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A word to the wise


Shanah Tovah!  Have a good year! But the word shanah means more than year in Hebrew. It means both to change and repeat. Without a doubt, this Rosh Hashana, this New Year and the six months leading up to it has and continues to put us, and indeed the world, through profound changes. 

We are, for the first time since the bombing of Pearl Harbor, fighting a war for our lives on our home front. It is World War III of the Covid virus. Yes, so much has changed these past months from hugging each other, kissing each other and wishing each other a Shabbat Shalom to now expressing our love, appreciation and affection for one another on our computers, and Apple TVs courtesy of Zoom. 

But just as shanah —  year, means change, in fact a change that has not only come to the world of religion, but to the arena of finance. And so today, one’s wealth and prosperity are oftentimes defined, not by the money in the bank or the size of one’s stock portfolio, but by the amount of toilet paper they have stockpiled in their basement. And most assuredly for many of us, our interest in the world of science and medicine has gone through a profound transformation as we hang on every word coming from the CDC, Dr. Jen and Dr. Fauci.  In addition to the way we have changed the words we sign off, be it in our conversations or in our letters now it is with the words: be safe, be healthy and the new mantra that many of us have adopted is “Follow the Science.”

The medical profession and scientific community advise us to have a yearly check-up and visit our family physician who will administer the appropriate tests and provide us with a report on the state of our health. It is also suggested that we go for our yearly physical at a set time each and every year, be it on our birthday, or any other day that is significant to us, so we may consistently take stock of our physical health and plan a course of action to help ensure our well-being for the coming year.

Now, our rabbis describe Rosh Hashana as the time for our yearly spiritual check-up. On Rosh Hashana we evaluate the state of our spiritual health, and in a manner of speaking, we submit ourselves to a series of “religious tests.” They reflect the second meaning of the word shanah which means to repeat year after year no matter the changes of the past or this profound time of change in which we live. This is reflected in our prayers from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur. 

To begin, the central theme of these holy days from their beginnings and has remained constant is to choose life, embrace every moment of life as precious as a gift not to be taken for granted.  During these past days as we would turn on the TV in the morning and listen to the news broadcasts every night that reported the casualties of the day on the battlefield against the Covid virus, this message became more and more urgent and touched our very souls. 

Since the first High Holy Days celebrated by the rabbis, this imperative to appreciate every day, every moment was captured in the prayer, Hayom, sung so beautifully by our cantor: “Hayom Hayom Hayom” —  “Today Today Today” — to express the urgency of the moment. The Unetaneh Tokef which poses the question, what awaits us in the coming year, provides us with a direction to turn to avert and temper judgements severe decree as we ask: “How shall we be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for another year of goodness and life?” —  The answer is the CPR of Judaism. And what does it say Tzedakah, Charity; Tefilah, Prayer; and Teshuvah,  Repentance.

The CPR of Judaism could turn things in our favor for the coming year. Also, during these daunting times, the sound of the Shofar is a medley of optimism. Putting a mask over the opening of the Shofar, in a sense silencing its breath, is a reminder of the George Floyds and those who are victims of systemic racism and what God demands of us to erase the hate from our nation and our world. This is our mission. This is what makes us “God’s Chosen People” and “A light unto the nations of the world.”

Rabbi Rosenbaum leads Temple Israel of Lawrence.