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Dvar Torah - Rosh Hashana

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity. -- William Butler Yeats

The above words perfectly describe our time. It often feels like people fight and talk past each other, that dishonesty is rampant, and that those of us who are good, or even just normal, disengage from the debate.

Rosh HaShana offers us a cure for this ailment. The remedy comes in three parts. Firstly, the Shofar cries out. The Chassidic masters teach us that the importance of Shofar lies in that it mirrors the sound of our soul. We pray with words carefully constructed over thousands of years to convey the meaning appropriate to the day best and best to channel our thoughts through the journey of Rosh HaShana. The Shofar is a more straightforward, more profound sound. It's the sound made by our innermost essence. It is our opportunity to connect at our most basic level, not merely using our intellect.

Secondly, Rosh HaShana serves as a reset in our busy lives. For two days, we are concerned with spiritual concerns. We spend hours at Shule, meditating through the prayers. We have a golden opportunity to leave behind, for a while, the things which bother us. It serves as a chance to reevaluate and consider if our path is as we want it to be. We have time to plan our new journey of self-improvement. We have time to do the mental work needed to grow.

Finally, Rosh HaShana refocuses us on things far more important than our ephemeral discussions and the latest fight in the media. The text of Rosh HaShana focuses on genuinely existential issues: who will live and who will die? Who will be ill, and who will not? Our health and that of our loved ones and community are far more important. This intense focus on the prayers also helps us to be grateful for our many blessings. We live in a peaceful, happy, prosperous country that has made our lives (as Jews) very comfortable. We live in a time of extraordinary privilege. We should never forget that fact.

We often hear that the world is becoming a worse place. The news is full of deteriorating situations and disasters. It's easy to imagine this is the worst time to be alive. This has always been true. Yeats certainly felt that his time was the worst:

Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again; but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

But Rosh HaShana tells us something else, something different and more uplifting. The world is getting better. G-d remembers us and loves us. He will redeem the world that He created and us with it. The world is far from perfect, but it is getting better. Medicine has provided us with longer, happier, healthier lives. Technology has made our daily tasks far more accessible and rewarding. We have achieved so much and stand to continue to do so. On Rosh HaShana, we remind ourselves that G-d remembers us, which can only be a blessing as we advance. Wishing all in the community a sweet, happy, and healthy year!

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