Local rabbis and cantors share heartfelt wishes for sweet new year

Second of two parts

Shanah Tovah!

Cantor Sheri Allen
Makom Shelanu Congregation

Recently, I received a small book with an expansive amount of wisdom. Written by David Whyte, it’s titled “Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.” In each chapter, the author parses the mystery and magnificence of 52 words.

One of them, a word very much on our minds at this time of year, is forgiveness. We can debate about whether it’s harder to seek forgiveness or grant it, but either way, our tradition compels us to try and do both. We engage in this process because, well…short answer: It’s a mitzvah. And we hope that the compassion we show toward each other will result in the Holy One showing compassion toward us and granting us atonement.

But what if we are able to ask for forgiveness, yet can’t seem to extend that forgiveness to others? How do we rise above our pain and move forward? After all, there’s a deadline looming — we’re supposed to wipe the slate clean by Yom Kippur! David Whyte provides an answer: “The great mercy is that the sincere act of trying to forgive, even if it is not entirely successful, is a form of blessing and forgiveness itself.”

In other words, if forgiveness is an act in progress, we are on the right path. And it might take the gift of time and distance to be able to look back and realize that the hurt we’ve experienced or witnessed has motived us to explore and create new, promising opportunities and paths ahead.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention another word that I knew I wouldn’t find in Mr. Whyte’s book: teshuvah, which has often been defined as “repentance.” It actually means “return.” Return implies that we have been gone — somewhere. Whether that means being physically gone or emotionally disconnected, we are lost, and now need to find our way back. I’ve felt particularly lost lately — in a world I no longer recognize. One in which fundamental truths are questioned; the rights and dignity of so many people are being stripped from them; and intolerance, hate and bigotry threaten to undermine our democracy. And I’ve asked myself: How can I find my way back to a place of security and hope for the future?

Our Mahzor reminds us: Tefillah (prayer), teshuvah (return) and tzedakah (engaging in acts of justice) can help us navigate how we choose to live our lives in an uncertain world. Prayer helps us to find goodness — or the potential for goodness — in the world and others, and reminds us that there is still much to be grateful for, even when things look bleak. Tzedakah: Acting with others to mitigate suffering and fight injustice can reinvigorate hope that together, we can make a difference. Only then can we return to a more familiar place — a place in which we are not alone, where change is possible and where, through our acts, we can sense God’s presence. 

L’Shanah Tovah!

Rabbi Michael Tevya Cohen
The Legacy Senior Communities

The message of Isaiah 58 that we read on Yom Kippur, to make it our priority to do acts of kindness and care for others, rings loudly in our Haftorah. But there are acts of kindness that, carried out however softly in our Legacy communities, resonate just as loudly — in the heavens above us. Isaiah would delight in knowing that the good works many of you perform for those in need, most certainly rise to the attention of God. There is much to herald, much that lives up to the goodness that is asked of us. There are residents and volunteers who make regular visits to those who live in Memory Care; those who visit the sick; those who make sure that each other knows when to come to Torah study or other events that their friends or neighbors care about; those that look out for the lonely and try to offer companionship; those that take care of each other, by walking the dog when someone’s regular routine is disrupted. In fact, I stopped by to visit one of our residents who fell and hurt herself because she was running to do a mitzvah! Let us not run, but let our hearts rejoice in the fact that we will do a mitzvah. Let us give our hearts license to welcome ideas about how to make someone else’s life a little sweeter.

I am so moved to share that I see this beauty in the memory of some of our beloved residents whom we’ve lost in recent months, whose lives were filled with acts, lived with dedication and moved by the spirit of tikkun olam to make a difference in the Dallas community. Many of you have absorbed the message of the Prophets and our Torah, and lived this message of generosity and caring, over the course of your lifetimes. I invite all of us to renewed dedication, to seek out acts that can brighten someone’s day, that bring the community together, that include those who might otherwise fall between the cracks. These acts to help others and respond to the needs of those we encounter, are just what the doctor ordered. For we literally are caring for our own souls when we care about the souls of others. For when we look outward, to see what we can do and bring to our fellow human beings, you may have noticed already that we do something that has a powerful effect on us, ourselves. Do you not feel something in your heart when you do kindness, and walk humbly? Life itself, the blessing and potential of being here, calls to us to answer, to affirm, to assist, to love and to use our life force to bring goodness to all. May we each be written and sealed for blessing in the Book of Life.

L’Shanah Tovah Tikateivu v’Tichatemu.

Rabbi Chanania Engelsman
Judaics Study Principal,
Akiba Yavneh Academy

In Judaism, numbers often have special meaning, and at this time of year the number seven is particularly significant. Rabbi Lord Sacks zt”l explains that in relation to a sequence of time, the number seven relates to a cessation of work that leads to holiness. For days, it is Shabbat — the day of rest. For years, it is the year that we are currently concluding, the Shmita year, when every seventh year the land of Israel is not worked. And for months it is Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the seventh month. This idea of ceasing includes within it the intention to help us refocus toward a specific value or purpose and through this work we create holiness.

Our sages teach us that Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of mankind, the day humans as we know them first came into existence. Today, Rosh Hashanah is an opportunity for a new beginning each year, a renewal to help us best prepare for using our time wisely in the year ahead.

Time is our most precious commodity. The way we spend it says a lot about us and yet all too often we are quick to waste it. To compare, if we were to be given $86,400 each day and told that if we do not spend it we would lose it, most of us would endeavor to ensure that every last cent is spent each and every day. Similarly, there are 86,400 seconds in every day, and how many of us, myself included, are quick to waste many of those precious seconds.

On Rosh Hashanah we must delve internally into who we are and who we would like to be. We must ask what it is that we truly value and whether that is expressed through the use of our time.

As Rabbi Sacks put it so eloquently, we can achieve our purpose in life through “living by values that will live forever.” Cessation from work is not enough if it is not entwined with a constructive desire to renew and ensure we live a life of true value.

May we merit through celebrating the “festival of creation” that this year be a year that brings us closer to each other to live a life filled with love, purpose and happiness.

Rabbi Moishy Kalmenson
Chabad of Rockwall

Are you in?
A holiday mindset between all or nothing

“I have given thousands of speeches in my career, but how many of them have really hit home? How many people have been moved to actually change their lives?”

These were the words of Rabbi Chaim Gutnick to the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1965.

“If you really want to see the effect of your words, speak about practical things, and not in general terms,” responded the Rebbe. “Encourage the audience to try to fulfill the mitzvos, even if it’s just one ‘little’ thing. And then you will see results.”

Gutnick put the Rebbe’s advice into practice immediately. When he spoke about Shabbat, he asked his audience to begin by not lighting a fire on Shabbat, and by giving up one little thing — smoking. He said, “Your doctors will say it’s good for you, and as your rabbi, I’ll also say that it’s good for you.”

Shortly after his speech, a certain individual started attending more regularly and explained: “I heard you speak about not smoking on Shabbat, and when I went to work the next Saturday, I decided not to smoke. But then I thought to myself, if I’m already giving up cigarettes because it’s Shabbat, what am I doing sitting at my office? I think I’ll continue attending synagogue and maybe I’ll even make Kiddush.”

Many times, especially during the High Holiday season, we employ the moniker “All or Nothing.”

We rev up our excitement and increase our involvement with our Judaism, going “all in.” But it also has a possibly adverse effect. We start to think of our Jewish engagement in black-and-white terms, and when we don’t reach the “All” we revert to the “Nothing.”

I think a more apt moniker should be “Are you in?”

“Are we in” doesn’t demand that we never falter, only that we take a step forward toward improvement.

When I was in yeshiva, our rabbi used the following illustration. How far is east from west? One thousand miles? One million? It’s simply a turn of direction. A step upward and onward.

Wishing you a joyful and uplifting High Holiday journey, one of “first steps” and the most minute but monumental change of direction!

Rabbi Dan Lewin
Director, Maayan Chai Foundation

The string of holidays in the month of Tishrei represents a transformation process. How we begin the year, sets the tone for the coming months. Rosh Hashanah, the day commemorating the creation of man, is about uniting with our purpose to fulfill our unique capability — to take the gifts we’ve been given, utilize the unlimited force of the divine soul inside us and work hard to uplift our corner of the world.

To this end, our deepest prayers should not only be to receive the primary blessings of wealth, health and sustenance but to use these resources to become a blessing for others. The Jewish New Year, in contrast to the universal perception, is more about awakening the power of commitment — “I am created to serve” — than about festivity.

This is perhaps the core message during this calendar period. Too often, people confuse “freedom” with an escape from responsibility. They are different feelings and motivations. Freedom is being plugged in; escape is checking out. To be truly free, we renewed our faith at the time of the shofar blowing.

Each new year brings with it the power to change. To be sure, we are constantly growing, trying to break out of yesterday’s limits, to lift that internal cage door and enter a new arena of willpower, menucha (peace) and joy. But when an influx of rekindled energy from the Infinite Source enlivens the universe again, that personal change we desire gets a fresh boost.

With firm resolve intact, we move toward Yom Kippur, a day so sanctified that we can transcend the usual physical constraints to become like angels, albeit through some suffering. On a personal level, it is the final push for a sweet year, the polishing of our souls that enables us to emerge as new creatures to then reenter the mundane world infused with vigor and joy.

That newfound joy — the product of the emotional seeds that we sowed with sweat and prayer during the Days of Awe — begins to sprout during Sukkot. May everyone be sealed for a good, healthy and fruitful year filled with revealed blessings!

Rabbi Dov Mandel
Chabad of Fort Worth

We are all preparing for the most solemn days on the Jewish calendar. We all realize that all of the blessings and satisfaction in life come directly from G-d. All He wants us to do is to reach out and connect to Him, and that connection itself becomes the lifeline through which everything, material and spiritual, is bestowed upon us.

In the month of Elul, we are told that Elul is an acronym for Ani ledodi vedodi li. I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me. From this acronym, it seems that not only we are reaching out to G-d, but He is reaching out to us! Doesn’t this diminish our reaching out if G-d initiates it?

Chabad philosophy explains that G-d reaches out in two different ways. The first way is giving us a tiny spark of inspiration, but it is up to us to give fuel to that inspiration, and that causes us to truly initiate the relationship. The spark alone is insufficient. The hard work is all up to us!

On the flipside, once we provide the fuel through our service of G-d, the blessings and spiritual power granted to us through our efforts of serving G-d through our solemnity during the High Holidays, and through our intense, open and revealed joy throughout the holiday of Sukkot, culminating with dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah, result in a massive avalanche of material and spiritual blessings that is far greater than anything we could achieve on our own.

Let’s do our part, and G-d is guaranteed to do His. May we all be blessed and inscribed for a sweet, happy and healthy New Year!

Rabbi Moshe Naparstek
Chabad of Dallas

Hakhel: a year of unity

Dear Friends,

5783 is the Year of Hakhel, which means “assembly.” As described in the book of Deuteronomy, when the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem all Jewish men, women and children participated in a grand communal assembly every seven years.

The king read selected sections of the Torah to the crowd to replicate Matan Torah — the Revelation at Sinai. Everyone left feeling united, rejuvenated and inspired to learn Torah and observe the mitzvot, permeated with the sense of personal responsibility to the divine mission of making our world a better place for all.

Commemorating “Hakhel” reinforces our appreciation for the inherent beauty, spirituality and value of each individual, and the significance of every mitzvah as well as the awesome power of the Jewish community.

In the theme of “Hakhel” I would like to take this opportunity to encourage and suggest that each and every one of us should make an extra effort to take part in their community events and classes this year, be it at one of the Chabad centers located in the Metroplex or at your local synagogue or community center.

May the A-mighty grant each and every one of you and your families a healthy, happy and sweet New Year, and may you be inscribed in the Book of Life, Peace and Prosperity. May we all merit to greet our righteous Moshiach, speedily, Amen!

P.S.: For more info on Hakhel, please see here: www.chabadofdallas.com/744089

Rabbi David Moyal
Magen David Congregation

Satan goes on vacation

Every Jew is the son of a king, loved and lovable and dear to his heavenly Father. And here the dear son throughout the year is tempted to go astray after the arbitrariness of his evil heart, to do deeds that are against the will of his heavenly Father. And Satan goes and denounces him, mentions his evil deeds before the Creator of the world and makes it very difficult for him to repent, to draw near to his Father.

But according to the Gemara (tractate Yoma 21:1), one day a year, the devil goes on vacation. How can this be?

“The Devil” in Hebrew numerical value is 364 (the gematria of “Satan”), while the days of the year are 365 days. Satan does his work faithfully for 364 days a year, but on one day, Yom Kippur, he is not allowed to denounce.

This liberation from the burdensome world of Satan, who is also the evil inclination, is felt in the soul. Indeed, we see that on Yom Kippur, every Jewish heart “moves” in something. So many Jews go to the synagogue; even Jews who are very far from Torah life and mitzvot feel on this day a spiritual urge to approach their Creator, even in something small. On this day, there is a special enlightenment and a special spiritual abundance. Every person feels a desire and longing to draw closer to God. Undoubtedly we will take advantage of this day and pray to God and He will grant us that we will be without Satan’s harm!

Ketivah vaHatima Tovah from Rabbi David Moyal and Congregation Magen David.

Rabbi Y.M. Sabo
Magen David Congregation

The candle within

Rav Kook writes: 

“Every person must know and understand that inside of them there is a lit candle. No candle is like any other candle and there is no such thing as someone without a candle.

“Every person must know and understand that they need to toil and work in order to reveal the light of their candle to the public. To turn the candle into a great torch, that will give light to the entire world.”

True, I translated it into my own English from Rav Kook’s Hebrew text. However, Rav Kook himself opens with the Hebrew words that translate to “to know” and “to understand.” Knowing and understanding are two different things. Knowledge refers to wisdom; it is a matter of accumulating information. It is a matter of the brain. Understanding, however, refers to the heart. To understand is already the next level; it is the application of knowledge. When I understand something it means that I have got the knowledge from my brain and it is in my heart being translated into action.

Rav Kook is telling us about the candle within, not just to know about it, but to understand it, to DO something with it. Since the light of every individual is unique, the responsibility is on each and every one of us to reveal our own light. Moreover, it is not enough that we each reveal the candle within; we have to make sure that this candle grows into a torch that lights up the entire world. 

Now, right between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, is the time for all of us to know and understand — to stand in front of Hashem during these days of awe and ask Hashem to grant us with life, good sweet life, so we can bring the light that was placed inside of us to the world.

On Rosh Hashanah morning, our Torah portion mentioned the father of our people, Abraham. In fact, he is described as the father of humanity by Jews, Christians and Muslims. He is a remarkable symbolic figure. In one of the most poignant moments of his early life, Abraham is described standing before his tent welcoming strangers into his home, providing food, shelter and hospitality to those in need of the human touch.

Just as Abraham welcomed strangers into his tent, offering them the gift of hospitality, we have inherited a tradition that values hospitality above most everything else. That Jewish brand of hospitality has been refined over the centuries and remains one of the finest characteristics of the Jewish people.

The mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, welcoming strangers, is premised upon perhaps the most significant value found in the Torah. “Va’yiv’ra Elohim et ha’adam b’tzal’mo, b’tze’lem Elo’him ba’ra o’to za’khar u’n’keh’va ba’ra o’tam — Every person — man and woman — is created in the image of God.” Do you know what that means today? I am no better than you and you are no better than me. In the words of the rabbis of the Talmud, “My blood is not redder than yours!”

It means that we look at each other and we are expected to see a spark of the divine. It suggests that we see beyond physical appearances. We don’t see black, white or brown skin. We don’t see well-heeled or needy. We don’t see popular or unpopular, successful or unfortunate. Husbands and wives must consider each other as equals and never demonstrate condescension toward each other. Employers are expected to treat their employees with respect, paying them on time with appropriate wages.

It is with these sentiments that we enter the New Year of 5783.  May the values that have guided us and inspired us for thousands of years become, once again the bedrock upon which we structure our daily lives…Shana Tova Tikateivu 

Rabbi Nathaniel Zakon
DATA of Plano

My Dear Friends! The High Holidays are upon us and now what? Do we feel prepared and charged? So many Jews don’t sense a spiritual connection and either skip the services or go with some obligation or even resentment. How can we be both honest with ourselves and inspired as well?

Many years ago I took a group of men on one of our famous New York trips. Wanting to give them a unique experience, I took them to meet a Hasidic rabbi. He is known as the Grand Rabbi of Kossov. We entered his simple book-lined study in a basement in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn. I decided to start the conversation and asked him what the message the founder of Hasidism, the Baal Shem Tov, taught the world. He gave us an incredibly beautiful and relevant answer. What he teaches us, said the Rebbe, is that whatever you are grappling with is perfect and important to G-d! So often we grapple with issues that we are embarrassed about. How many times have I been told, Rabbi, if you only knew what’s inside of me or what I’ve done… We look at ourselves with disappointment. Really, after all this time I still fall prey to this challenge or weakness!?

The Baal Shem Tov taught that struggles are real and perfect. The key is, don’t give up! Lose a battle and another one but win the war! The war is won by staying in the game, and don’t surrender. The mere fact that you are bothered by your lack of spiritual feeling is a sign of the sensitivity of your soul! Appreciate who you are and look for ways to push forward to the next step. If G-d finds my challenges important, who am I to downgrade their significance!

May this be a year of renewed inspiration and deepened connection! Shanah Tovah!

Rabbi Brian Zimmerman
Beth-El Congregation

This is a joyous season. This also a hard season. We are asked to listen carefully to the shofar, to hear the cracked sounds of Jewish longing, to look within the broken parts of ourselves and then, when most vulnerable, to ask forgiveness.

Perhaps the hardest part is that last piece. Asking forgiveness of others. It means dropping our defenses, acknowledging that we have hurt others, swallowing pride and hoping the offer of a fresh start to a relationship will not be spurned.

Sometimes our hurtful statements and actions are born out of self-defense. We were wounded by another and responded in anger to protect ourselves.

What if we try to be honest with the one who harmed us and there is no acknowledgement of the pain that they caused to us? We are left exposed.

The act of teshuvah is not easy. But it begins with acknowledgment and honesty. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, the words do not come out.

Teshuvah is not easy. Sometimes, we need a friend to remind us that we are worthy and strong enough, but the time is short, and the work is essential.

As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, remembered for blessing, once wrote,

“Every act of forgiveness mends something broken in this fractured world. It is a step, however small, in the long, hard journey to redemption.”

May you be blessed and strengthened as you begin this work of redemption. May your New Year be a year of Shalom, wholeness and peace.

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