SEPTEMBER 21, 2017 – My rabbis always have stressed the importance of preparing for Rosh Hashanah during the entire month of Elul leading up to the holiday. This year, I have spent some time thinking about why it takes the entire month to prepare and what our focus should be.
The Rosh Hashanah prayers are focused on helping us find a deeper appreciation of Hashem’s existence and presence in the world. Our task during Elul is to look inward, following an honest inventory of where we’ve been and what we’ve done. Hashem is evaluating the strength of our commitment on Rosh Hashanah and seeks a sincere promise from us to do better.
On the sixth day, when mankind was created, we were granted the ability to “exercise free will in our decision making,” and most importantly, in relation to our moral decisions. Rabbi Asher Resnick states the spiritual health of our soul is a result of past behavior, and obviously it says a great deal about our current state, but it is not the focus of Rosh Hashanah. The concept of admitting our mistakes, apologizing, and cleansing ourselves on Yom Kippur is fraught with difficulty, but is it so challenging that it requires a month to prepare?
In Rabbi Resnick’s explanation of the concept, he references the journey of an alcoholic or a drug addict. If they have not committed to work on themselves first and foremost, then apologizing to those they have hurt will not change their essential nature. One need only look at the “12 steps” to acknowledge the significance of personal accountability, and continued self-evaluation or “inventory.”
While clearly the message of Rosh Hashanah is a personal and spiritual one, I can’t help but think about the importance of helping our greater community move to a higher place. There is a group called Common Party, a movement to foster the ideas of “commonality and reconciliation,” that just produced an article titled “The Best Response to Hate.” Marshall Rosenberg, a famous practitioner of conflict resolution, is quoted saying, “Peace requires something far more difficult than revenge or merely turning the other cheek; it requires empathizing with the fears and unmet needs that provide the impetus for people to attack each other.”
The deeper message, one that should resonate as we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, is that this is not just about “them,” this is about us and how we engage with family members, friends, or acquaintances.
The blessing of free will is that we don’t have to let the mistakes of our past block us from true growth. It is my hope that we will all become more attuned to our inner voices that encourage us to recognize the needs of others; to embrace our power to reconcile with those around us; and to elevate all our human interactions to a higher level of compassion and understanding.
I wish you all L’Shana Tovah U’Metukah.
Marty Schneer is the executive director of the JCC of the North Shore.