Rabbi's Weekly Article

One Man's Thoughts

Rosh Hashana - Not Rush Hashana

It is unbelievable that Rosh Hashanah is literally just a few days away. Everyone is shopping for round challahs, honey, pomegranates and a seat at the local Shul (No tickets needed at The Chai Center) We are running to buy new outfits and shoes. All fine and dandy and very appropriate.

However, one critical ingredient can be overlooked and this is what to pray for on this Rosh Hashanah. We need to be prepared and organized so that when we open the prayer book, whether at home or in shul, one must absolutely identify what it is that we are asking for. If we only start thinking about the most important aspect of Rosh Hashanah, it will feel rushed and hence the name Rush Hashanah.

The following is what I believe to be universal needs, wishes and wants, so therefore applicable to everyone.

Health is critical. Any person struggling with real health concerns (like men with a common cold), can tell you that it is overriding and prevailing. It literally trumps all other concerns and issues. In fact, it makes most other worries and fears look trivial compared to health. The body is very complex and while the medical and scientific community have made huge strides, they still have a long way to go. Take Covid as an example of something that has baffled virologists and other experts.
Therefore, while we put our trust in doctors, nurses and specialists, we must put our faith and belief in a higher power. We should pray this Rosh Hashanah that we have good bodily health, plain and simple without compromise.

The Talmud states that rearing is extremely difficult, and it is. To know when to discipline or coddle one’s child takes great Solomonic–like wisdom. I once heard someone say that “disciplining children is like holding a wet bar of soap. Either a grip that is too firm or one that is too gentle will cause the bar of soap – or a child – to slip through your hands.” We need to ask for divine guidance to know when to hold and know when to fold them. When do you look away and when must you not look away?
I once met a man while I was engaged to be married and he told me that he is the parent of 10 kids. I asked him how he manages to love and discipline them. His response was that he attributes his success with having good kids as10 percent from he and his wife and 90 percent from above.

The way I see it is that there are two types of love. Parents, by nature love their child(ren). From the moment the child is conceived there is this extreme love. Then there is the love between husband and wife. It was born long after this man and woman were born. And therefore, no matter how intense the love, it fades over time. No marriage has ever survived on passion and love alone. The Hollywood claim that this may be the case has destroyed many a marriage. Maintaining a successful and harmonious marriage involves work, commitment and dedication. It also takes a cargo boatload of patience, wisdom and discretion -- when to say something, when to keep quiet, etc. Once again, we need divine assistance to navigate the turbulent waters of spousal war and peace.

Everyone has a different definition of what it means to be successful. Some are not satisfied until they own vacation homes on three continents. Others collect rare cars, while others go nowhere and do not own a car, but do own real estate in midtown Manhattan. So, what financial success should we be praying for? Judaism teaches us that it is a beautiful blessing from above to become wealthy as long as it does not affect who you are.
I heard a story when I was a child about a regular hard-working man who earned a decent living and gave 10 percent to charity. He was reliable and consistent. Then the strangest thing happened. The moment his business became lucrative, he eased up on his charity. It seemed the more money he made, the less he helped others. This went on for a while until his Rabbi intervened and taught him a very profound lesson. The Rabbi took him to a window that was completely transparent and showed him the street below. He then showed him a mirror that reflects the viewers face and is not transparent. The Rabbi explained that the window and the mirror are both made of glass. The only difference would be the silver backing behind the glass. The businessman understood the metaphor that a little silver caused him to only see himself.
It is okay to make a verbal contract with God during your prayers. Help me be successful so that I can take care of my family, and I promise to take care of your family.

May we all be blessed with health, happiness, exquisite joy from our children, peace of mind, peace at home and the world over.

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The Rosh Hashana Moon - The Circle of Life

Before you know it, Rosh Hashana will be here and the Jewish holiday marathon will begin. If you are familiar with the Jewish lingo, you will hear that Rosh Hashana is late this year. What they mean is that Rosh Hashana is celebrated in late September instead of the beginning of the month, which is “early.” Truth be told, Rosh Hashana is neither early nor late. It is just on time.

Rosh Hashana, which translated means Head of the Year, is also always the new moon. The Jewish calendar, as opposed to the Gregorian one, is lunar centric, while the Gregorian calendar goes according to the sun. Therefore, regardless of whether Rosh Hashana is beginning, mid or late September, it will always be a moon.

One would think that Judaism with all its ancient, divinely inspired wisdom would use a solar calendar. After all, the sun is a constant; the sun represents life, light and warmth. The sun embodies God’s awesome strength and power. The moon does not have any of its own light but rather borrows from the sun. It is completely unreliable as it waxes and wanes and one cloud blocks it from doing its job. The moon is cold and Judaism teaches that coldness is the opposite of life. The moon seems like a horrible way of calculating the calendar year. Furthermore, the lunar month is not even a complete number as it is a 29 ½-day cycle. The sun is way more of an attractive choice, don’t you think?

355 DAYS
Another issue that comes up when you go by the moon is that the lunar year is 355 days and not 365 days. So, eventually Rosh Hashana gets earlier and earlier, and without a correction of a 30 day leap year every few years, Rosh Hashana will be in the spring as opposed to fall. Seems like a mathematical hassle to me.

The Rabbis teach that we go by the moon specifically because it has the aforementioned issues and quirks.

The moon is a better teacher of life than the sun could ever be. The Jewish people know full well what it means to wax and wane. We have waxed and waned in so many places that it is hard to keep track. Besides, it is unrealistic to only have good times. There are good and bad times and we have to celebrate the good and deal with the bad.

The waxing and waning itself is a powerful lesson. Even if life is particularly bad right now, we must learn from the moon to never give up. It may seem to disappear and give up. In reality, it knows that right now it is a meaningless sliver but it will grow again.

The 29 ½ fraction is also a lesson. We cannot live alone or be alone. We need people and we need purpose. We were not created to be a full-service human. We need other people to compliment us. You cannot be a doctor, lawyer, barista and mechanic. We cannot do it all. We are simply a fraction and not a complete entity.  

As far as the leap year goes, the lesson is inspiring. Sometimes we lose ground. While life and society should hopefully always improve, sometimes it goes south. We could be employed for 20 years and then we get the ax. The leap year does not build back 10 days over three years but rather 30 days in one shot. Yes, we may suffer the pain of losing a job, but it is possible that it was the very best outcome. You were hired by a new company with a much larger salary. What would normally take three years to gain seniority at your old place of employment, you were just promoted in the blink of an eye in the new firm. This is the lesson of the leap year. The future can change for the good, even if things look bad right now.

Join us for the High Holidays if you are able. Maybe we will toast the New Year with some moonshine.

Customized New Year Prayers - One Size Does Not Fit All

As the High Holidays are just around the corner, we are taught that it is prudent to start getting our thoughts in order so that Rosh Hashana does not become Rush Hashana. There are many themes on Rosh Hashana. One of them is that it is a propitious time to ask G-d for help and guidance in the upcoming New Year. 

While it is true that there is a special High Holiday Prayer book called a Machzor, which arrange our prayers for us, nothing can compare, however, to our own individualized and customized prayer that we lay out for ourselves and our own particular and specific needs. Just as there are no two fingerprints alike, so too there are different and definite needs that we all have.

Once Labor Day passes, I begin reflecting on what I would ask for and what assistance I need. The following is my preliminary contemplation, and I am sharing this to help you get your own Soul searching happening.

Almighty G-d,
Thank you for sustaining me for yet another year. While this past year has been a difficult one personally, communally and globally, I will not dwell on it as it is past, over, gone and finished. You gave us eyes only in the front of our head and not also in the back, to teach us that we must only look forward and not live in the past. I do hope that having said this, I would have learned from my past mistakes in order to recognize what not to repeat in the future.

I pray that this coming year my children are happy and healthy and that they struggle with only small obstacles. Please fulfill their positive wishes and aspirations and guide them on their respective paths to maturity and stability. I ask that my wife and I be given the strength and wisdom to be able to be there for them, undistracted, and that pride and joy be in abundance. Please give us the tools to be able to help them when needed. Please bless our respective siblings and their extended families.

I ask that you once again provide a modest living so that my family and I do not become a burden on anyone. I request that any monies I do earn be through dignified means.  I do affirm that I believe that I cannot earn a penny more than you have blessed me with. At the same time, I do understand that I need to make myself a receptacle for blessings by doing my part.

Please endow all branches of government with a positive disposition towards the Jewish people. Do not allow a few anti-Semites to poison the other lawmakers. Bestow on the three branches of government the ability to make right and moral decisions so that this country can truly remain these blessed United States. Heal our divisions and allow all its citizens and residents to come together for the common good. Protect these shores from those who seek to destroy. Help our government through the challenge of accepting immigrants, while at the same time keeping us safe. Guide them toward peace and never war.

As a Rabbi, I am responsible for the community I reside in and serve. I urge G-d’s blessing to rest on all of us to be healed from our wounds, whether physical, mental or spiritual. Help them with clarity of thought and peace of mind. Give them what they need and free them from nonsense burdens so that they can be free to devote time to doing acts of kindness and caring. Inspire them to continue making good decisions.

Please protect her from her multiple enemies from within and beyond her borders. Keep her morally strong and do not allow her agitators to weaken her integrity. Allow Israel to spread her goodness and ingenuity to all the world. Give her leaders the wisdom to be able to communicate effectively with her neighbors. Protect the citizens from murdering thugs who have been misguided and manipulated by evil people.

These are just some of my general thoughts that I have started to put together.

Feel free to share.   

Rosh Hashana Birthday Reflections

Before you turn around Rosh Hashanah will be upon us. Whether you feel it is early this year or late, it does not change the fact that we are getting real close to the big day.

I am sure you have noticed the stark differences between the Jewish New Year and the civil one. On New Year’s Eve (December 31) we gather together in an exuberant atmosphere and party hard, accompanied with blowers and streamers, champagne and cocktails and we celebrate in the streets.
Contrast that with Rosh Hashanah eve; we get to bed as soon as we can because tomorrow is a very long day, and we need to hear a different type of horn, which has no definitive tune.
Furthermore, January 1 is a day to sober up from the previous night’s festivities. In the Jewish New Year however, instead of sobering up from last night’s nonparty, we sit somber in the sanctuary hopefully absorbing every word of the Rabbi’s sermon, and with any luck, enjoying the cantor’s heartfelt melodies.

It is true that in Judaism, like the rest of the world, we recognize we do need to celebrate the New Year.
After all, we made it to yet another year. In Judaism, we add an additional component to the day, which understandably changes the narrative. To understand this better, we need to really appreciate the reason as to why Rosh Hashanah is even a Jewish holiday.

Our sages share that Rosh Hashanah is the celebration of the anniversary of the creation of the world. In essence, we are commemorating the world’s birthday. However, the sages clarify that Rosh Hashanah was not the first day of creation, but rather the sixth. In other words the first day of creation happened six days before Rosh Hashanah on the calendar.
Why celebrate day 6 and not day 1? You see, on day 6 humankind was first introduced to the world. Day 1 through day 6, God created heaven and earth, light and darkness, seas and clouds, sun, moon and stars, fish and fowl, beasts, animals, reptiles and the West Nile mosquito. The last thing God created on Friday late afternoon was Adam & Eve.

The Rabbis explain that the reason we do not celebrate the 1st through 6th is because until then God was not acknowledged. Once a discerning human being was created, someone recognized God as its creator and therefore a day of distinction.

In other words, on Rosh Hashanah we celebrate the birthday of humankind. We are taught that Adam & Eve were created last to show the significance of the fact that a human being was brought into a ready-made world because humans need to have everything they need to accomplish their God-given mission immediately. We were brought into existence to make this world a better place. If God made Adam & Eve first before everything else, they would have to hang around for six days in a desolate existence. There was no sun to soak in, and there was no beach to relax on. Can you imagine a world without Manischewitz wine? Adam & Eve would have to wait until everything was ready to go to start making a difference.

These powerful thoughts teach us that laziness is detrimental to our mission, and it conveys that the world was made for us to be productive. God is our boss and demands that we make a positive difference to the world every single day.

Since we celebrate Rosh Hashanah on the day mankind was created because mankind was commanded to work with what you got, it follows that Rosh Hashanah is the actual birthday of mankind.

A birthday in Judaism is so important that it is not something that we take lightly. A birthday is the day God decided that the world needs you TODAY to come into this world and get to work. There is no redundancy in Judaism. No two people were created for the same reason. Each one of us has a unique mission to fulfill and today is the day.

As Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of mankind, we need to reflect on what good we need to accomplish in the coming year. Likewise, an individual’s birthday is spent the same way, pondering and ruminating.
We do not want to blow this special day by getting drunk in the streets, rather we pray for guidance and clarity, peace of mind and serenity.

Allow me to be the first to wish you all a happy birthday. May we all fulfill our specific purpose and may it be with ease.

Worth praying for.

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