L’Shanah Tovah 5774
Three local rabbis provide holiday greetings for the community.
Diversity Is A Blessing
The Talmud (Berachot 58a) and Midrash (Numbers Rabbah 21) teach us that when a person sees a great multitude of Jewish people, one should say a blessing, “Praised are You, Sovereign of the Universe … the Sage of the Secrets (chacham ha’razim).”
We recite this blessing, the sages say, since just “as people’s countenances are not like one another, neither are their thoughts like one another.” God created a great diversity not only in the way people look, but in the way they think, feel and believe. Perhaps because of that great diversity we tend to congregate and find comfort amongst those people of a similar mindset. During the High Holy Day period this is expressed in the many congregations we are blessed with in the Detroit area. Each congregation is able to observe these sacred days in a way that is unique to them.
Yet, when we walk out the doors of our congregations, it seems that we more often focus on those matters that divide us, usually over issues of authenticity and personal status. But does this need to be the reality?
As the teaching from the Talmud and Midrash above suggests, there has always been, and always will be, diversity among people. Instead of ignoring that diversity, we honor it by reciting a blessing.
Yet we need to take this recognition of diversity a step further. Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk taught on this Midrash, “Just as you can tolerate the fact that your fellow’s face is not similar to yours, so, too, should you be able to tolerate that your fellow’s opinions are not similar to yours.”
We can and should have our sense of truth in this world; yet we should understand that our sense of “truth” for our individual Jewish community may not be the only valid path within the larger Jewish community.
Rabbi David Hartman expresses this understanding in the following way: “If your tradition is based on learning, interpretation and disagreements among scholars, rather than on the absolute word of prophetic revelation, you cannot escape the haunting uncertainty of knowing that alternative ways are religiously viable and authentic.”
As we enter into these Days of Awe and following them I pray that we remember Rabbi Hartman’s message and live our lives celebrating our views while accepting that alternative ways of observing our Jewish faith can be “religiously viable and authentic.”
May we each find beauty and fulfillment in our individual congregations.
L’shanah Tovah, a happy and healthy New Year to all. Robert Gamer is a rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom in Oak Park.
Become An Integrated Part Of Your Community
As Rosh Hashanah approaches us, I would like to tell you about a life-saving technique that I try to employ every year on Rosh Hashanah. This technique, I believe, has brought me much life and vitality, and I hope you can find it useful as well.
As we all know, Rosh Hashanah is much more than a holiday celebrated by eating honey-coated apples, hearing a good sermon in the synagogue and attending a meaningful prayer service. Rosh Hashanah is also the birthday of mankind as we know it, the day that for the first time, God blew a Divine spirit into a human form, turning a prehistoric humanoid into the modern human being endowed with free will at a level no other creation has.
Because Rosh Hashanah is our birthday, it is also the annual Day of Judgment, the day where our Creator re-evaluates our performance and decides exactly what our coming year will look like. This is an awesome day, one that will determine the health, wealth, success and harmony of our coming year.
I try to come into Rosh Hashanah every year acutely aware of the shortcomings of my previous year. I am well aware that I did not actualize my full potential. I often did not do the greatest good and even frequently deliberately made wrong choices. Understandably, this gives me concern as to how my future year will look. But fortunately, there is a technique told to us by the Jewish greats of yesteryear that gives me hope.
Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv Broida (1824–1898), the great mussar ethicist of Yeshivat Kelm, tells us that those who wish to secure a favorable judgment on Rosh Hashanah should make themselves an integral part of the community so that even if they personally may not deserve a year of great success, God will give it to them anyway for the benefit of the tzibbur, the community. The more indispensable we are to the community, the more the community’s merit stands for us as a “character witness,” obtaining for us a shanah tovah, a good year, simply because our good is synonymous with the good of the whole community.
The more we resolve to bring peace and unity to our community, the more we commit ourselves to promulgating feelings of good will and fraternity, the more we undertake to build our community into a place of kindness and love, the more God wants to give us a great year despite any personal shortcomings we may have displayed.
This year, let us enter the Day of Judgment not as individuals, but as a unified community, for the power of our tzibbur, our community, will surely be more than enough to guarantee us a year filled with blessings, success and peace. Rabbi Leiby Burnham is an educator with the Southfield-based Yeshiva Beth Yehudah Jean and Theodore Weiss Partners in Torah program.
Hineini: Being Present
The traditional Torah portion for Rosh Hashanah morning is the Akedah, the binding and near-sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham. God asks Abraham to take Isaac and to bring him to a high place and to offer him up to God. This is a difficult Torah portion to read, a text that demands our attention. How could God ask this of Abraham, how could Abraham comply, what was Isaac thinking, and where was Sarah, Abraham’s wife and Isaac’s mother?
Throughout the text, one word stands out, and that word is Hineini, which translates to “Here I am.” In the Rosh Hashanah reading, Abraham uses it to answer God’s call, and Abraham also uses Hineini when Isaac calls out to him.
This word, Hineini, is used later in the Bible when God calls to Moses at the burning bush; the last instance of the word being used is when God calls upon the prophet Isaiah, asking him to be God’s mouthpiece to the Jewish people.
So what is the secret of the Hineini?
I believe that in each instance the word is used, the person who speaks the word hineini is saying much, much more than “Here I am.” They are saying, “I am truly present. I am listening. I am willing to do what you ask of me. You are the center of my attention.”
Perhaps, the power of the Akedah story is that it should spur us to ask ourselves, “Am I really here?” Am I fully present at services or am I looking at what others around me are wearing or doing? Am I fully immersed in contemplating my journey of the past year, reflecting honestly on where I have been and what I have done? Am I truly concentrating on improving not only myself, but also committing myself to sustaining the Jewish community and fixing the broken parts of the world around me? Can I truly say that I deserve to say the word Hineini?
Furthermore, can I say that I am truly present in my relationships with others? Have I forgotten that being a friend is more than “friending” someone? Have I substituted Facebook for face time? Have I lifted my eyes from the screens that surround me to look into the eyes of those across the dining room table, across the conference room and across the ocean? Have I fully been a source of strength or has my multitasking watered down my ability to say Hineini?
The High Holidays are a gift: precious moments in time to take stock of our roses and thorns, where we have succeeded and where we have fallen short. Let us vow to find ways to truly be present in 5774. Hineini! Karen Alpert is a rabbi at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township.