As we prepare to welcome the New Year, 5776, we find ourselves facing tremendous challenges globally and locally.
Not much needs to be said about the drought, and appropriately the festival that closes out the holiday period, Sukkot, focuses on two important aspects: prioritizing what and who really matters in our lives and acknowledging that none of our priorities will mean much if we don’t get some water.
What leads us into this closing festival are the Days of Awe that themselves focus on processes we must engage that address conditions of life in all realms of the world. Rosh Hashanah, in celebrating the birth of humanity, revisits “who’s” in charge in our world. On the surface, we are; human beings have decisions to make, constantly, that determine in large measure the safety and future of our planet. Paradoxically this holiday emphasizes that regardless of humankind’s attitude about power and the centrality of human decision making in governing each day and all processes, the reality is that this is God’s world we inhabit. God is central in terms of our empowerment and more importantly in terms of providing wherewithal that can enable us to decide and act wisely.
Rosh Hashanah welcomes you into the Presence of God for a Day of Judgment; a different kind than humans tend to dispense. It is human projection that presumes God’s Judgment will be harsh. Not so. God’s system i.e. the Torah, looks to Teshuva, changes in actions and behavior that will benefit the world, if in a small way. Just as God’s judgment is less “judgmental” than human judgment, (the message of Yom Kippur) so are teachings and principles celebrated on Rosh Hashanah more constructive in providing leadership and direction than is often found among many human leaders worried more about their posturing and positioning in winning games of power than they are in seeking ways to make the world safer. Scientists seem more candid and forthcoming about the looming catastrophe of global warming than leaders in government.
Rosh Hashanah focuses on three principles that leaders would do well to respect and heed. One, God’s Presence mandates accepting responsibility to serve people and the world, not self-interests. To choose to welcome God into the equation means welcoming partnership, sharing power and opening to different and differing points of view in how to address ills in the world. We learn with Rosh Hashanah that God chooses to work through and in partnership with people; we would do well to reciprocate in welcoming God’s Presence not as intimidation nor overwhelm but as Light and Insight that can show ways we humans alone may not be able to see.
The second principle in Rosh Hashanah that leaders don’t honor enough is the importance of studying and learning from the past. This holiday is also called Yom HaZikaron, the “Day of Remembering”. We celebrate this New Year not by throwing calendars away but by studying the annals of the year that was to learn from mistakes and build on successes. Is it possible the deal with Iran now on the table is too close in concept to the policy of appeasement that Chamberlain negotiated with Germany with the disastrous consequences of World War II? Is it wise to overlook or dismiss policies of a government that belittles the Holocaust while encouraging all forces dedicated to destroying Israel?
The third principle of Rosh Hashanah is the centrality of the Shofar, the Rams Horn blown as an instrument of danger, warning and awakening to realities in the world that won’t go away with good wishes and sincere hopes. We have to avoid being the proverbial frog in the pot that is heated slowly enough (i.e. not unlike global warming and climate change) so as to not realize it is being cooked. The Shofar is a call to awareness and change that is needed while we still have options for rescuing our world (which, God-willing, we do!).
And, it is not enough to raise the agendas in all these matters at well-meaning conferences and gatherings, which Rosh Hashanah symbolizes in presenting the issues. We also need the process of Yom Kippur to resolve to take tangible and substantive steps and measures to change the fate of humanity and the world…that our leaders and all who make decisions that spell the difference between blessing and curse and life and death, revisit and revise their understanding of their responsibility and principles of leadership. It means allowing God to reenter the picture through teachings and values that enable us to embrace changes, even if not politically indicated.
These holidays are not about specifically Jewish values; they are about life-affirming human values and changes that humankind can and must make to turn in the direction of health and wellbeing. Then, we can emerge from Yom Kippur with the resolve to build our Sukkot, fragile, yet sturdy, booths that remind us not only of our vulnerabilities but of the harvest of humankind as most important; we can determine to take action with intensions that changes we make will bring on the rains, metaphorically, if not literally, and cleanse our world and replenish our resources.
5776 is not just the next year to mark on the calendar; it is a year that needs application of all the details, nuances and teachings that generate this holiday period we now enter in this month of September. Nor is this holiday cycle one to treat as solely rituals of Jewish identity; these holidays provide critical strategies for us to engage and share as light to the nations and the world for all to embrace as humanity looks more positively to the future.
May your look back on the year past reward you with insight and inspiration for a wonderful and blessed 5776:
Shana Tova Tikateyvu! May You be Ticketed for a Good Year!