On Friday evening of this week, Sept. 18, Jews across the Greater Dallas community and throughout the world will mark the beginning of Rosh Hashanah 5781, the opening of Judaism’s High Holidays.
The 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are known as the Days of Awe. Traditionally, as Jews, we use this time for a personal quest to search our consciences and focus on our transgressions against others as well as Hashem, God, The Almighty. Through prayer and introspection, we purge ourselves of our wrongful acts that as human beings we inevitably commit, at times, despite our best intentions, and, on occasion, out of spite or pettiness.
Judaism teaches us that Rosh Hashanah is, in fact, a Day of Judgment. Hashem judges each of us. The Talmud teaches us that three distinct books are opened on Rosh Hashanah: the Book of Life — for those judged to be righteous; the Book of Death — for those judged to be wicked; and the Middle Book — for those judged to be in-between.
The idea that each of us shall be evaluated on Rosh Hashanah is awe-inspiring and steeped in spiritualism that is both beautiful and powerful. In Judaism, the New Year marks a period of celebration that is joined with soul searching. As individuals, we are granted an opportunity to transcend our transgressions, and rededicate our lives to lofty ideals in keeping with Divine commandments.
During the Days of Awe that culminate in Yom Kippur, Judaism teaches that God judges with compassion. His verdict on each of us may be leavened with mercy. We have an opportunity to make amends directly to those whom we have wronged, and to ask forgiveness of Hashem for violations of His commandments.
This New Year presents us with a special opportunity for prayer, reflection and contrition. Over the last year, like America and the world, Dallas has been plagued by the coronavirus, a pestilence of near-biblical impact. The scourge of this deadly disease has been a great leveler, demonstrating that even the strongest and most powerful amongst us are as vulnerable to this virus as the weakest and most humble in our community. As we pray on Rosh Hashanah and throughout the High Holidays, let us remember that we are all connected.
We are all connected through our common Judaic heritage, the moments of triumph for the Jewish people, such as the rebirth of the State of Israel, as well as epic tragedies, like the Holocaust imbued deeply within us.
Rosh Hashanah also falls in the midst of a hotly contested national election in America. Like the rest of America, the Jewish community is polarized by the alternatives.
But, in a greater sense, we are bound together by our common heritage and like religious and spiritual values that transcend our political differences. Just as Jewish history imparts that the Jewish people have survived calamities and flourished, so American history teaches that our nation has withstood deep divisions that challenge us, from the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War.
Though he was neither a religious leader nor Jewish, President John F. Kennedy expressed our interdependence eloquently when he said:
“So, let us not be blind to our differences — but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
Instead of celebrating Rosh Hashanah with our friends and families in our congregations, many if not most of us will participate in religious services virtually through the internet. Let us look forward to the coming year when we escape the grip of the deadly coronavirus and a climate of health is restored. Let us pray for peace and understanding between us as America celebrates its freedom in the upcoming election.
And may each of us have an opportunity to eat a slice of apple, dipped in honey, signifying our prayer that the coming year will be sweet and that this period of stress shall yield to a blossoming of renewed health and happiness.
May our prayers be heard by Hashem, and be found to be worthy. May we forgive each other our transgressions during the High Holidays so that we may be inscribed in the Book of Life and move forward to a new beginning and a happy and healthy new year.
This editorial appeared in the Jewish Herald Voiceand is reprinted with permission.