness, our natural response is gratefulness for the love that can receive and transform our search and our tries and our hurts. Our natural response – at the very same moment – is compassion for others. This is a way to prepare for the High Holidays.
Rabbi Shelley Kovar Becker
Gishrei Shalom Jewish Congregation
We may not yet be ready to contemplate the new year; the outside world is too much with us. We are reeling from these uncertain times. And even when we want to let go of the secular intrusion into our thoughts we may not be able. So, in Jewish tradition, we may remonstrate, complain, even argue with God. But when we do that, we must also take a heshbon hanefesh, an accounting of our own souls and actions to ascertain what we can do to help and change ourselves. Especially when events out of our control occur and we feel overwhelmed, we must look within, and with God’s help, explore our own strengths to overcome adversity. We are commanded to act. May we always feel that responsibility and be in a position to help ourselves and others.
May those who need help realize the gift of sanctuary, the solace and comfort of God’s love within our Jewish community; may those who can give help realize the joy of partnering with God in this endeavor.
High Holiday Services open to the community
The Ledger invites all Connecticut synagogues to list any High Holiday services they may have that are open to the entire community – both members and non-members – FREE of charge. Please send submissions to: email@example.com.
Bloomfield – Erev Rosh Hashanah, followed by Honey Oneg, Sept. 16, 6 p.m. and second day of Rosh Hashanah; call for ticket; (tickets for college students to all High Holiday services are free); B’nai Tikvoh-Sholom, 180 Still Rd., (860) 243-3576
Glastonbury – Rosh Hashanah evening services, Sept. 16 & 17, 6:30 p.m.; morning services, 9 a.m.; Kol Nidrei, Sept. 25, 6:30 p.m.; Yom Kippur, Sept. 26, 9 a.m.; Benet Rothstein Chabad Jewish Center, 25 Harris St., (860) (860) 659-2422
Greenwich – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Young Family Service; 2 p.m.; Greenwich Reform Synagogue, 257 Stanwich Rd., (203) 629-0018 x222. Reservations required.
Hamden – Family services; Congregation Mishkan Israel, 785 Ridge Rd., (203) 288-3877
Norwalk/Westport – Rosh Hashanah services, Sept. 17 & 18, 9:30 a.m.; Yom Kippur services, Sept. 16, 9:30 a.m. (Yizkor, 12 noon); Beth Israel of Westport/Norwalk, 40 King St., (203) 866-0534
Orange – Congregation Or Shalom Yizkor memorial service on Yom Kippur Day, Sept. 26, at 4 p.m.; 205 Old Grassy Hill Rd.
Ridgefield – Rosh Hashanah evening services Sept. 16 &17, 7 p.m.; morning services, Sept. 17 & 18, 10 a.m. (shofar blowing, noon; children services 11:30 a.m.); Kol Nidrei, Sept. 15, 7 p.m.; Yom Kippur, Sept 26, 10 a.m.; Chabad of Ridgefield, 54 Danbury Rd., Suite 312, (203) 748-4421
South Windsor – Rosh Hashanah Young Children’s Service, Sept. 17, 2 p.m.; Second Day Rosh Hashanah, Sept. 18, 10 a.m.; Yom Kippur Yizkor Serivce, Sept. 26, 4:30 p.m.; Yom Kippur Concluding Service, 5:30 p.m.; Temple Beth Hillel, 20 Baker Lane, (860) 282-8466
Stamford – Erev Rosh Hashanah service, Sept. 16, 8 p.m.; Rosh Hashanah service, Sept. 17, 10 a.m.; Kol Nidre, Sept. 25, 8 p.m.; Yom Kippur service, Sept. 26, 10 a.m.; (Yizkor at 5 p.m.) Community Break Fast to follow; presented by Chavurat Aytz Chayim and Chavurat Deevray Torah (Liberal/Traditional services) at Westhill High School, 125 Roxbury Rd. (203) 359-9961
Westport – Erev Rosh Hashanah, Sept. 16,6 p.m.; Rosh Hashanah, Sept. 17 & 18, 9 a.m.; Kol Nidrei, Sept. 25, 6:30 p.m.; Yom Kippur, Sept. 26, 9 a.m. (Yizkor, 11:45 a.m.)
Windsor – Free tickets to High Holiday services for anyone not affiliated with another synagogue. Congregation Beth Ahm, 362 Palisado Ave., (860) 688-9989. Must call ahead for tickets.