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"Tosh Hashanah" Comes Early This Year  #619

03/20/2020 05:45:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

"Rosh Hashanah" Comes Early this Year

Each year, perhaps a week before the coming of Rosh Hashanah, I seclude myself, and before putting fingers to the keyboard ask myself:

"What words can I share to inspire people to take stock of their lives, to embrace what is precious, and to let go of that which weighs them down?"

Sometimes, once shared, these words touch a chord. Other times, while they are usually based in good theology, they fail to inspire a change in action.


Perhaps it's because once Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur pass, it is too easy to slip back into old routines and habits. As they say within the "recovery" community: New habits only become possible when you make a change in "people, faces and things."

But here we are facing a crisis of body and soul, as we stand in the eye of coronavirus hurricane, uncertain, but hopeful, that the dire predictions of many experts do not come true.

Are you thinking about your life, and the lives of those around you?

Are you cherishing the blessings which surround you each day?

Are you feeling your mortality?

Then welcome to the "real" Jewish new year, which next Wednesday evening will be arriving — exactly when we need it the most.

Known as Shabbat HaChodesh — Sabbath of "the month," this Shabbat is special within our tradition.

What month are we talking about? It is the Sabbath that precedes one of the first uniquely Jewish commandments in the entire Torah.

Next Wednesday will mark the beginning of the month of Nissan — referred to in the Torah as Aviv.

So what is the big deal?

Just prior to Nissan — the month of Passover — we, as a people, were freed from Egyptian slavery. Surrounded by plagues, we embraced our liberty and became a free nation.

It is, as many rabbis note, the "true" Jewish new year. The Talmud quotes the Sage, Rabbi Yochanan, who taught that becoming a free identifiable nation served to launch the Jewish people. Hence, it is the true Jewish new year.

The Torah tells us that God declared, "This month (Aviv) shall be unto you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you." (Exodus 12:2)

So, here we are again — in many ways enslaved and isolated — but in other ways, more of a solid community than ever.

Indeed, during this time of restriction and limited movement, as we avoid a current plague of Biblical proportions, we are all questioning the future, while embracing the positive aspects of who we are.

Friends, we have no way of knowing what the future will bring. We are all nervous, concerned and apprehensive.

But, if this crisis were to miraculously end right now, let us consider what we will have gained.

No sports, more family time.

Less traveling to work, more hours with family.

No overtime at the office, more meals, conversations and thoughts shared in person with others.

It is also interesting as we become a virtual synagogue, that more people are "attending" religious services than ever. We will be lighting Shabbat candles this evening at 6:45 pm followed by streaming Friday night services.

More than 20 persons joined us Thursday morning — from Florida to Westchester — as we prayed together via Zoom and Facebook.

What can we learn from that?

Some of you have shared that you are now going on family picnics, taking more walks, and finally downloading or deleting those thousands of photos on your phone.

There has been a lot of sharing of memories, spending quality time together and reflecting upon the present and future.

In many ways, we are following a message often so hard to absorb on Rosh Hashanah: We are mortal. We need to make the most of our time. Family centers us, friends balance us — and life is too short to sweat the small stuff.

These are indeed uncertain times. In spite of our most optimistic hopes we are a bit frightened of the unknown.

But within this uncertainty, one of Judaism's central questions is percolating within so many: How can we make more of our lives and our relationships?

To paraphrase the great Sage, the Vilna Gaon, who taught 250 years ago: "The goal of life is to make ourselves into something better."

And sometimes we need a little uncertainty, a little reality to make that happen.

Rosh Hashanah comes on the first day of Tishrei — usually in September and commemorates the creation of humanity. Tishrei is the seventh month of the Jewish year.

But the first day of Nissan, which arrives this Wednesday evening, reminds us at the outset of the Jewish journey, to cherish life the ultimate gift granted to us as individuals, and as a people.

And, in order for freedom to continue to dwell in our midst, it must be threatened from time to time.

So, let us use these days to note and appreciate the gifts afforded to us. Let us be thankful, let us embrace what is precious, let us remember what a privilege it is to be alive and to be free.

It's a time to cherish the breath within us, to be mindful of our health and our fragility, to protect the safety of those around us especially strangers, and to reflect upon the fact that freedom and security can never be assured.

During this, Shabbat HaChodesh, the Sabbath of "the month," let us use this time to recognize the value of the solitude and the blessings of family and friends.

For we are all in this together.

And together, we will make it to the other side.

Shabbat Shalom, v'ol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Tue, June 2 2020 10 Sivan 5780