By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Dear Rabbi Fried,
I attend services annually for Rosh Hashanah, and enjoy participating in the prayers and hearing the shofar. However, I sometimes feel that I’m missing some perspective, which weakens my connection. I feel that if I had a perspective and a goal to concentrate on, that would give more meaning to the time I’m spending in synagogue. I’d appreciate your input. Shanah Tovah.
— Dennis B.
I can only tell you what I will be thinking about this Rosh Hashanah with the hopes that this can provide you with a richer, more meaningful experience.
I have been struggling. On one hand, I’m trying to focus on the joy of the High Holy Day season with all its potential for growth and a meaningful experience. At the same time I have been very preoccupied by the concerning events transpiring in the Middle East and throughout the Jewish world.
The decibel level of anti-Semitic rhetoric has risen exponentially over the past years in Europe, reaching a crescendo in recent European newspapers, parliamentary motions and in the streets with hate crimes against Jews on the rise. This hatred is all painted white under the “acceptable” guise of anti-Israelism or anti-Zionism. This has led to a renewed confidence in Arab terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, that know they can rely on the world community to turn a blind eye to their stockpiling of deadly ammunition. This has contributed to the Palestinian Authority’s confidence in its efforts to attain a unilaterally proclaimed state, with all its ensuing riots and renewed terrorist violence. The widely applauded “Arab Spring” has unleashed the most ominous powers of Muslim fanaticism, putting the few hallowed peace treaties with our neighbors surrounding us into danger. All this with the proverbial elephant in the room: The specter of a nuclear Iran. To say the least, our land and people are in a very fragile and precarious position, both in the Middle East and internationally.
We are far from immune to this danger in America. Just look at the Hate Israel campaigns going on in so many American universities. The billions of dollars flowing from Saudi Arabia to open Middle East and other programs, educating a generation of Americans in their perspectives, pose a grave future threat to American support of Israel. Dearborn and other towns have become America-hating Muslim strongholds.
We cannot forget the rampant apathy and assimilation of American Jewry, and the dwindling number of American Jews to the tune of some 100,000 per year.
There is, however, a hidden, other side of this equation: The God factor. On Rosh Hashanah we coronate the Almighty as the King of the universe. The shofar blast is our proclamation that He is our sovereign and master of the entire world. There’s no power or force that has the strength to stand up to the will of God. An all-powerful, omniscient God has the power to turn around any situation, regardless of how dangerous or ominous it may be. Rosh Hashanah is a day of confidence and hope for a bright future. This is why we eat and enjoy delicious meals on Rosh Hashanah, despite it being a day during which our futures are judged. This is not something someone would do he had a life-or-death court case later that day! But we do this because of our trust in the ultimate power of God and His love for the Jewish people. We know He is waiting for our prayers, our repentance and acts of kindness and mitzvot to find a reason to judge us favorably. When the world his holding in balance, Maimonides writes that it could just be that one act done by one individual can tip the world onto the side of good: what each of us does really can make a difference!
Let’s focus on elevating ourselves this Rosh Hashanah so that our prayers will be answered and peace and prosperity will reign in Israel.
May you and all the readers, and our people everywhere be signed and sealed in the Book of Life, a life filled with good health, livelihood, nachas and peace in Israel and throughout the world.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.