Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein
Whenever I’m on Table Mountain – whether I scramble up Platteklip Gorge or take the cable car I’ll leave you to decide – I’m always struck by the perspective it provides.
The entire city is spread out before you. You can see the lay of the land; what goes where, how everything fits together, how the different geographical landscapes relate to each other. In some ways, it looks very different from how you would imagine it to be when you’re on the ground — when your more detail-oriented, micro-lensed perspective obscures the big picture.
Think about how the Torah was given to us on a mountain – Sinai – with all it symbolises. When we stand on top of a mountain, we have a completely different perspective on the world. We see the big picture. This is the Sinai perspective – looking at the world and our lives from the lofty vantage point of God’s values, which are as solid and eternal as a mountain. So often, we get drawn after fleeting fads, after en vogue values and the latest fashionable attitudes, after glittering objects and ephemeral experiences. It is so easy to forget what life is really all about.
COVID-19 and the ensuing lockdown has forced us to stop and think about the big picture. These big-picture moments bring our lives back into focus. What do we really want from life? What is our true purpose? What are our priorities? The answers to these questions will come when we go up the mountain of our Divine values. But how do we do that? To really know what the way of life of our Sinai values looks like, we need to learn more. One practical step we can all take in the coming year is to dedicate more time to learning what the Torah teaches us about life and our values. When we learn Torah, we climb up the mountain and see the world from God’s perspective, and understand what we can do to become better people and achieve our purpose in this world.
Rosh Hashanah arrives this year at this poignant moment of introspection in our lives. Shul will feel so different, with all the safety protocols we must implement to protect our community from harm. But our Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur experiences can still be deep and profound, still be transformative and uplifting. We can use the time to pray to Hashem and really connect with Him emotionally and spiritually. As we do, let us all make one clear new resolution for the year ahead: let’s learn the wisdom of the Torah so that we look at our lives from on top of the mountain of God’s values for us.
May Hashem bless our community and our country and our world with health and healing in the year ahead.
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