Rosh Hashannah 5772
THE HUMAN EYE -- THE DIVINE EYE
On Rosh HaShana it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed.… Who shall live and who shall die; Who in their time and who not in their time; … Who will be poor And who will be rich; Who will be degraded And who will be exalted.
But teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer) and tzedakah (charity and other acts of kindness) have the power to transform the harshness of the decree [From the liturgy of the High Holidays]
“I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing. But the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives that span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant. Do you understand what I am saying? A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life.” [ The Chosen by Chaim Potok]
The mantra that on RH our destiny is foretold and written and on YK is a stark reminder that we are all too often at the mercy of forces that we cannot control. There is a tension between this perception of victimhood and the ability to control our own destiny.
In the Chosen, David Malter tells his son Reuven that the human life is no more than the blink of an eye. His point is that we are here today and gone not only by tomorrow, but at times even by today. As my grandmother was won't to say, kain abigheit iz nisht duh, nothing is forever. We are all painfully aware that our lives can change in the proverbial blink of an eye whether through strokes, heart failure, auto accidents or other catastrophes. Mortality is the essence of the human condition.
David Malter also reminds his son that the eye that blinks, that is something. We are obviously mortal, but there are contexts in which we can control our lives. Following the harsh reminder that our destiny is determined by Divine decree, we recite: teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer) and tzedakah (charity and other acts of kindness) have the power to transform the harshness of the decree, and these three areas are under our personal control.
Teshuvah is the existential challenge to turn our eyes upon ourselves and ask such questions: have I been honest in my dealings with others; have I been sensitive to the pain of others? Have I been a mentsch - a proper human being?
Tefillah is not merely raising our voice in prayer and turning our eyes heavenward, it is hopefully a forceful reminder of our finitude and an antidote to the all too human propensity for hubris. Prayer, at best, enables us to view our place in the scheme of things with appropriate humility. It is the essential precondition guiding us to engage in acts of tzedakah.
Tzedakah is not only giving charity (which is not only noble but mandated), it is also a commitment to gemilut chasadim – to acts of loving-kindness. The mandate of gemilut chasadim is to reach out to others. Each such deed affirms our commitment to the teaching that we are all created in the Divine image and are responsible to -and for - one another
Acts of gemilut chasadim include caring for the poor, respecting parents and by extension the elderly whether in our family or anyone who may cross our path. (In all Israeli busses there is a sign with the Biblical quotation, You shall rise before the elderly.)
Our lives may be no more than the blink of the eye, but while our eyes blink, we are commanded not to avert our gaze from those in need, from the vulnerable in our midst through material help, love and even simple encouragement. Then even as we do not avert our gaze from others, we can rightfully pray that God will not avert His gaze from us. It is this spirit that we pray that God will remember us for life and inscribe us in the book of good life.
From the holy city of Jerusalem, Rae joins me in wishing all a shanah tovah u’metukah – a good and sweet year, a year of good health, of good tidings, of material wellbeing, of gratifying accomplishments and of significant progress toward peace.
Rabbi Arnold M. Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar
Ahavath Achim Synagogue
Atlanta, Georgia 30327
September 27, 2011
29 Elul 5771