Weekly Davar: Rosh Hashana 2023

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Davar Thought

Rosh Hashana is the Day of Judgment in Jewish tradition. As the Rabbis say, ‘every human being passes before God like sheep before a shepherd’. There is a common misconception, however, as to what exactly we are judged on at Rosh Hashana.

People often believe that the judgment is on the past year – transgressions vs good deeds. Add it all up, subtract one from the other and bingo. Positive territory means a good new year. Negative territory means you are in the soup!

That’s not the way Judaism sees it. And obviously so. For if the judgment was on what had happened last year, then what purpose would Rosh Hashana itself serve? We might as well eat drink and be merry because the deeds are done and, for better or for worse, there is no going back.

But this is not Rosh Hashana and not Judaism. Judaism always believes that what matters more than where a person has been, is where a person is going. Much more so than we are products of our past, we are products of our future. Consider for a moment, who is more likely to treat his wife properly over the coming year: the husband who has been unkind and unpleasant, but sincerely wants to change and genuinely means it; or the husband who has been a good husband – but just doesn’t see the point anymore? Which employee is more likely to perform better next year – the one who has done well this year but lost their motivation, or the one who has struggled, but has found new enthusiasm and commitment and has a strong feeling and vision for the future? The smart money would go on the second. Of course, best of all is the one who performed well and still has motivation and vision to do so, but the more critical component is where the person is right now, not where they have been in the past.

The Rabbis tell us that on Rosh Hashana, we are not judged on our past, we are judged on our future. What do we dream of? Do we dream of greatness, of caring and giving more, of closeness to God? Or do we dream of bigger houses, better jobs and larger salaries? Or have we lost our connection to life and we don’t dream at all?

That’s the beauty of Rosh Hashana and of Judaism. It doesn’t matter who you have been or how you have lived your life, there’s always the possibility to start anew. ‘Hashana’ means ‘the year’, but ‘Rosh’ does not mean ‘new’. ‘Rosh’ means ‘head’; so Rosh Hashana is the ‘head of the year’. Because the head looks forward and cannot look back. The body can turn around but the head cannot look backwards. Similarly, Rosh Hashana is only about looking forward.

Almost exactly sixty years ago, Martin Luther King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and said, ‘I have a dream that one day my four little children live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.’ Black Americans have so much more freedom and opportunity today because Martin Luther King and millions of others along with him dreamed that it could be so, that it would be so. When we lose our vision, and it’s easy to do, we human beings get bogged down in the quagmire of our past. Rosh Hashana is about finding new and inspired vision for ourselves.

Take time out this Rosh Hashana. Dream of a better life. Dream of being a better person, a better spouse, a better parent, a better friend, a better inhabitant of God’s world. If you dream it on Rosh Hashana, you might just spend the other 363 days of the year making it come true.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova,

Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt

Rosh Hashana Dreaming

Reading Time: 2 minutes

“I have a dream…” ― a phrase immortalised by Martin Luther King. “…I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character….” It was a dream that he did not live to see realized; a dream that is still not realized. But a man who dreams is a man who cares. And a man who cares is a man who makes a difference.

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Yom Kippur: A Day of Reconciliation

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A husband and wife fight and they grow apart. Neither is willing to take the first step towards reconciliation and so the rift deepens. Each one blames the other for the problems in the relationship.

But, as time goes on, one of them realizes that there is a choice to be made: accept my own weaknesses; take responsibility for my own role in this discord — or allow my arrogance to contribute to the slow breakdown of the relationship.

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

This is the time of year that we are searching for chometz . Chometz represents slavery, not just physical, but spiritual – the inability to make the decisions that we want to make because we are held back by what we feel like doing. A smoker is not free. A drug addict is not free. A compulsive eater is not free. Now freedom doesn’t necessarily mean never again eating chocolate cake. It means being able not to do so when you are on a diet. 

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Passover and My Phone Addiction

Reading Time: 5 minutes

My first meaningful Jewish experience at seventeen was a Passover Seder. At the time, I was living with an addict. He would freebase heroin, ‘chasing the dragon’, as it was known, pretty much every day, and I regularly would come home from High School and find him sitting on our couch with eyes wide open, only the whites visible. Sadly, though almost inevitably, he eventually died of an overdose. 

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250 Words on Chanukah

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In 167 BCE, the Greeks set out to destroy Judaism by imposing a ban on Jewish tradition, punishable by death. Many Jews had assimilated already. Once the decree was made, many more followed. A small band of die-hard Jews, known as the Maccabees, revolted and, three years later, succeeded in evicting the oppressors.

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