ROSH HASHANAH, AS THE JEWISH NEW YEAR, MARKS A NEW BEGINNING, A FRESH START. IT IS FULL OF HOPE AND PROSPECT. BUT ROSH HASHANAH IS NOT JUST A TECHNICAL 24 HOUR TIME UNIT REPRESENTING ‘DAY ONE’ IN THE CALENDRICAL YEAR. IT IS MORE THAN…MUCH MORE.
By Rabbi Ariel Yeshurun
Rosh Hashanah, more than simply the first day in our calendar, is very much associated with personal resolution, commitment to change, setting of goals, reexamining old objectives, revisiting decisions and taking a hard look at one’s realities, circumstances and empirical environment. It is a day designated to reflect on the past, judge the present and consider the future. It is essentially and fundamentally a personal or intimate overhaul of soul, if you will, with an expectation of bouncing back as a new person.
What does it mean to become a new person? There are many synonyms to renewal: reinvigorated, restored, revived, improved, refreshed, regenerated, or reborn. How do we achieve this? What are we to implement in order to reach a state of rebirth and rejuvenation?
Let us look at the Jewish people, a nation able to survive history and remain relevant by understanding its own unique circumstances, the hard realities on the ground, the challenges of its present and the uncertainties of its future. How did the Jews do it? How did we manage to reinvent ourselves each time?
It’s called creativity. It’s called adaptability. It’s called being bold. It’s called…Chutzpah!
And here is how this philosophy unfolds in the Torah:
The wanderings of the Jews in the vast Sinai desert were an extraordinary sight to behold. They were accompanied by seven clouds of glory, a pillar of fire and the Mishkan—the Tabernacle—a magnificent portable edifice which housed the Ark of the Covenant and served as a place of worship.
The Mishkan was designed as a temporary, provisional accommodation. Its various vessels were composed in such a way as to allow for their efficient dismantling. The pieces were then loaded on the shoulders of the Levites and transported to the next prescribed spot where they were once again brought together and reassembled.
The Mishkan served as the centerpiece and focal point for the Jewish multitudes. It was there that they worshiped, studied the word G-d and were offered guidance and counsel. It was within the sacred courtyard walls of the Mishkan that they found a spiritual resort which strengthened their identity and reaffirmed their faith.
The Jewish people, although at the threshold of statehood, were still a young nation undergoing a constant process of metamorphosis from slavery to independence, from bound to liberated, from subjects of a pharaoh to masters of their own destiny. Their spiritual needs and national aspirations were continuously changing and evolving.
The more the Jewish people understood, solidified and consolidated their mission and identity, the more they realized that the goal, vision and methodologies of yesterday have to be modified to represent the new, changing environment and shifting dynamic they encountered along their journeys.
This idea of being able to revisit, take a hard look at one’s previous actions, take apart and reestablish new, current applications is figuratively brought to light through the transient and indefinite nature of the Mishkan, and it is metaphorically articulated through its constant dismantling and reassembling.
The notion that a house of worship in not to be made permanent, the conception of a structure that is to maintain its fluidity represents a beautiful perspective on how Judaism can sustain its appeal and maintain its relevance by reopening, reexamining, never changing or deviating from one iota of the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) but certainly reinventing new and exciting techniques of scholarly and academic presentation, exposing and revealing the ever relevant truths buried within its sacred words and allowing its eternal message and core values to remain actual, intellectually stimulating and emotionally engaging.
We live in a time of a deep and very real identity crisis that is plaguing our youth and afflicting their young minds and tender hearts. This is a time of grave uncertainties, and Jewish continuity is at risk. Education is, of course, the only answer. Education, in its most rudimentary definition, is about being able to transform and impart values through teaching.
Like the Mishkan—the portable sanctuary—that was repeatedly dismantled and built anew, so too Jewish education should recurrently and repeatedly be evaluated, customized and tailored to fit the heterogeneous needs of the present.
It is institutions such as Jewish schools, community centers and synagogues that are charged with securing Jewish continuity. It is incumbent on us, who have the resources and fully appreciate the magnitude of the situation, to confront it and find new and innovative ways to the hearts and souls of all those who need it and stand so much to benefit from it.
In order to implement all this we need more than just resources, we need wisdom and we need emotion. In the portion describing the artisans of the Mishkan we find the fusion of both intellect and heart expressed in G-d’s choice of the two head artificers to craft and build the entire Tabernacle-Betzalel from the tribe of Judah and Ohaliav from the tribe of Dan. G-d describes both of them as having chochmat lev or wisdom of the heart.
Elie Wiesel is known for the quote, “The study of Torah, the source of Jewish values, is the way to Jewish survival.” By doing just that, we can create a Torah environment for community enrichment and personal enlightenment, empower our youth to embrace Jewish values, and foster a sense of pride in our Jewish heritage through listening, learning and teaching.
Now go and express your G-d-given Jewish chutzpah and reinvent yourself! My wife and children join me in wishing you all a Shana Tova!