Jews around the world celebrate next week the holiday of Rosh Hashonah, the Jewish New Year. However, unlike New Years celebrations in every other culture and religion Jews celebrate by praying. Praying for a better existence, praying for good health, happiness, sustenance and whatever else one needs. But for Jews worldwide, recognizing man’s weaknesses, prayer on Rosh Hashonah includes a plea to G-d for forgiveness for the sins committed during the year. Mostly a conversation between man and G-d. In fact, one of my friends/mentors doesn’t attend synagogue on Rosh Hashonah. He climbs a mountain before the holiday and communes with G-d alone on top of the mountain. Just man and G-d.
The weekly Torah reading this week, the week immediately preceding Rosh Hashonah is the Parsha of Netzavim which was 1/2 of my bar mitzvah Parsha (which I read at the Jackson Hotel in Long Beach in September 1969). The Parsha begins with Moshe speaking to the Jewish people for the last time.
He begins – You are all standing here today ready to have your dreams come true and enter the Land of Israel after 40 years in the desert. And then he proceeds to list who is there – your leaders, your elders, men, women and children. He continues – the orphans, converts to Judaism. Even so far as to say every profession including the woodworker. Since we know that there are no extra or extraneous words in the Torah why didn’t he just say all of you. Why list so many categories? The answer is one word – areyvus translated as responsibility but much more. Each Jew is responsible for every other Jew. In a world in which up to 75% of the Jewish people are abandoning active involvement in the religion/people G-d is telling the Jewish people – don’t think only about yourself, think about your fellow Jews. Think about them. Worry about them. Worry also about the Jewish nation, Israel.
There is a story told of the Alter Rebbe, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe who was learning in his house when he heard his baby grandson crying from downstairs. And the crying didn’t stop. Knowing his son was downstairs he was confident the baby would be picked up, comforted and held. The old Rebbe waited a few minutes. When the baby kept crying he walked down the several flights of stairs passing his son engrossed in learning Talmud.
He picked up the baby, stopped the crying and with the baby in his arms walked upstairs to his son and said – I don’t know what you’re learning but it’s clearly not the Torah I taught you. Our Torah hears the cry of the baby, the weak, the oppressed, those who need help in any way. And listens. And listens. The message of this week’s reading reverberates throughout the holidays. Listen to the cries. Help your brethren.
In our generation we have a miraculous creation to bring our fellow Jews back to Judaism – it’s called Birthright. A 10 day trip changes their world. And it works. Over 650,000 participants so far. And over 85% say it changed their lives forever. But so many more need to go in order to make a difference. Every $3000 sends one person. And changes their lives forever. Be part of the miracle. Join us. And have a happy and healthy New Year.