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Celebrating a New Year in a Turbulent World

Monday, 29 September, 2014 - 4:26 pm

Apple & Honey large.jpgOver the last few years and especially over the last few months we have all been inundated with a never ending stream of negative news about turmoil in the world around us. Unnecessary wars in so many places, outbreaks of Ebola in Africa, and a wave of barbaric evil and bloody violence sweeping so many parts of the Middle East. The last few months in particular have been hurtful on a more personal level, as we watched Israel deal with a three month crisis that included the kidnapping and brutal murder of three teenagers and ended with eight weeks of war. In addition, we were all witness to an almost global outpouring of Anti-Semitism that was unprecedented in recent decades.  

We hear conversations of people discussing the current state of affairs in the world, and discussing the cyclical nature of humanity and its constant cycles of wars, fighting, and evil. We hear people discussing Climate Change, Ebola and Economics, Political Polarization and lot more, and at the end of the conversations it would seem that people’s hope in man is more than a little under the weather.

Looking around the world and seeing the challenges and evil out there is definitely not easy and it can easily cause us to lose faith in humanity and in our purpose in the world. Today on Rosh Hashanah, we are going to talk about the issues, but not by focusing on the negative alone, rather we are actually going to focus on a refreshingly different aspect of the real story, as today we are here to talk about the beauty of man and the tremendous potential for good that man has.

The Beauty of Man, G-d’s Handiwork

You see, Rosh Hashanah is actually the oldest Jewish Holiday; it is the day is described in the Torah as being “Zeh Hayom Techilat Maasecha”, “This is the day of the beginning of your handiwork”. If you do some digging in the Torah, you will see that traditionally Rosh Hashanah does not actually mark the beginning of time and creation; instead Rosh Hashanah takes place and marks the 6th day of creation. This is not a delayed reaction or some kind of mistake; rather Rosh Hashanah is specifically celebrated on this day of creation and not on the first day of creation, since we are celebrating the very creation of man and humanity.  In other words, Rosh Hashanah marks the day that man was made and G-d’s agenda for the world and its linear progression now had the potential and possibility to start being implemented.

Today on Rosh Hashanah in 2014 - 5775 we too continue to remember G-d’s master plan and celebrate the confidence, trust, hope and investment that G-d placed in humanity as a whole and specifically each and every individual.

Nicholas Winton, a man who epitomized G-d’s handiwork

On the topic of Hope in the beauty of Humanity, I would like to tell you a short story about an English Gentleman, Nicholas Winton who is just over 105 years old. Nicholas was a stockbroker during his earlier years and later on was involved in care for the elderly.  Nicholas is an example of a Mentch and a refreshing example of what G-d saw in man about which it is said “Zeh Hayom Techilat Maasecha”. “this is the day of the beginning of your handiwork”.

You see, over 10,000 people who are living today owe their lives to Nicholas, since he decided to be a good human being. Nicholas wasn’t the kind of crazy person who slept on the street for a week to be the first to have the new IPhone 6 and tweet it to the world, instead Nicholas was an unassuming stockbroker in the 1930s who heard what was happening in Europe and decided to take action in Czechoslovakia to save lives of children, before it was too late.

Despite having no government assistance and working with some other volunteers, Nicholas, was able to organize seven trains which carried 669 Children to the safety of England. He didn’t have it easy, no one was cooperating, the British made it complicated to take in the children and forced him to have homes to take them in before they came, President Roosevelt politely declined and said unfortunately we can’t take any children in at this time, and he had a tremendous amount of red tape in Europe and getting things done in England. Yet Nicholas was determined and he went against the odds, and created a false office, fake papers and ended up saving the lives of 669 Jewish Children.

After the war, Nicholas slipped back into the shadows and ever spoke about it again. Yet in 1988 someone realized what happened and an event was made at which all of the children who were saved, most of whom didn’t even know by whom, were called together at an event at which he was also invited. In a moving moment which has since been shown on BBC and PBS, everyone in the room whose life had been saved by this man was asked to rise. The whole entire room rose, leaving Nicholas along with his wife as the only seated people in this big room. The unassuming gentleman cried as he met people whose lives he had saved alomost fifty years earlier.

Nicholas didn’t like the attention, the subsequent honors and knighthood that he has received, and says he did what he had to and that’s it. In a closing sentence in his PBS Interview, Nicholas states, that too much emphasis on the past is no good, as more importantly, it’s the emphasis on the future that is important.

Nicholas is a story that is now known and publicized, but it is only a tip of the iceberg of the amount of good out there in the world which in truth is actually the majority of what is happening out there. While negative news items are real issues and definitely appear to be winning the headline battle, the good news and reality on the ground is actually the silent and larger majority of what is happening in this world.

What does this mean to us?

On Rosh Hashanah as we think about “Zeh Hayom Techilat Maasecha”. “This is the day of the beginning of your handiwork”, and reflect on our own role in G-d’s world, there are many thoughts and dynamics that come to mind.

GenericThere are the global dynamic of big issues, corrupt governments, world bodies and organizations, wars and terror, and so many other huge issues that seem very hard to change from our own small vantage point. Then there are the individual and personal dynamics of our own lives and the lives of our family members, where our choices, actions and decisions seem to play a much greater and much more personal role.

On Rosh Hashanah as we reflect on the past and contemplate the future, one of the questions we ask ourselves, is, is it possible to make a difference in the world and create change beyond our own small world?

A lesson from Swimming

During the summer I went swimming with my children on multiple occasions. One day while we were in a small swimming pool, I decided to make it a little extra fun for them by trying to roughen up the water a little bit and try and make some waves in the pool. I showed my kids the calm waters of the swimming pool, and then showed them how by holding onto the sides of the swimming pool and pushing back and forth together we could start creating some momentum and small waves. Within two minutes, what started as small ripples turned into small sized choppy waves that spanned the breadth and length of the pool, and formed an extra fun space to swim for a few minutes. My kids loved it and it was well worth the small amount of exertion.

In addition, in a few short moments we had seen that if we want to make some movement on the other side of the pool, it all begins by making some small movements with our own bodies. Then, slowly but surely our own bodies will cause the water around us to begin to move and flow differently, and eventually enough movement and energy can be formed that will cause waves even on the far side of the pool.

What needs changing?

As we think about the issues that humanity and the world face, many large, real and powerful issues come to mind, yet 99% of us are not in the kinds of leadership positions that can make the policy or big changes that are needed for so many of these situations. Thus we are usually left hanging and feeling helpless in what we can and can’t do. We can either give up at being able to make a difference altogether, or if we are lucky enough, at times we can vote and campaign on the issues, or sometimes we don’t give up  altogether and instead turn to prayer and good wishes out of a lack of being able to do anything else for the situation.

Yet in truth, for most of us to be able to make a difference, there is another element that we can include which goes back to my wave making experience in the swimming pool.

If we want to bring waves of positive change to humanity and the world around us, if we want to fight the evil that is out there and make a difference in bettering the world, then it all starts by making our movements in our own life first. Once we make the first movements, then the little ripple effects will start to come, and slowly bigger waves of change will start to move with their own momentum, slowly but surely reaching an ever wider array of people and places.  Every small personal positive action and Mitzvah are slowly making a permanent dent in the world and are forming part of a spiritual momentum of change and improvement that can never be undone, as unlike my wave pushing experiment which was unnoticeable after just a few minutes had passed, our Mitzvot and morally correct choices, leave a lasting and eternal imprint on the spiritual and moral fabric of the world around us.

Making waves isn’t easy, and including change and a push for gradual improvement in our lives can be challenging. At times it may require hard work, stamina, moral strength and clarity, and the willingness to sometimes be required to swim upstream and go against the flow.  Making waves is not a piece of cake, but moving our own body and life is the first step in moving the waters around us. We are guaranteed that by doing so, the positive ripple effects of our actions will reach far away and beyond a place that we could ever hope to personally make a difference.

What are the Changes?

What does wave making and personal positive actions actually mean and how do we incorporate these ideas and make it part of our reality?

The Moral Dimension

Obviously, accomplishing this goal is a multi-pronged approach and it all starts with simply being a Mentch, acting like a good person, a kind person, a generous person, a caring person, an honest person, and the willingness to go the extra mile for our fellow.

The unique Jewish Dimension

Yet then as Jews, we have been given some other responsibilities and tools that enable us to strengthen ourselves, that provide our values and morals with an anchor and stabilizing force, and that enable us to have a deep, meaningful action based relationship with G-d and the world around us. These responsibilities are known as Mitzvos and they include obligations to our fellow man and obligations to G-d. Between them, G-d has provided us with the ultimate wave making machine in the world, and has placed at our fingertips the ability to make the greatest difference to the world around us.  Sometimes it is very apparent how these actions are making a difference to the world around us and sometimes the actions may be about bettering one’s own spiritual self, which in turn will empower you to make those actions and waves to the world around us.

On Rosh Hashanah as we think about G-d’s trust and investment in man, it is not just something that we remember as a historic event, rather as Sir Nicholas said so well, it is what we think about as we reflect on the past in order to better the future. On Rosh Hashanah we need to remind ourselves, of G-d’s investment in Man and in the World around us, and the most important moments of time in our lives is the now and the future. We remind ourselves that our destiny is in our hands, and yes the ability to live up to G-d’s investment in us and in the world around us, is at our fingertips.

As we prepare to blow the Shofar, and think about our relationship with G-d and with our loved ones and the world around us, let us remember that the greatest change and improvement that we can bring to the world, starts with the actions, Mitzvot and changes for the good that we make in our own personal lives. Let us think about a Mitzvah or two that we can take on that will help be our wave of goodness to ourselves, our family, and that will provide a great return on G-d’s investment in our lives.

Shabbat

Celebrating the beauty of Shabbat takes a small commitment and it definitely requires you make a move in your own life. Yet by doing so and creating a spiritual space once a week in our lives, be it for an hour as we sit down and have a traditional Shabbat meal with no electronic distractions, or deciding to attend synagogue on Shabbat as part of our routine, are an example of a real action that require a self-push, it requires some thinking out of the box, and it requires perseverance and it requires determination. Yet as we succeed in incorporating some of the beauty of Shabbat in our lives, we will not only enjoy it and love the serenity and peacefulness of what Shabbat introduces to our lives, we will have also made a large spiritual ripple in the world around us that is much larger than our own little personal world.

Likewise with any other Jewish commitment which requires a push and drive, they all require work, and commitment, yet by doing so we are making a ripple not only in our own lives, but also in the world around us.

Making Torah study a fixture of our life and deciding to attend classes, is a real commitment, yet the spiritual knowledge and awareness that one will gain, is well worth the investment of time and effort that it takes. Likewise, attending prayers, committing to wear the Tefillin once a week and saying the Shema, are also commitments that require us to push back and get ourselves used to including these things in our lives. Yet once again, the investment is well worth it, as we will not only begin to appreciate and enjoy it ourselves, we will also be making a difference to the world around us.

Summary

Rosh Hashanah, “Zeh Hayom Techilat Maasecha”. “this is the day of the beginning of your handiwork”. It is all about G-d’s hope in Man, it is all about how we can live up to that hope, and it is all about how we can help cause momentum of good and change in our own lives and in the world around us. Today let us think about G-d, let us think about how we can highlight G-d’s investment in us, and let us be a part of the celebration of Rosh Hashanah and man’s relationship with G-D.

It may be something different, it may be unchartered territory, it may be a little bit of a jump and leap forward, yet I encourage you to go for it and consider taking on an extra Mitzvah that is about you and G-d and an extra Mitzvah that directly affects your relationship with your fellow man. Together we can do it and shake up the world in a good way!

Shana Tova

 

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