From the Rabbi - August 2013 Print
Dear Friends:

We get questions.  Just when we think we’ve heard everything, we are confronted with some new challenge.  Debbie has become an expert at fending off somewhat unbalanced individuals who show up and announce that they want to become Jewish and join the congregation.  Most of these people have never been inside a synagogue, have no idea what being a Jew entails, often cannot even use appropriate vocabulary.  But somehow they’ve gotten the idea that this is where they need to be.  She invites them to join us for Shabbat services, gives them a copy of the CBI Newsletter, and, most often, we never hear from them again.

    In early July, I had a non-Jewish guest who wanted me to write an invitation to his Jewish brother-in-law in California to come for a visit in Corpus Christi.  The only problem I had was that he wanted the invitation to be in Yiddish.  I’m pretty good at language, but I am hardly fluent in Yiddish.  I did the best I could, but if someone from California speaking Yiddish shows up at your house in January you can blame me.  He did compensate me for my stilted efforts with a copy of a map of the United States, produced by the Industrial Removal Office in the 1910s to encourage Jewish immigrants to East Coast cities, already crowded with newcomers, to move west.  The entire map and all its place names are spelled out in Yiddish!  It’s really fascinating, and I’m going to have it framed and posted so you can find your way around our nation.

    Questions are intrinsic to the High Holydays.  (After all, we’re Jewish, so questions come most naturally to us.)  The shofar, especially, is an instrument for questioning.  Long before the shofar became an instrument of religious purpose, it was a device used by indigenous people in the land of Canaan for communication.  You recognize, of course, that we can communicate in non-verbal ways: music, ballet, art, smoke signals, gestures and facial expressions, various symbols like flags – all of these convey messages, but without words.  So, think of two shepherds on the hills of Judea.  One is aware of a predator that is stalking his flock, and he wants to warn his friend to be vigilant.  A blasting shofar alert carries across the valley and alerts his friend to a potential danger.  It’s called a shofar because, after all, you can hear it sho far away.  So, think of the shofar as the mobile telephone of the ancient Near East; it communicates.

    Eventually, the shofar became associated with religious ceremony, with the new moon and with Rosh HaShanah.  When we blow the shofar during our New Year’s services, we are also communicating, communicating two questions that are at the heart of the holyday.

    The first question asks us to consider:  “How do your rate your behavior during the past year relative to the expectations of the Jewish tradition and the standards that are set for us in the name of God?”  Inevitably, all of us, if we are honest, are forced to admit that we have fallen short of the mark.  There are things we did not do – or do enough – and there are actions that we wish we had not done.  With some personal embarrassment, we accept ourselves as imperfect human beings, come face-to-face with our shortcomings and seek to make amends for our mistakes when we still can.

    But there is a second question that the shofar asks.  “In the coming year, how can you modify your behavior to improve on the record of the past year?”  The message of Rosh HaShanah is essentially optimistic.  It assumes that improvement is always possible, that each of us can strive for and achieve a better result in our lives.  We know we are never going to be perfect, but “better” is a wonderful aspiration and a worthy ambition.  And Judaism says that this goal is within our grasp.

    So the High Holydays are a time for listening to the questions of our tradition and then forging your own answers.  As you do this, Phyllis and I wish you a very happy 5774.  May it be a year of great fulfillment and happiness for you, your family and all who are dear to you and a year in which the dream of shalom, of peace, finds greater reality in our troubled world.
         
   Shanah Tova Tikateivu,
                                    Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi