By the time you receive this email, you will practically be feeling the mixture of inner joy, anticipation, and awe of the moment the shofar blows, the connection you feel to Hashem, and to the people you see in shul, (even if you barely know each other) makes wishing each of them a good and sweet year feel normal instead of socially awkward. Even though at that point, the sweetness of honey is still in your mind and your heart, you can almost feel its sweet delightful flavor on your tongue.
It’s more than a new year. It is the head of the year that will set the tone for the way you relate to the coming year. A good way to begin is with the realization that noone but Hashem can actually give you a year. It is a wonderful gift. Rabbi Avigdor Miller would tell his students that the best preparation for the new year is looking at the way Hashem has given so much in the past year, and the years before that.
The parshah that is always read at this time of year is Netzavim. It begins by telling you who you are and where you came from “You are standing before Me today…” This isn’t a one-time event in our history, it IS our history, moment by moment, person by person. Each one of us is constantly standing before Hashem. Each person simultaneously remains themselves- individual and unique, and at the same time, part of the whole. The Torah delineates each gradation of Jews from the heads of the people, to the water carriers. Each one is equally part of the whole even though (certainly to the outer eye) they don’t have equally as important functions. Eah person is a miniature version of the nation as a whole. There are parts of you that are more important -the mind, the lungs, the heart, and there are parts of you that are less important – the finger, the toe, the eyelashes. All of the parts, are, however, equally as much a part of the body.
Probably the most extreme example of this division on the basis of function is the “heads” and the feet. They are both necessary for the body to function in a genuinely human way. You have a mind, but you also have to be able to take your thoughts and aspirations and actually take them someplace. You have to walk your walk. There is a part of you that takes in reality and interprets it, and everything that happens next, depends on your interpretation. The mind is the navigator, and if you don’t let it inform the heart, you may find yourself groping. Your will and the narrative that your mind created about who you are, and what Hashem has planned for you has to eventually get down to your feet, to the part of you that is willing to actually do something.
When I was in seminary in Bnei Brak, things were run differently than they are now. We were expected to take care of ourselves. Other than the rabbis and the teachers, the only staff that I recall was the Aim Bayis, the cook, and, the secretary. We were expected to clean up after ourselves, and when the cook was off for holidays, we were also expected to cook. Back home, as a rather spoiled only child I was used to doing:
Nothing at all! No dishes. No bed making. Nothing…..
The Israeli girls were very patient, and they gave me the skills to get along without an entire staff. One day, when I had kitchen toruanut (duty), one of the girls wrapped up some of the unserved leftovers. When I remarked about it, she said, “I’m going to give it away”. When I asked her more questions about the charity that she would be donating it to, she looked surprised. She was going to give it to one of the beggars who sat on Rabi Akiva Street, Bnei Brak’s main thoroughfare. I was horrified. “You can’t let yourself get involved with him! You don’t know what who he is!”. She was calm as she accepted still another demonstration of how Americans are a different breed. “What’s the worst thing that can happen when I give him the food package?” she asked. “Maybe he won’t want it. Maybe he’ll just throw it away”. “Well, isn’t that what would happen if you don’t give it away? Weren’t you planning to throw it in the garbage?
A lesson learned. Don’t be afraid of people who have not been given what you have, and what you take for granted
People who have less than you come in many forms. I was just reading a book called a “A Tap on the Shoulder” another well written , well researched biography by Yonason Rosenblum about the life of Rabbi Meir Shuster. Throughout what may be called the Golden Age of teshuva, he was there. He spotted them from across the Kotel Plaza; young travelers who want more than just getting through the day. His opening remark was, “Do you have the time?” which often led to an invitation to hear a class, experience a shiur, or meet a rabbi. He identified those who were spiritually impoverished and were on the lowest rung of the ladder. He introduced them to the spiritual Big Boys, who are on top. He was relentless, perusing his “prey” wherever he had to go to open an uncertain or reluctant student that something transformational may happen. He lived for making all of the parts come together, all of Hashem’s People accepting Him as King.
Rosh Hashanah is the head of the year - demanding and awesome. You see Hashem evaluating you, not in comparison to some mythic perfect person, but in comparison to who you are, and who you can be. He will commit to giving you whatever it is that you need to continue the journey that you make with your eyes closed, unaware of what the final destination will be, but aware that you are being led by One who loves you.
Have a Shanah Tovah