I Learned Something Recently

From Steve Kramer

I have learned something recently that has changed my view of Rosh Hashanah. For me, it has become one of the most meaningful and important Jewish holidays.

My new understanding of the holiday started with an article by Rabbi Asher Resnick that pointed out three facts about Rosh Hashanah and asked, “How can these things be true?”

The first fact: Rosh Hashanah, not Yom Kippur, is the Day of Judgment. On Rosh Hashanah, all our names are written in the book of life or the book of death–although the decision can be changed by Yom Kippur.

The second fact: According to the Talmud, on Rosh Hashanah we are judged not on our entire lives or our past year, but on what we do on that day, Rosh Hashanah itself. The proof text comes from today’s Torah portion, when Abraham’s son Ishmael cried out to God, and “God heard the voice of the lad where he was.” The Talmud says, based on this, that “A person is not judged on Rosh Hashanah except according to his actions of that exact moment.

Third: Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement, comes after the Day of Judgment, not before.

How can this be? On Rosh Hashanah, how is it fair to be judged now, for our actions today, and before we have had a chance to atone?

Here is the insight: Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of the completion of creation. That is, it celebrates the sixth day, when humanity was created. It celebrates the one thing that makes people unique: our free will, our ability to choose between good and evil. Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of free will.

Unlike our souls, which can be dinged up and sullied by our actions throughout the year, our free will exists only in the current moment, right now. The sound of the shofar tells us: wake up, because right now you have a choice. Right now, you have free will. Your past doesn’t control you: whether you have done good or evil in the past, right now you have the freedom to choose good.

Rabbi Resnick explains why Yom Kippur comes after Rosh Hashanah with this analogy: If your car is dinged up and dented because of a year of bad driving, it makes sense first to decide to change your driving habits, and then to go to the body shop to get the dents removed. On Rosh Hashanah, we decide how we want to drive our souls during the coming year. Then, on Yom Kippur we clean up whatever mess we have made in the past year.

The Torah says,” I have set before you this day life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore choose life.” Rosh Hashanah gives me this gift: the free will to make of myself who I will be next year. I believe that I can’t choose good if I work alone. I need to build a holy community. As co-President of CJC, one way I will build my life in the coming year is by building my Columbia Jewish Community. CJC’s theme for this year is building a Chevra Kedosha, a holy community. The new year is the time to think about many things. One question I would like you to ask is : How do I want to be part of this Columbia Jewish Community next year? Every hand is welcome. Every hand strengthens our community.

We don’t charge dues anymore. Our community has a voluntary dues structure: each of us gives what they think is appropriate. The board does provide us all a “sustainability amount”, an estimate of what an average member would need to pay in order to keep the congregation healthy and thriving. For those of you who are members, my co-President Fred and I wrote you an email last week, explaining that pledges are below the sustainability average. The new year is a good time to review your financial plans for next year and to decide how you might help. Some of us will be able to increase our pledges. To meet our budget obligations for this year, we need enough people to increase their pledges so that the average increase is 15%. Others of us will volunteer more and participate more and help run new programs, strengthening the community that way. Some of us will spread the word and help welcome new members to our community. Please review your emails for what we sent you, because now is a good time to decide what we will do. Call me at home (410)461-5245 or on my cell (443)681-8444 if you have any questions.

For folks reading who are not members: wherever you are on your Jewish journey, you are welcome here. Join us. As you exercise your free will and decide who you want to be in this new year, know that we will be here to join with you and work together to build a holy community. The more active I have become in Columbia Jewish Community, the more I have gained. I hope you will find that this is true for you as well.

L’Shana Tova: have a sweet, happy and especially a good new year. And remember, today we are given this gift to choose what kind of year we want to create.