Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 77

August 27, 2021

Why Not Now?

Dear Holy Friends,

This past Shabbat, it was wonderful to be back in the sanctuary with a minyan and to be able to pray and read Torah together again as a community. Tomorrow, we will be back in the synagogue yet again and I hope that our in-person services will continue to bring a greater sense of “normality” to the community.

The in-person service will feature an abbreviated Torah reading, the recitation of Kedusha during the Amidah, and a light Kiddush. For safety purposes, we ask you to be masked and fully vaccinated to adhere to standard Covid protocols. Of course, services will continue to be broadcast over Zoom using our regular prayer service link.

As I composed this article, we are just a handful of days away from the celebration of Rosh HaShannah 5782!

As you were likely taught in Hebrew school, Rosh HaShannah is the first of the Ten Days of Repentance, which conclude on Yom Kippur. During this period, Jewish people around the world engage in a period of self-reflection referred to as Chesbon HaNefesh. We consider our achievements and our shortcomings, while asking those around us for forgiveness. At the conclusion of this process, we pray we are inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.

Nonetheless, the Gemara (Rosh HaShannah 16b) offers a much different interpretation of how this process should be approached. The text shares that on the very first day of the New Year, our greetings to each other should read, “May you be inscribed in the book of life immediately.” If that were the case, however, what should be of the Ten Days of Repentance?

None of the prayers in the Machzor for Rosh HaShannah, with one brief exception, address the idea of transgression. The Rabbis teach that the concepts of repentance and Cheshbon Hanefesh are processes available to us during the entire year and that the month of Elul simply offers us a focal point to “put our house in order,” immediately. Many prayers in our daily service, and the Amidah, in particular, address such concepts as sin, Mitzvah, forgiveness and spiritual return to God and our Jewish values.

Furthermore, in Pirke Avoth we read, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” This Mishnah encourages us to do our diligent work immediately.

My prayer for us all, as individuals and as a community, is that we can utilize these days, even before the holiday season, to get through our process of return. It is not that we will forgo the opportunities afforded to us during the Ten Days of Repentance, but rather, that we can accomplish so much in the immediate.

Can we challenge ourselves during Elul, even before Yuntif, to find one extra Mitzvah to which to commit? Can we challenge ourselves to find one more person to help? Can we challenge ourselves to find one opportunity to make our shul, our community, and the world a better place?

If we can actively engage successfully in this challenge over the next couple of weeks, we will be able to join in prayer on Rosh HaShannah, as a holy congregation, and say with great confidence to each other, “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life immediately!”

Let’s make it happen!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD
201 562 5277

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