Over the High Holy Days, we have a chance to evaluate not just our own actions but those of the world this past year. We sing out that ‘chol ba’ei olam’ – all who live on earth are judged on the Day of Judgement. How has the human race performed, and how will the world be judged on Rosh Hashanah? It is hard to imagine a positive report card! We have been bombarded with news of corruption, terror and abuse. We have seen racism, abuse and poverty all around. How can we best deal with all this?
While the world was swiftly sinking into WW2, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan taught that “the Jewish calendar is designed precisely to thrust us, periodically, back into a frame of mind that enables [us] to detach ourselves from what we have come to accept as normal, and [instead] view it critically. These ritual moments are designed to plant an eternal reminder that the Jewish heart is called to protest against the injustices and inequities of civilization and rearticulate the values and standards that we ought to seek to achieve” (Mordecai Kaplan, Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion, 1937)
Rabbi Kaplan explained that the festival calendar is a tool of consciousness, a way to constantly refresh our view of the world. Each holiday ‘thrusts’ us into the right ‘frame of mind’ to deal with all that the year throws at us. The High Holy Days give us the opportunity to assess our own lives, to evaluate our performance and to hit the reset button on those projects that have gone a little astray.
According to Kaplan, the aim is that each festival helps us draw back to see the big picture, to separate us from the world as it is and to see it as it should be. And then to motivate us to act to make it more ideal, more like the world we would like to see. Today, 80 years after he wrote those words, the world is desperately needing a reset button. We cannot accept as normal what we read in the headlines, not in our leaders and not in ourselves. In the absence of inspirational leadership, it is us that need to be the leaders. To be the Moses, the Miriam, the Nelson. To “rearticulate the values and standards that we ought to seek to achieve.”
That is our job as we prepare for Rosh Hashanah. To seek the peace that we want to see and to mobilise our communities to make the ideal real.
May we all gather our strength for the year ahead with renewed vigour and energy, ready l’takken olam b’malchut Shaddai — to repair this world under G*d’s guidance.
Shanah tovah umetukah
Rabbi Greg Alexander