A Fresh Start – 5776
Rosh HaShanah begins a New Year, the opportunity for a fresh start. The hope embedded in a fresh start is the hope of doing better.
Exactly how we do better is deeply personal. For some people, it means saying sorry to people around us. For other people the emphasis is on saying sorry to G-d, and promising to obey his laws more carefully. As a Rabbi, I hope it means both.
My key message is to suggest how best you can make a Jewish fresh start. I cannot give a precise recipe, but I can list the ingredients. It was said by the writer Chaim Bermant, that Jews are not “The People of the Book” as much as “The People of the Cook Book”, so I am confident you will know what to make of my words.
Many people feel they are failing as Jews, because they obey some laws but not necessarily every law, or at least every law every time. Of course in an ideal world we should obey every law, but I come from a realistic school of Rabbinic thought.
2000 years ago, Rabbi Hillel the Elder was challenged to identify the essence of Jewish teaching. He picked out brotherly love. A non-Jew challenged another sage, Rabbi Shammai, to explain the Torah while the man stood on one foot. Shammai dismissed the man, but Hillel took up the challenge, saying “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Law; the rest is explanation.”
Of course, this story is not really about explaining the Torah to non-Jews—it is about explaining the Torah to Jews. For those that cannot do everything, it teaches at least where to begin, and still acquit ourselves with honour.
Even achieving this Jewish minimum is very hard work, so when can we rest? Rabbi Tarfon gave his famous answer in moving and poetic terms. Rabbi Tarfon said “The day is short, the work is great, the workers are idle, the reward is great, and the Master is pressing… You are not obliged to complete the work, but neither are you free to avoid it completely.”
None of us can complete G-d’s work, but we must all do at least some—we must all do what we can. And in doing so, we grow close to one another and closer to G-d.
Rabbi Israel Elia