27 Elul 5776
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – A Beginners Guide

Miriam and I would like to extend our blessings for a Shana Tova and our hope that the New Year will bring health and happiness to our community and friends. We ask that in our prayers we beseech the Almighty to bestow a meaningful and lasting peace in Israel and for Him to take task with those who seek to destroy our country’s freedoms and liberties.

After many years of pondering why people attend services on the High Holy Days, I finally came to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter. Some may enjoy the ambiance, the spirituality, the sermon, or the camaraderie. Others may want to find solace, comfort, or escape from the burdens of daily life. The truth is it may be none of the above. To be quite honest, I am just delighted that they choose to associate as a Jew regardless of their motivation. The Torah states: Baruch atah b’voecha, barach atah b’tzetecha – You should be blessed when you enter and you should be blessed when you depart. We can extrapolate from the verse that just as you enter with joy and enthusiasm, so shall your departure be with joy and enthusiasm. How amazing it would be if all who entered our sanctuary over Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur left feeling more spiritual and content. Indeed, that would usher in a true Shana tova and Happy New Year.

Aphorisms for the Holiday season.

  • Ask not what God can do for you; ask what you can do for God.
  • Actions may speak louder than words; but acts of piety and acting pious are parallel lines that never meet.
  • Words are not always enough: Saying “I love you” is not the same as actually loving. Saying the words “I believe” is not the same as actually believing.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, repeating the same mistakes multiple times won’t enhance your chances for success.
  • Loving God without loving his creations is like enjoying a philharmonic concert without any music.
  • A judge is restricted to judging only according to what his eye beholds; everyone should understand their eyesight may be faulty and give others the benefit of doubt.
  • Having high expectations is most desirable provided it’s limited to the face looking at you in the mirror.
  • God’s hearing is acute, so no need to fret over the location of your seat.
  • If God forbid someone sits in your assigned seat, there is always an empty seat right next to mine. (sorry – men only)
  • God doesn’t mind forgiving our sins, however, He uses our willingness to forgive others as His frame of reference.
  • Andrew Zimmern may enjoy the custom of eating the head of a fish or a head of lamb on Rosh Hashanah. I don’t and won’t.
  • If you don’t speak or understand the ancient language of Aramaic, then eating foods because of their meaning in Aramaic seems nonsensical.
  • Rabbi Uziel Milefsky z’l once told me that eating gefilte fish with horseradish enhances his personal enjoyment on Yom Tov and thus negates the views of those who refrain from eating bitter foods during Rosh Hashanah.
  • Some people eat honey as a staple over Rosh Hashanah; personally I enjoy eating apples with lemon, challah with salt, and honey in my tea when my throat is sore.
  • Forgiving someone who did you harm is an act of kindness for them. Training your mind to believe that no harm was actually done is an act of kindness for yourself.
  • If you’re not seated next to your friend or acquaintance, think of the opportunity you now have to make new friends.
  • Instead of talking about being welcoming, why not actually talk to those who need to be welcomed.
  • For those who regularly attend an Orthodox shul, it may feel warm and friendly. For those attending for the first time it can be strange, awkward, and intimidating.
  • The opportunity to make a first impression sadly can’t wait until you decide you are finally ready. Often the impression has already been made by our passivity.
  • Our patriarch Abraham interrupted God’s visit by welcoming strangers and thus I am sure God will not mind if you interrupt Him to welcome and greet a new face. (By the way, this is a unisex concept.)
  • Shabbat and Yom Tov are days of rest and tranquility and therefore we do not make requests from God. Would it be too much to ask for this courtesy to be extended to rabbis, cantors, and board members?
  • I, too, am disappointed that synagogues request funds for membership and seats. It would be so much more gratifying if contributions were forthcoming without needing to ask.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova,

Rabbi Jack Engel

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