Q&A : Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur – September 2008 – “Jewish Life” maga
‘Changing decrees in heaven and hearts on earth.’ What does it mean?
At this time of the year, as we start preparing ourselves in earnest for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, there is a tangible atmosphere of change. A new year, a fresh start, a clean slate. We want Hashem’s blessings for a good new year; we want to change the ‘decrees in heaven’, for the good. But we must first be prepared to change the ‘hearts on earth’– to improve on ourselves, in order to merit that from Hashem. This is a communal project, and through it, we can become better people and Jews. We need to dig deep to find our inner strength, as individuals and collectively.
How do we do this?
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a gift from Hashem. Every community, every individual has their own, unique strengths and weaknesses, and each person must find a way of addressing these within himself. But here we are getting a chance at a fresh start, and we cannot afford to let it pass us by.
What is a major issue that the community should focus on?
Key to the vibrant future of our community is our children. We need to strengthen our families. Parents need to spend more time with children, giving them greater input of Judaism to instil within them a love for it, and through this, ensure a vibrant growing Jewish future for our community.
But what does this have to do with Rosh Hashanah?
Rosh Hashanah is a time of teshuvah, and of addressing the areas of our lives that need improvement.
Yet it says nothing in the davening of Rosh Hashanah about repentance.
Teshuva, mistranslated as repentance, is a return to G-d. Rosh Hashanah is about the big picture, and Yom Kippur is about the details – both are about changing for the good. On Rosh Hashanah, we try to rise above the nitty-gritty’s of our day-to-day lives – to ask, ‘Where are we headed’, ‘Are we in sync with the values of Judaism?’ The theme of Rosh Hashanah is the kingship of G-d, and we acknowledge G-d as the ultimate authority. After we have done this, then we can look at the nitty-gritty’s. Yom Kippur is about the details – of where we have gone wrong and how we can put right. Because we can’t fix the details unless we deal with the bigger picture first.
But isn’t it too late to start fixing on Yom Kippur if our fate is sealed then?
We must start fixing ourselves long before then, especially starting from Elul, the month before Rosh Hashanah. But life doesn’t only happen on the big occasions. It happens every day. It is all a question of emphasis. We must do teshuva all year round; there can be no holiday from it.
To get back to the question of our children, why is this our specific challenge right now?
In any country of the modern world, children are under enormous pressure from very powerful forces that can damage their innocence and their childhood.
What are these forces?
Obviously, the entertainment industry exposes our children to violence, sex and shallow, materialistic values. Today’s children are exposed to experiences that they are too young to maturely integrate and comprehend in a healthy way. As parents and communal leaders, we need to give our children back their childhood.
How can we do this?
We need to strength Judaism in the lives of our children. That means focusing on our schools and Shuls, ensuring that we consistently upgrade the standards and appeal of Jewish education and way of life. Parents need to have greater confidence in protecting children from themselves. It is ok to say no. But you can only say no if there is a good, positive, loving relationship between parent and child. And that is where we need to put our emphasis.
Any practical ideas?
One of the greatest gifts that G-d gave us is Shabbos. Shabbos is a day of loving friendships – between us and G-d, and between each other. When families and friends have quality time to connect in a spiritually and emotionally inspiring environment. This is especially relevant in modern times when every waking moment is invaded with stress, fast-paced living and noisy technologies that place barriers between people. Parents and children can sit around the Shabbos table together, connecting and bonding in an atmosphere of love, tranquillity, and inspiration.
So it’s not just about children, then, it’s also about family?
Yes definitely. Strong families are built on good, loving marriages. And a strong community too. We create our own context as a community. If there is a positive atmosphere of growth, strength, and improvement, it will affect all of us as individuals and it will become our broader communal context as well. The Talmud says that we should ‘associate with good people’. The better the community becomes as a whole, the stronger we will become as individuals. And vice versa.
So how do we fuse the two – the communal and the individual?
Judaism applies to everything and we must look across the entire spectrum of our lives to find areas to grow and improve. Communally, we must build bridges of love and friendship between all kinds of Jews so that each individual feels part of the community. This is the catalyst to growth as a community, and as individuals.