Time is unstoppable. And though sometimes our impulse is to reach out and control its inexorable, forward march, in fact its ongoing, pulsing reality means that growth and change are a constant in life. Each moment building on a prior event; each day founded upon that which came before; each year an opportunity to reflect on where we have been and where we are going.
Some look down at the starting gates of life and never look up until they cross the finish line; others go about reflectively, embracing each moment as it arrives. And most of us are somewhere in between, caught up in life's exigencies, looking inward when we can, doing our best to understand the events and circumstances that life brings us.
One of the Jewish calendar's unique gifts to us is in its dual-call to look inward both as individuals and as a community. With the blasts of the Shofar, the piercing, penetrating, primitive calls awaken in each of us life's fundamental questions of identity and meaning: What kind of person am I? What are the values I live by? Who are my partners in this endeavor we call Life?
The Sages of our Tradition, in codifying these ideas in the Mahzor, meant to shake our souls awake to the awareness of life's fragility, life's preciousness, and life's demand that in our wakefulness we do what is right and what is just in the eyes of God. "U-Netaneh Tokef. Let us speak to the sacred power of the day." When all our deeds are exposed to a Judge, spread before that Judge as one sees an accounting on a ledger, we ask the obvious, most radical questions of the year.
"Who will pass on and who will be born? Who will live and who will die? Who will be poor and who will be rich?"
The questions terrify. This is one reason why the High Holy Days are called the Days of Awe. The Mahzor itself responds to its own searing questions. In the face of such earth-shattering questions, it proposes that "Teshuvah, Tefilah and Tzedakah--that Repentance, Prayer and Charity transform the harshness of our destiny." In other words, we have agency in responding to the passivity of being acted upon by seizing life itself and demanding that we be God's partner in building a world for Good, for Justice, and for Peace.
Equally critical is the notion to remember that Judaism defines the ultimate expression of religious "fear" as Love. And Love rendered through the commitment to serve God and our fellow human being with kindness, justice and humility is, as they say, what it's all about.
As the words of the prophet Micah demonstrate on the Chapel windows in our Temple House, "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good and what the Eternal requires of you: To do justice, to love with kindness, and walk humbly with your God."
Life in the world around us emanates in ever-expanding circles: from Park Slope to greater Brooklyn; from Brooklyn to greater New York City; from New York west and across the nation; from America to Israel and beyond. Everything is connected and in reality, no one person or no one nation is any longer truly separate. The Jewish people, the people of One God, have always believed that if God is one then ultimately, we are all one. After all, the Sages taught, God made the human being in the Divine Image so that no one should be able to say that he or she is better than their neighbor.
And so as we pause, in time and awe and humility, to accept time's constant trajectory, may our reflections at this plateau be filled with meaningful and soulful examination; may we strengthen one another in our fearlessness to ask the hard questions of ourselves and others; and may we hold ourselves and others to eternal ideas that have animated and inspired us to build a better world.
May each of you and your loved ones be inspired as you look out across the city and the world to make this New Year, 5775, a year of blessing, justice and peace--for our People and for all Humankind.
Rabbi Andy Bachman