Last of the Rabbis’ messages for the new year

Last of the Rabbis’ messages for the new year

Leaders of area congregations share their High Holiday thoughts

NJJN did not include these messages in our collection of greetings published in the previous three issues. We apologize for the error.

Respond and repent

THE DAYS BETWEEN Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are called the “10 Days of Teshuvah.” The Hebrew word “teshuvah” can mean many things. Usually translated as “repentance (changing one’s mind),” it can also mean “return” or “response,” as in a response to a question.

Understood in that way, these are 10 days during which we are called upon to respond to searching questions about our ways of behavior and our values. Are we actually open to changing our minds? How can we do teshuvah (respond) if we don’t ask ourselves any questions? How can we do teshuvah if we refuse to hear those who question our words, our actions, and our silences?

In order to ensure that at least someone will ask some hard questions for us and to us, the tradition mandated the recitation, on Yom Kippur, of prophetic words from Isaiah. His words are scathing questions that condemn the hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy of the Jewish community. Isaiah calls us out for hiding behind Jewish traditions instead of reaching out to the poor and downtrodden. Can we hear those questions? Can we give those questions an adequate teshuvah?

We could add another question today — if someone were to ask the same types of questions in our time as Isaiah did 2,700 years ago, would we be able to hear them or would we label the questioner an anti-Semite or someone who is ignorant and disloyal?

May we greet this year with strong hearts and the courage to ask ourselves the hard questions that must be voiced. And may we seek to give an answer — teshuvah — worthy of our God, “ohev tzedakah umishpat, who loves righteousness and justice.”

Rabbi David Greenstein
Congregation Shomrei Emunah, Montclair

Time to ‘like’ humility

THE WRITER, Kevin Williamson, recently wrote that “people do not go to social media hoping to learn things about the world. They go to social media hoping that attention will be paid to them. That’s what social media is: a sad, sprawling bazaar in which attention is exchanged and bartered.”

As we prepare to crown God as King on Rosh HaShanah, and seek His forgiveness — and each other’s forgiveness — on Yom Kippur, we find that all of our efforts rest on one critical trait: humility.  Humility, at its core, entails recognizing that the world does not revolve around me and my desires, but rather God, and God’s plan. On Rosh HaShanah, we place God on center stage, while recognizing our own limitations — an important corrective to the attention-seeking culture of today’s social media world.

Rabbi Dov Ber of Lubavitch, the third Chabad Rebbe, wrote a number of books on the subject of repentance.  But when one of his chasidim asked for guidance on how to repent, he responded, “to tell you the truth, after all the books I’ve written, I still don’t know what it means to repent …”

“I don’t know.” When was the last time someone posted that on Twitter?

Rabbi Elie Mischel
Congregation Suburban Torah, Livingston

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