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It is once again that important time of year of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. People often think that this is the time to reflect on the major world events that have occurred over the past year and to look ahead to the New Year. For example: In South Africa the success and aftermath of the Soccer World Cup and now the strikes and alliance tensions; or the difficulties and travails in Israel such as that of the flotilla incident and Iran’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons. But Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur are not just about major world events – they are also about our personal lives.
That’s actually what Judaism is about. Judaism is about a personal interaction between us and G-d. To give an example let us consider the following: what was the very first word that G-d spoke to our people when we stood at the foot of Mount Sinai all of those generations ago? It’s an unusual word, something that we wouldn’t have expected. The very first word that He uttered was the word ‘I’, in Hebrew anochi. The Ten Commandments begin with, “I am the L-rd your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt”. By beginning with this remarkable introduction, G-d set a tone for all times saying that Judaism is not an impersonal set of rules and laws. When you look at parliamentary statutes you will find that the rules and laws that govern a country are all phrased in the third person. But here G-d is saying that it is anochi, ‘I’ who is giving you these laws and principles to live by. According to the Talmud the Hebrew word anochi is an acronym for the sentence: I give you my soul in these words. And that’s what G-d gave us: He gave us a part of Himself when He gave us the Torah and it’s a personal interaction because He is interested in our lives.
This perspective helps us understand one of the most important mitzvot and one of the most important dimensions of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur – the power of prayer. This mitzvah is important throughout the year but even more so during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when we spend so much time in shul.
In the world of politics, everything is about access and part of my responsibilities as Chief Rabbi is to interact with government on behalf of the Jewish community. There are a variety of different strategies people employ to gain access to and engage with people in positions of power.
G-d Himself is the King of all Kings; He is the Master of the entire universe. He is greater a million-fold, than any president or king that has ever lived and nothing can compare to Him. Yet if you want to access G-d you don’t have to go through a PA, or the Chief Rabbi or make an appointment. All you need to do is talk directly to Him through tefillah, prayer. That is the power of prayer. He waits to hear our words, particularly during the Amidah where we take three steps forward into His Presence. One of the laws of the Amidah is that you should whisper so you can hear your own words, but that nobody else should hear you. Why whisper? Because a whisper is about intimacy. At that moment of saying those prayers, it is you and G-d one on one – a remarkable privilege of access to the King of all Kings. Whenever we want, He is waiting. It is a direct, personal loving relationship that we have with Him. It is an intimate relationship between you and G-d.
This access to the King of all Kings is a remarkable privilege. But with that privilege comes responsibility. In our Rosh HaShana prayers we say that, “Today the world was created”. In the eyes of G-d, we are an entire world and our personal lives are before Him. Never mind the big world events that are taking place; G-d is interested in us. But this also means that we have to introspect. We have to reflect on our lives to find ways that we can improve as Jews and as human beings. We need to look at the mitzvot and find practical ways of improving our lives, because this is what G-d is interested in. It’s not just about the big headlines that world events create. It is about our daily lives. We can strive for greatness because He is interested in our lives.
Let us make this Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur about a personal relationship with G-d. Let us make our Judaism about that personal interaction. He loves us, He cares about us and He is interested in our lives. Let us respond to His love with the right kind of inspiration, loyalty and dedication. May we merit, and may G-d bless our wonderful community with a good and a sweet year.
G-d bless you and thank you.
Rosh HaShana/Yom Kippur Greetings (Edited Transcript)
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