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Rabbis' Blog

Rosh Hashanah Teaches the Value of Making Good Choices

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Jewish festivals have a way of confusing people because they occur on different dates each year. Jewish tradition has maintained an independent calendar for over 3,000 years that is unique in its format and sophistication.

At sundown on Wednesday, Jews in El Paso and throughout the world will start celebrating the beginning of the new year of the Jewish calendar. We observe the holiday by spending extra time at the synagogue engaged in prayer and introspection.

A traditional shofar (a ram’s horn) is blown in a specific series of sounds. Of course there is an emphasis on celebrating with festive meals and various symbolic foods eaten in anticipation of a sweet new year.

Interestingly enough, unlike most other Jewish festivals, Rosh Hashanah does not commemorate an event uniquely relevant to Jewish history.

Passover commemorates the Israelites' exodus from slavery in Egypt. Shavuot was the revelation at Mount Sinai. Sukkot reminds us how G-d protected us during our 40-year journey through the desert. Yom Kippur was the day of atonement for the sin of the golden calf.

Rosh Hashana commemorates creation. More specifically, it is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve – the first human beings – as recorded in the Bible. This is an event that is relevant and meaningful to all humanity.

Like Adam and Eve, who were formed and created by G-d Himself. Every human being, of all races and creeds, is created in G-d's image, with a unique purpose that only he or she can achieve. The shared goal of humanity is to transform this world into a place of goodness and kindness, thereby revealing the inherent divinity within it.

Adam and Eve were challenged on their first day of life and failed miserably. Remembering their story allows us to be mindful of the fact that we are granted free choice and doing the right thing is not a given. Perfecting our world depends on the choices we each make every day.

Consider waking up in the morning and recognizing the miracle of being granted once again the gift of life. In gratitude, choose to make this world even better than it was yesterday. A new day brings new opportunities for good.

These choices need not be monumental in breadth or scope. A single act of charity, a cheerful greeting to a stranger and an encouraging word can have far reaching effects. And if you doubt the validity of this assertion, think of the nuclear world we live in today.

Less than a century ago it was believed that quantity determines quality and that in order to effect major change one needs access to huge amounts of resources. Nuclear science revealed that even a single atom contains astronomic amounts of energy – as long as its fullest potential is utilized.

Affix a charity box at your home or office and give a few coins each day for those in need. Add an extra dollar to your employees’ paychecks and encourage them to get involved in charitable acts. Treat others with respect. Show more consideration for your family, friends and neighbors.

One person at a time. One good deed at a time. One good choice at a time.

Together it will add up to the perfect world we all wish for ourselves and for future generations.

This article was published in The El Paso Times on Monday, September 19, 2017 and is available online:

http://www.elpasotimes.com/story/opinion/2017/09/17/rosh-hashanah-teaches-value-good-choices-rabbi-greenberg-column/670891001/ 

United In Blessing

 

On the last Shabbat of the Jewish month, we sanctify the following month with a special prayer during synagogue services called “Kiddush Hachodesh”. In the presence of the Torah scroll, the upcoming day of Rosh Chodesh (beginning of the new month) is announced and we proclaim that the new month be one of life, peace, joy, deliverance and consolation.

On the last Shabbat of the year, we refrain from this procedure for various reasons.

The Baal Shem Tov explains that on the final Shabbat of the year, G-d A-lmighty Himself blesses the new month of Tishrei, thereby giving us mortals the capacity and strength to bless the following eleven months of the year. How is this Heavenly Blessing communicated to us?

The Torah portion that we read each Shabbat is G-d’s way of communicating to us the relevant message for that particular week. This Shabbat we will read the double portion of Nitavim and Vayeilech. The main themes of these Parshas educate us as to how we will have the power to bless the coming months.

Nitzavim opens with Moshe preparing the Jewish people to strengthen their covenant with G-d. “You are all standing this day before the L-rd, your G-d. The leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers, every man of Israel. Your young children, your women, and your convert who is within your camp both your woodcutters and your water drawers.”

Every Jew is present. The absence of one affects the entire community.

Throughout the Torah, the introduction to a communication between Moshe to the Jewish people is a generic “And Moshe spoke to the children of Israel.” The opening and closing statements of parshat Vayeilech however, make a rare reference to the fact that Moshe is speaking to the entire nation of Israel.

The two mitzvoth recorded in the parsha - writing a Torah scroll and gathering the nation every seven years at the Temple for “Hakhel” - also emphasize the idea of unity. Every Jew is represented in the letters of the Torah scroll, and the once-in-seven-year gathering was the only event every Jewish man, woman and child was obligated to attend.

The message is clear. Unity is the vessel to receive blessing and the tool through which we can bless. As we wrap up the old year and look forward to a new one, let us be mindful to include everyone. Encourage a fellow Jew to hear the Shofar this Rosh Hashanah and participate in a festive meal. Full synagogues are insufficient as long as there is even one Jew within our orbit not doing Rosh Hashanah.

We know what to do and we will get the job done.

It's Not About Enhancing Life

 

The Jewish calendar date of this Shabbat is the 18th of Elul. The Jewish numerals for 18 are the letters “yud” and “chet” spell the word “Chai” which means life. So the calendar date reads as saying “The Life of Elul.”

It is the birthday of two legendary Jewish leaders.

Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, was born in the year 1698. His life long mission was to reveal the inner dimension of Torah and the Jewish people. He captivated the minds of the greatest scholars of his time, and invigorated the masses by ensuring the simple folk that their service of G-d was precious and meaningful. (Learn more about the Baal Shem Tov here.)

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, known as the Alter Rebbe, the founder of the Chabad movement, was born in the year 1745. As a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov’s primary disciple he revealed a profoundly straightforward intellectual approach to the exhilarating teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. Whereas in the past the study of Kabbalah was limited to a select few, this new Chabad approach made the mystical teachings of the Torah available to anyone that was willing to learn. (Learn more about the Alter Rebbe here.)

Since then the teachings of Chassidus have been an integral part of Torah scholarship and an integral aspect of preserving the global Jewish community for generations.

There are many ways to appreciate the contribution of these great sages but I will focus on an idea that is best expressed through the idea of birth.

Before birth, the fetus is a complete body including hair and nails. During pregnancy, the life of this fetus is considered an extension of the mother. The independent life of this child begins when the soul is breathed into its nostrils upon birth. At that moment the soul and body are not two entities working together, they are united together as one indivisible entity.

For many, Torah study and Mitzvah observance is a way to enhance life, making it more meaningful. The insightful teachings of Chassidus allow us to realize that Torah and Mitzvoth are life itself. Everything we experience is a mere detail in fulfilling our mission of serving G-d with joy.

As Elul is the month we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, this realization infuses fresh life into our preparations and sets the stage for a new year of focusing on the epicenter of life – Torah and Mitzvoth.

Team Work

 

During the weekend, Hurricane Harvey ravaged through Southeast Texas leaving in its wake destruction and crisis. With so many people displaced, homes damaged and a total disruption of normal life, there is an outpouring of support from around the world. Channeling this overwhelming support effectively is crucial.

By Sunday morning, the amazing team of over a dozen Chabad emissary couples serving the Houston kicked into high gear, coordinating search and rescue efforts, kosher food supplies and volunteer groups to help the thousands desperately in need of help. Throughout the week, many of their colleagues in Texas and beyond assisted in arranging shipments of kosher food, other supplies and many teams of volunteers are converging on Houston from around Texas.

The key to their success is the fascinating teamwork on display. Everyone has a role that he or she is executing phenomenally.

In this week’s parsha, Ki Teitzei we learn of the mitzvah of paying workers on time. If the job is complete before evening, payment must be rendered before the next morning, unless both parties have agreed upon other terms and conditions.

The Talmud teaches that G-d follows His own rules. The Torah instructs us to observe mitzvoth today and we will receive the ultimate reward of our labor in the era of redemption. This seems to contradict the law against delaying payment. Is it acceptable for the millions of Jews who lived throughout the generations to wait so long for their payment?

G-d created a world devoid of divine revelation and empowered us to perfect it and reveal the divinity within. This mission is vast and complex spanning the globe and generations. Like a mammoth assembly line, every Jew fills a crucial role in bringing our world to the perfection of redemption. Until then, the job is not complete.

We are all a team and every team member is important. As we approach Rosh Hashanah, reflect on how well you are fulfilling your role in our collective mission. Perhaps you know some “team members” that need help in understanding their role in our mission.

Learn more Torah daily and share the knowledge with others. Commit yourself to greater mitzvah observance and encourage your friends to follow your lead. Invite them to a Torah class, to services or to Shabbat Dinner. The mission can be accomplished only once we are all on board.

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