In a time of events which have caused unfathomable suffering, we find that even in this time we are inspired by selflessness and sacrifice as we witness rescuers working to help their fellow human beings overcome the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. At such a time we ask how can we pray? How can we not reject our understanding of the order of life itself? Does it make any sense in the context of such massive loss and destruction?
As we approach the Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, we reflect that this is a different type of New Year. This is a renewal of the spiritual year, a commemoration of the creation of the world, all that is in it, and the beginning of God’s entrance into History.
Someone asked me, “Why do we read the story of Abraham and Sarah on Rosh HaShanah?” Perhaps it is because it is the mirror of beginnings – Abraham and Sarah are the father and mother of Judaism. Another explanation is that the story contains many tests of faith. In the Reform movement we read about the ‘Sacrifice of Isaac’ a great test of faith and transformative moment for mankind. On the afternoon of Yom Kippur the ‘Gates of Repentance’ includes the Torah reading for The Creation in order to remind us that Rosh Hashanah, is the birthday of the world, and it is the commemoration of our spiritual beginnings. It is not science, rather it is religious. There is no conflict. We worship in this fulfillment of the Torah’s command, hearing the Shofar, praying, asking God to renew us in faith, even as we see the decay of the autumn leaves, and while we have faith that life will continue in the winter, and be renewed again in the spring, at Passover.
As we look back at the wonder of this past year, it’s joys and its difficulties, its toll on many people who are suffering in our country and in our own community, we pray that God hear our prayer for forgiveness, that God renew us to life in the year ahead, and that we commit ourselves to learn together, support, and challenge each other as to how we may perform deeds of kindness, charity, and righteousness. If you are thinking about making a difference in the unfolding tragedy in Texas and the ongoing massive recovery, then do something about it!
Selichot refers to prayers which ask for forgiveness. In the modern words of the poet, Ruth Brin, who wrote about the late evening service we call Selichot:
‘Let moonlight illumine us, night winds come brushing us, breath of Thy presence be felt in our souls.’
L’Shana Tova Tikateivu – May we be inscribed in the Book of Life, Health, Prosperity and Happiness in the New Year, 5778. On our day of remembrance, remember it is never too late to make a difference.
My family joins me in wishing you a good year!
Rabbi Arnold Saltzman
Rabbi Emeritus of Sha’are Shalom of Waldorf, Maryland