Rosh Hashana 5780: Rabbi David Aladjem
Rosh Hashanah – 5780
L’Shana tova – May this be a good and sweet New Year, for us and for all the world!
Last fall, on Rosh Hashanah, we offered each other that same greeting. But this past year was a hard year for our community. I don’t need to tell you that; you know it in your bones and in your kishkes, in the pits of your stomachs.
The images of this past year are indelibly etched in our minds and in our souls.
Kids in cages
The slur of being called “disloyal”
The embrace of anti-Semitism by the far right and the far left.
And the list could go on and on.
I don’t want to dwell on the year that is past but, as we turn into the new year, we cannot forget what has happened. NY Times columnist Bari Weiss recently wrote that we in the North American diaspora thought that we had outrun bigotry and hatred. This past year, though, she said, brought it home to her – and to me – that we still have work to do. And while this year has been painful, we must remember that we have allies, both here in Davis and around the world. We are not alone. And, to quote Dr. King, of blessed memory: “we shall overcome.”
One morning, when I was feeling particularly down, I started praying a very familiar prayer, Modeh Ani. Please join me. You can find it on page 68.
Modeh ani lifnecha, Ruach Chai v’kayam.
Shechechzarta bi nishmati b’chemlah. Rabba emunatecha.
I give thanks to You, Everlasting Spirit of Life.
You have returned my soul to me with compassion. Great is Your faith in me.
And then my eyes and heart opened. Each phrase of that prayer suddenly had deep meaning.
Modeh ani lifnecha.
We stand in this moment in a place of pure gratitude, in the Presence of our Beloved. Ani l’Dodi v’Dodi li.
Just take a moment, if you feel so called – right now – and feel deep gratitude. It doesn’t matter whether you’re grateful for a nice dinner, for family and friends, or that the air conditioning/heating is working. Just feel gratitude, for it is the way that we can turn our lives and – dare I say – our world around. This is the way that we can make teshuvah – turning – and embrace all that is good in our world. This is the way that we will have the strength to repair all that is broken.
And part of this gratitude is knowing that we are not alone. We stand lifanecha, literally face to face, with the Divine. Even when we feel overwhelmed, even when we feel despair, we can remember this simple lesion: we are not alone. G’d said to Moses at the Burning Bush and says to each of us every day: I will be with you.
Ruach chai v’kayam.
Everlasting Spirit of Life. As a rabbi, I’ve learned that I’m supposed to understand G’d and then – on top of it – explain G’d to anyone who asks. Good luck with that!
Let me tell you, I don’t understand G’d. What I do understand – because I have seen it so many times in my life – is that there is a force for good and compassion and love in this world. It is the Spirit that leads people to risk our lives for others. It is the Spirit that leads us to be gentle and patient and loving even when we feel rotten inside. And in moments when we feel down – as I did that one morning – it is that Spirit of love and compassion that lifts us up and shows us the beauty of this world. It tells us: “open your eyes.” And our response – dating back from Abraham, is hineni: “Here I am.”
Shechechezart bi nishmati b’chemlah.
You return my soul to me with compassion.
Amazing things happen when gratitude is combined with love and compassion. With those qualities supporting us, we can become the people whom we are meant to be. Our souls return to us; our dreams return to us, our spirits and joys return to us. And buoyed with this consciousness, we truly can fly. As the Torah teaches us, when we left Egypt, G’d lifted us up on eagles’ wings and brought us to the place where we could truly be ourselves, where we could be free to live our lives, souls touching souls and hands holding hands, filled with love.
And suddenly that one morning that started in despair, I felt better.
But then, I asked myself, what about the last phrase – rabba emunatecha – great is Your faith in us? Might the prayer have gotten it wrong? Shouldn’t this be that our faith in G’d is great, not G’d’s faith in us?
This prayer is intentionally subversive. It tells us that, regardless of all the pain of this past year, regardless of how we may feel at this moment on the threshold of the new year, regardless of how we have missed the mark in this past year, that G’d’s faith in us, G’d’s confidence and love in us, is without bounds. There is nothing we can do to destroy that faith, no matter how many times we stumble and fall. As Rabbi Rami Shapiro puts it: “ we are loved by an undying and everlasting love.” And that love does not die; that love does not judge. Again, we are not alone.
Being a rabbi, though, I was curious about this notion that G’d has faith in us. Where did it come from and what can it teach us?
It turns out that the phrase rabba emunatecha occurs only one time in the Bible, in Eicha, in the Book of Lamentations that traditionally is ascribed to the Prophet Jeremiah. Tradition teaches us that Jeremiah wrote Lamentations as he watched the destruction of the First Temple more than 2,500 years ago. If there ever was a time when events were more dire than they were today (thank G’d), it was after the destruction of the First Temple. And so, I thought, maybe Jeremiah has something to teach us today.
And he does.
Jeremiah taught (Lam. 3:18-22):
I said that my strength and my hope had been destroyed
Recalling my pain and my restlessness
Made my heart ache
Made my soul hollow.
But hope will return to my heart
G’d’s compassion has no end
G’d’s kindness does not cease.
They renew the world each morning
Great is Your faith in us.
And how did Jeremiah come to this stunning conclusion? Rashi – R’Shlomo ben Yitzchak, the preeminent 11th century commentator – gives us a hint. In describing G’d’s faith in us, Rashi doesn’t use the Hebrew word for “faith” – emunah – but instead uses two forms of the Hebrew word for “trust”: bitachon.
Put simply, G’d trusts us – in the end – to be able to right our world. Once we recognize that we – all of our society and all of humanity – have missed the mark, we have the tools and the strength to be able to turn things around. G’d will be there with us, providing us with the strength and hope that are essential to that task. G’d will be there with us, lifting us up on eagles’ wings, giving us the vision that we need to make a difference. And G’d has trust in us that, with this support, we will be able to make a difference and repair the world. Tikkun Olam is rooted, therefore, in G’d’s trust in us and our trust that G’d will be there with us when we face difficult times. As the Holy Blessed One said to Moses at the Burning Bush: “ I will be with you.” We are not alone.
Just think of this . . . G’d trusts us to know enough, to feel enough and to be enough that we will be able to address any problems in this world.
When the scouts first visited the Promised Land, most of them came back to Moses and said “we are like grasshoppers and they are like giants. We just can’t enter the Promised Land.” But Caleb and Joshua said, “we can do it.” G’d is telling us on this first day of the year: “You can do it.” And when you have doubts, remember, “I will be with you” and “You are not alone.”
A new year is always a challenge. We know what has happened and maybe, just maybe, we have some ideas of what could be better, what could be different in the year to come. But there is always some doubt that we will be able to make the changes that are needed to grow in the new year. Will we have the stamina, the strength, the courage to live into our real selves? Or will we fall back into our old ways, our old habits, where we are both comfortable and not truly ourselves?
Jeremiah tells us that we can change; indeed, that we must change. G’d is trusting us to change, to become the people that G’d dreamt of when each of us was born. It has been a hard year but that year is over. The question for us is whether we can trust in G’d – and in ourselves – to renew our lives and live into our dreams.
As Hillel said, if we are not for ourselves, who will be for us? If we are not for others – for all the inhabitants of this small globe – who are we? And if not now, when?
The time, my holy friends, is now.
May we – together – make 5780 a year where G’d’s trust in us is repaid tenfold, where we trust in ourselves and in each other, and – together with all whom we know – repair the hurts of this past year, giving ourselves and all the world new life. And then we will be able to say – next Rosh Hashanah, that 5780 was a very good year.
Keyn y’hi ratzon, may this truly be G’d’s will.