Unlocking Hearts and Minds on Rosh Hashanah

More people will be in synagogues in the coming days that at any other point in the year. And because of demographic realities, an increasing number of them won’t even be Jewish. They will all be there, but what will they be hearing?

Let’s put it this way: Will there be any synagogue congregations in America this Rosh Hashanah not abuzz with conversation about the upcoming vote on the Iran deal? And from how many pulpits will those in synagogue not hear at least one sermon on the topic? Based on reports from hundreds of rabbis nationwide, the answer is very few.

Yet with all that energy and attention, how many people will actually be better prepared to face the year ahead, especially if the vote doesn’t go as they hope it will? How many people will experience Rosh Hashanah as an opportunity to grow together toward the kind of shared strength in community, and desire for peace and security in Israel and Middle East to which – according to recent polling – both pro-deal and anti-deal Jews are genuinely committed?

We all feel lonely at times – left out or left behind, as individuals or as communities – but Rosh Hashanah teaches us that we are never alone.

Believe it or not, as we stand beneath the waterfall of words, ancient and contemporary, which will fill the days ahead, we can access three such words that will help us do precisely that. Rosh Hashanah, which celebrates the birth not only of the Jewish people, but of all of humanity, offers us a critical re-set button.

With three little words, we can begin to unlock unlock the hearts and minds which have become so deeply entrenched during the past year – whether entrenched in a battle?(however well-intentioned) that has done genuine damage to communities fighting about politics, or those entrenched in “smaller” battles that undermine personal relationships.

With three little Hebrew words which live at the center of the High Holiday liturgy, we can unlock our best selves, and Rosh Hashanah itself, as we create the lives, the communities and the world we yearn for in the year ahead.

What are the words? Malkhuyot, Zikhronot and Shofarot. Words of greatness and sovereignty, companionship and memory, and the joyful blasts of the shofar.

Malkhuyot, Zikhronot and Shofarot remind us that, whoever we are and wherever we stand on any issue, each of us is more powerful, less alone and have much more to celebrate than we often recognize. By celebrating those claims, we can get to where we want to be – or at least a whole lot closer, on Rosh Hashanah and throughout the rest of the year. The real question is whether or not we believe in ourselves as much as Rosh Hashanah believes in us?

Start with Malkhuyot. The words certainly describe God as sovereign, but with our recitation of them, Rosh Hashanah reminds us that it is we who place the place the crown. Each of has more power to make a positive difference, and greater capacity and ability than we probably know. If we trusted that more, we could also trust that whatever life throws at us, or whatever policy of the moment comes down, the future is ours to create, especially if we create it with as wide a community as the one imagined by the authors of the Malkhuyot.

Next, focus on Zikhronot – the power of knowing that you are never forgotten, and that we must never forget about each other, no matter how much we happen to disagree. We all feel lonely, left out, or left behind at times, both as individuals and as communities, but Rosh Hashanah teaches us that we are never alone. Each of us is touched by, and touches, more lives than we typically give ourselves credit for. Not sure about that? Take a moment and consider those who made a difference in your life this year, not to mention those you would like to make a difference for in the year to come.

Finally, Shofarot. The joyful noise whose arrival we celebrate even in the most challenging moments. We have done that for centuries and can afford to do no less this year. Open yourself – not only your eyes, but your heart and your mind – and you’re sure to see that even in the toughest of times, there are things worthy of celebration.

Malkhuyot, Zikhronot and Shofarot – three little words you can use to create big things for yourself and for others in the year ahead. Three little words that we can use as a people to stand together in strength and mutual respect as we confront both the challenges and maximize the opportunities which the coming year will surely bring.



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