Rosh Hashanah is the day when we gaze upon the sunset of a year gone by; a year filled with so much universal pain and upheaval; a year riddled with so much chaos, turmoil and tribulation; a year in which yet more lives were devastated by the treacherous arm of terror; a year in which many will have experienced individual pain and personal loss; a year in which the very existence of Israel still lives under constant threat.
But it is also a day in which we stand on the threshold of a new beginning – as we ponder the year ahead. A day in which we dare to catch a glimpse of a new horizon filled with hopes, promises and greater prospects; a horizon beckoning with new opportunities, deeper fulfilment, and positive growth and development; a horizon that will replace though never quite compensate all the sorrow and suffering with serenity and tranquillity.
On Rosh Hashanah we blow the Shofar to summon us back to reality as we look to leave whatever negativity we may have been mired in during this past year and aspire to new heights and positivity in the coming year.
But in order to evolve from our current standing to something even more vibrant and dynamic – in order to develop from what we have become to what we ought to be – in order to improve upon our present disposition to become greater than the limitations of our imagination we need to take risks – we need to take chances – we need to dare. Our lives improve only when we take chances – and the first and most difficult risk we can take is to be honest with ourselves.
To be honest with yourself means to dare ask yourself that which G-d asked Adam 5777 years ago – “ayekah – where are you?” To be honest with yourself means to take the chance of reflecting in the mirror of your life beyond your material exterior and into the depths of your soul. To be honest with yourself means recognising that when you say “I can’t” what you really mean is “I won’t” and then dare to do.
Rabbis tend to find themselves in unusual circumstances where they have to sometimes make on the spot decisions. I found myself in one such situation a little while back when I attended a funeral. The man was a Holocaust survivor, one of the kinder-transport. I’m always a little overwhelmed when dealing with that sort of situation, filled with a deep sense of awe and humility in the presence of such unique individuals. Only this one came with an added emotional twist. His son approached me with an envelope and a pair of tiny, ever so tiny bright red shoes. The envelope contained letters written by the mother of the deceased – detailing everything that was going on in her life until her deportation, never to be heard from again. The shoes had also amazingly been retrieved after the war – they belonged to a younger sister of the deceased who perished as well. The request of this son was that these items be buried with his father. Some Rabbis present hummed and hawed but as someone whose mother was one of the “hidden children” during the war, I appreciated how these artefacts were more than just precious to this man – they were an integral part of his whole identity – and I said an emphatic yes. They were placed in the earth next to the coffin. The image of those tiny red shoes being put into the sand will be one of those things that remain permanently etched in my memory. It was like a piece of painful history being laid to rest at last.
But with that came an altogether different kind of realisation. Those little red shoes – they never had a chance in life. They never saw the inside of a Jewish school. They never experienced the interior of a shul. They never relished in the kaleidoscopic experience of Jewish living. They never knew what it really meant to live as a Jew. They only knew what it meant to die as a Jew. Who knew then that Jewish life would be restored? Who knew then that from the ruins we would rebuild once more? Who would dare imagine then that Jewish life could thrive once more? Who would dare dream that we would be able to have our own state – a place to once again call home? When you think about it in context, it’s nothing short of a miracle that we are able to join here celebrating life – Jewish life – just a mere seventy years on. And each and every one of us sitting here is very much a part of that miracle.
But that miracle came to be on account of those who were willing to take risks; on account of people who believed in the future and dared to make it real. Today we can bear witness to the end result of taking such risks as Judaism thrives once more.
You and me – in order to experience miracles in our lives we have to be prepared to take risks – in order to grow from where we are to where we know we ought to be. But you’ll never leave where you are until you decide where you’d rather be. When G-d challenged Adam, and by extension all mankind: “Ayekah – where are you?” What He was effectively saying is go in search of yourself, for self-discovery is the secret ingredient that fuels the daring.
Sure you could play it safe. But safe is what defines and personifies the characterless of our universe. Safety keeps you numb. It means you can’t mess it up. It also means you can’t be great. In fact safety is the most unsafe spiritual path you can take. If you play it safe in life you’ve decided that you don’t want to grow anymore. For indeed when we hold back on life, life holds back on us.
Granted sometimes we feel s’shver tzu zein a Yid – it’s so hard, so difficult, so painful, so burdensome, so overwhelming. Sometimes the Divine hand that weaves the tapestry of our lives seems so out of sync with our own life’s plan and model. Sometimes it is seemingly out of our hands – plain and simply put we cannot beat the system. But you know what: If you expect the world to be fair with you just because you are fair, you’re fooling yourself. That’s like expecting the lion not to eat you because you didn’t eat him. Taking risks means to do what is right not what is easy. Just see whatever the stumbling blocks as stepping stones and summon the courage to move forward. Courage doesn’t mean you don’t get afraid. Courage means you don’t let your fear stop you and you take the risks regardless.
We must resolve that even as we find life sometimes difficult we must know it is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult. We must resolve that even as we find that one added undertaking threatening we must know that every shot we don’t take is a guaranteed miss. We must resolve that even as we find reaching beyond our comfort zone too risky we must know that if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more because you make a living by what you get but you make a life by what you give.
On Rosh Hashanah we must dare to exhale the past and inhale the future. We must change the inner attitudes of our minds whereby we can then change the outer aspects of our lives and in turn we can then change our world for the good for better forever.
May we indeed all be blessed to be inscribed and sealed in the book of life, love and laughter – for a truly happy, healthy and prosperous year ahead – a Shana Tova uMetukah – in all the material and spiritual dimensions of our lives.