New Year

Moshe Ben-Chaim

Another year has passed us by. We are about to stand trial. The Shofar has been blasted after the morning prayers all this month, to awaken us to “search our ways and investigate, and return to God”. The very fact that we need to be woken means that man’s nature is to veer from facing stark reality. Throughout the year, we slip into a semi-conscious mode, where our approach to God – our purpose – becomes obscured by everyday life, and nonsense.  Of course the righteous always reflect, “A righteous man who sins in the morning, has certainly repented by evening”. But typical man requires a yearly wake up call. In future times, matters will be different: “all sons of flesh will call Your name”. But for now, we are distracted; our values are severely diluted from the media, and centuries of alien influences.

Part of that influence has resulted is our superstitious beliefs. Although never witnessed or documented throughout time, the world, and many Jews feel there are forces that exist outside of God, nature, human strength and technology. Such beliefs offer the imagined security craved by the infantile mind. But such beliefs are just that: beliefs, with no proof in reality. Red Bendels; opening the Ark to help one’s pregnant wife have an easier “opening” for her pregnancy; chamsas and other amulets; and checking mezuzas. We addressed these all year. But when we glance at the Rosh Hashana prayers, we read this: “Teshuva, Prayer and Tzedaka avert the evil decree”. This means that our perfection alone is what averts God’s evil for us. This makes sense: if we change our ways, God no longer needs to help us change through His punishments. But if we don’t repent, amulets and other foolish practices will not stand against God’s will. And according to God’s just system of Reward and Punishment, we must receive punishments. 

During Rosh Hashana we will be reciting true ideas regarding God’s role as King, His knowledge of every man and woman; our actions and our thoughts, and we will blow the ram’s horn – the shofar – as a display of our agreement that Abraham and Isaac’s sacrifice, substituted with the ram, were admirable acts. We use this example, as this event embodies better than any other, that man can truly reach a love of God…a love that surpasses the love of our own children. We reflect on God’s kingship, as this is the most primary truth, and truth is our objective as rational beings. We reflect on God’s omniscience – His all-knowing nature – to help us realize that He is aware of our every action and thought. Hopefully this moves man to repent, and addresses his other half, his values. And we express our convictions in both God’s kingship and omniscience with the shofar blasts. 

These three themes comprise all of the prayers on this holiday. Nowhere in our prayers do we make mention of any other means of perfecting ourselves, and earning God’s attention and providence. The formula is simple, and is also unanimous among the greatest Rabbis and Sages: Teshuva, Prayer and Tzedaka avert the decree. Teshuva refers to the inner change of our corrupt ideas, personality traits and actions. It means asking others to forgive us. It means we must raise our level of knowledge to mirror God’s Torah values, realizing their eternal and absolute truths, and then adopting these values. It means regret on the past, and a commitment on the future. Prayer means we seek to draw close to He who created us. Prayer is an activity where we contemplate precisely formulated truths; evaluating ourselves, and asking God for that which leads us to the life our Creator informed us will be most beneficial. Tzedaka refers to recognition of all mankind as our equals: others deserve our time, money, and attention. They too deserve to be happy. Our money is not ours alone, but should be used as the Creator of wealth demands. Tzedaka tempers a proper relationship to wealth, and underlines one of its great purposes.

Perfecting our values and ideas; seeking to realign with God and His outline for human life; and humbly treating all others as equals, is the perfected life, and the life God sustains year to year. Perfection is not the blind faith in amulets and useless objects and practices that offer no proof, nor have ever worked. Had we taken the time to address the first perfection – the perfection of our truths – we would have studied more this year, discovering that amulets never once stopped a speeding car heading at an unsuspecting victim. Nor has a red thread closed a bleeding artery in an ailing patient. Checking mezuzas never once extinguished flames in a home. Nor have these practices been cited in our Rosh Hashana prayers as the correct path to God. 

Intelligence is what God gave us, and no other creation. Intelligence teaches us that these practices never worked, and never will. Intelligence demands that all we think, feel and do, must be based on proof, on reason, and not blind faith or unconfirmed beliefs.

Moses our teacher, and the teacher of all Jews and Gentiles should be followed over any other Rabbi, and certainly any other human being. He was the wisest man and the greatest prophet. His words are absolute truths, and why they form the fifth of the Five Books, the book of Deuteronomy. And Moses never told a single person to follow the foolish practices cited above and so common today in Jewish homes, temples, shuls, schools and yeshivas.

If you truly wish to be judged for good, for life, health, success and tranquility this year, you must realize that this God that is judging and sentencing you, is also the same God who created an Earthly reality that follows laws and principles. God gave us intelligence to understand these principles, to follow them alone, and to abandon everything else. If we do, we gain a good judgment, since we will be following God's will, dictated by His Torah and the earthly reality begging our attention and adherence. If however we continue to follow baseless beliefs that violate Moses’ and God’s words, we have no defense when the punishment comes. 

So contemplate all that you read this Rosh Hashana. Understand why it is only through Teshuva, Prayer and Tzedaka that we obtain a good decree. And as you do Teshuva, reflect on all your beliefs: "Are they based on Torah, or merely duplications of other Jew’s unexamined acts? Have I been diligent in Tzedaka? Have I wronged anyone? Have I sought forgiveness? Is my ego too proud? Do I drive without respect for others? Have I cheated in business? Have I spoken poorly of another? Am I out for myself first? Can I be more patient with others? Do I think about how I can help someone…even before they ask?"

"Do I live with an optimum concern for honesty ad fairness?"

We will continue this theme next week with our Rosh Hashanah issue on Wednesday. Until then, Shabbat Shalom.