Recreating Ourselves – Erev Rosh HaShannah
The idea that Rosh Hashanah is a time to focus on recreating ourselves is popular and may sound modern, but it’s not. The idea that our season of judgment and introspection grants us the opportunity to reinvent who we are can be found in our ancient sources. The Jerusalem Talmud states:
Rabbi Lazer ben Rabbi Yosa said in the name of Rabbi Yosi bar Kitsarta: Regarding all the other sacrifices the Torah states “you shall sacrifice” but in reference to Rosh Hashanah the wording is “you shall make.” God says– since you have entered before me for judgment on Rosh Hashanah and you have left in peace, I consider it as if you yourselves have been recreated as completely new. (Jerusalem Talmud RH 4:8)
The Jewish New Year is a day that combines the themes of judgment and creation. Rosh Hashanah celebrates not only the birthday of the creation of the world but holds forth the promise that we may even recreate ourselves. First, we are to be judged. Having endured our trial, we emerge fresh and with a clean slate, as though we have become newly minted human beings.
A related rabbinic tradition has it that among all the events ascribed to the date of the New Year, Rosh Hashanah is also the anniversary of the release of Joseph from prison in Egypt. This is a bit counterintuitive. One would have expected the date of Joseph’s release to have been Passover. After all, that would have appropriately foreshadowed the liberation of the entire people from slavery in Egypt years later. Instead, Joseph’s liberation from prison is assigned to Rosh Hashanah. This tells us that the New Year has the potential for freedom. Liberation from the past year, and whatever may have been holding us back. Rosh Hashanah contains within it the possibility to become something different than what we have been. Like a prisoner released from his shackles, Rosh Hashanah is meant to be an opportunity to reinvent ourselves. Yesterday, a slave in the house of Potifar. Today, the viceroy of Egypt. Last year, a prisoner of social isolation. This year, we aspire to reconnect and rebuild our community and our social lives.
For me, reinvention has much to do with the tremendous honor and privilege I’ve received in being engaged as your new rabbi. I want to thank all of you for the many contributions you made in the process. I pray I never let you down. I especially want to acknowledge your former rabbi. Justin Goldstein has been nothing less than a mentsch to me since my arrival. I am very grateful for his counsel and the gift of his continued Torah teaching at our shul. As your new rabbi, I’d like to share a bit about myself. Tomorrow, my sermon will be about my Jewish journey. The journey that has brought me here, to this warm and welcoming community. On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, I’ll shift to discussing an aspect of our shul which I find inspiring and I think could serve as our north star. For Yom Kippur, we’ll make the circle even wider, and talk about what we can learn as a society from this awful pandemic.
Rochelle, Lee, Yosefa, Wolff, Cathy and, best of all, Logan, have worked amazingly hard and, with the guidance and support of our shul leaders, committees and a legion of volunteers, have accomplished an impressive array of successes keeping our community together, supported and focused.
Of particular note is the expansion of our services, meetings and programming via zoom. The pandemic and ensuing lockdowns and social distancing may have “imprisoned” us like Joseph, but technology, ingenuity and the patience and willingness to learn new things gave us a liberating respite. I think we all realize that the multi-access Jewish community is not going away, regardless of the future public health situation. This means we will be figuring out how to take it to the next level. Baruch HaShem, today we have a community lifeline, a way to make a connection virtually when connecting in person is too challenging. For tomorrow we have to figure out how to make this a permanent and rewarding feature of what it means to participate in the life of the shul community. I plan to elaborate on this during my sermon on the second day. For now, suffice to say if we wanted to add a sin to the al het confessional, I propose “for the sin of muting ourselves.” A Jewish person should never be “muted.” It’s like depriving a fish of water or preventing birds from taking flight in the air!
Alison and I wish for all of us a hearty, happy and healthy new year. Let us also be blessed with a year of deeper connections and broader reach. A year of opportunity and growth. Let us move from strength to strength, even strengths we never knew we had. Let us recreate our CBI community and may we, in the process, set ourselves free.