ToraHighlights: On the eve of the New Year translator and CEO of mutual blessing edition, Pastor Ursula Sieg and I welcome with gratitude the first shipment of my new book ToraHighlghts. We pray that the short commentaries it contains on each weekly Torah portion will bring insight and blessings to many people in the NewYear.
In just hours, now, Rosh Hashanah arrives
For me that is the most important time in the year to remember the teaching of Rabbi Simcha Bunam, an 18th-19th C. Hasidic leader in Poland: Each of us should have two pockets, In each we should carry a different quotation.
When we feel puffed up and full of pride, may we pull from one pocket a note that reads, “I am but dust and ashes!” In the other pocket, when we feel that our efforts futile and have no consequence, let a note read: “For my sake the world was created.”
During the month of Elul we have, hopefully, dedicated our thoughts to examining our actions and thoughts during the past year with the goal of becoming kinder and more caring in the year ahead. If our self-scrutiny is honest we know that there are many times we have fallen short of our own ideals and God’s hopes for us.In those moments it is easy to fall into despair and see ourselves as without merit, or little more than dust and ashes.
At such times it is good to remember that our tradition teaches us that this world is no accident and that our lives are not accidents either. They can have purpose and meaning!
We celebrate Rosh Hashanah as the anniversary of the creation of the world.
God charged us at creation to use our talents to make the world a better place. Few of us will find the cure for cancer or bring about world peace, but that should not stop each of us from dong something. We each can teach a child to read, help an elderly person cross the street, cook and serve a meal at homeless shelter. The possibilities are endless.
But when we become puffed up in the pride of our accomplishments or even in our acts of kindness, it is good to remind ourselves that as Abraham realized when he addressed the Almighty (Genesis 18:27) we are ”but dust and ashes.”
One of life’s must difficult challenges is to find the balance between conceit and despair.
Henry David Thoreau reminded us: “We are double-edged blades, and every time we whet our virtue the return stroke straps our vice.”
I think that it is no accident that, as Bahia ben Asher of Saragossa (13-14th c.) noted, the zodiacal symbol for Tishri and the Jewish New year is usually a balance scale. As we count down the weeks toward Rosh Hashanah, our tradition enjoins us to think of our good and evil deeds as weighing equally on the scale of merit, and that our next act will tip the scale of judgment for good or for ill.
Think of the power the image of the balance scale can have.
If each of us wakes upon this New Year feeling an urgent need to do a good deed, what an amazingly positive impact our collective actions will have on our families, our communities and our world.
Personally, I pray that God will consider the effort that went into ToraHighlights as a good deed and tip my wavering scale to the side of good and will bless me with a year of life, health, and meaning.