Ki Teitzei 5779 – Don’t Promise Presents, Be In The Present

There is a common Hebrew expression: Bli neder, which means “without a vow.”  Bli Neder, I’ll pick you up tonight at 7.  Bli neder, I’ll bring the money that I owe you this Thursday.  Bli neder, I’ll have my High Holiday sermons done on time.

One of the laws in Parashat Ki Teitzei deals with nedarim, or vows.  A vow works likes this.  I’ve got something big coming up, and I feel like I am going to want God’s help.  Examples could include: the birth of a healthy child, victory in war, a successful business deal.

So I make a vow, promising to bring a specific gift to God.  It could be a sacrifice, or a donation of money, livestock, or grain to the Temple.  I might even vow to refrain from a particular activity, such as drinking wine or getting a haircut.

The Torah deals with the laws of vows in Parashat Ki Teitzei here in Deuteronomy as well as in an entire chapter at the end of the book of Numbers.  A number of Psalms express vows as well.

This morning’s parashah dedicates three verses to the topic.  The first verse warns that anyone who makes a vow had better fulfill it as quickly as possible.  No procrastinating, or else that person will incur guilt. The third verse emphasizes that any vow that crosses a person’s lips must be fulfilled.  The Torah provides no mechanism for nullifying a vow.

In between these two statements, the Torah provides a hint: “you incur no guilt if you refrain from vowing.”  Wink. Wink. Note the double negative—no guilt if you don’t vow.  If we read into it a little deeper, the Torah is saying that since there is no obligation whatsoever for a person to make a vow, why would anyone put such a burden upon themselves?

Vows were apparently quite common in ancient times. There are several famous vows in the Bible.  The Judge Samson and the Prophet Samuel are both dedicated to a lifetime of service to God in fulfillment of vows made by their respective mothers. Thanks mom.

The Patriarch Jacob makes a vow in the book of Genesis when he is about to the leave the land of Canaan with nothing but the shirt on his back.  He declares that if God is with him, protecting him and eventually returning him home, then Jacob will be faithful to God and dedicate ten percent of his future earnings.

The most notorious vow in the Bible occurs in the book of Judges.  The Chieftain Yiftach, about to lead the Israelites in battle against the Ammonites, makes the following declaration to God:

“If You deliver the Ammonites into my hands, then whatever comes out the door of my house to meet me on my safe return from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s and shall be offered by me as a burnt offering.”

Yiftach, it can be assumed, is thinking it will be a goat or chicken.

God is with Yiftach, and he defeats his enemies.  When the warrior returns home, who should run out of the house, dancing with a timbrel in her hands to celebrate her father’s great victory but Yiftach’s daughter, his only child.  Yiftach is crushed, but his daughter understands the seriousness of the vow, and insists that her father fulfill it.

The Rabbis are aware of vows as well—and they don’t like them.  Drawing on our portion, the Rabbis invent ways to nullify vows.  They dedicate an entire Tractate of Talmud to the subject.

At one point, the Talmudic Sage Rav Dimi takes it a step further, declaring that anyone who makes a vow is a sinner, even if that person fulfills it. He proves it from Ki Teitzei.  The Torah states “you incur no guilt if you refrain from vowing.”  The Torah implies, therefore, that ‘you do incur guilt if you don’t refrain from vowing.’

Oy.  So many double negatives.

What’s the big problem with a vow?  The medieval commentator, Nachmanides, does not mince words.  God takes no pleasure in fools who make lots of vows.  The problem, he explains, is that unexpected things get in the way of us fulfilling so many of our commitments.  When it comes to something as serious as a vow, saying “I meant to do it, but circumstances made it impossible…” is not good enough.  There are no excuses.

Building on this this, the nineteenth century commentator, Samson Raphael Hirsch, says that we have enough trouble with our actions in the present.  A vow adds extra obligations for some future time, when we have no idea what unexpected events may get in our way.  “We should rest content with directing [our] actions every moment of [our] present existence, living it as it should be lived.  Whatever we will be called upon to do in the future constitutes our duty then, without undertaking it in the form of a vow.”

In just under four weeks, we will gather together for Yom Kippur.  At the very beginning, before the holiday actually begins, we will chant Kol Nidrei.  In fact, we name the entire service Kol NidreiKol Nidrei means “All vows.” It is not a prayer, but rather a legal statement.  We declare that all vows, oaths, pledges, and so on that we make from this Yom Kippur and next Yom Kippur are officially annulled.  Nidrana la nidrei.  “Our vows are not vows.”

When Kol Nidrei first appeared in the 9th century, the Rabbis didn’t like it.  But it was too popular with people.

The idea behind Kol Nidrei is that words matter.  Life is unpredictable.  I can never know for certain that I am going to be able to fulfill in the future the commitment that I make today.  But I want to be able to start the new year with a clean slate.  Kol Nidrei enables me to do that, to not be held back by all of my failures.  

Better, as Hirsch, advises, to live my life in the present as it should be lived.  With integrity and honesty.

Limits on Kings and Presidents – Shoftim 5774

In Hebrew, the name of the United States is not a translation of “United States of America.”  If it were, it would be something like Medinot HaIchud shel Amerika.  Instead, our nation is described in Hebrew as Artzot HaBrit, “Lands of the Covenant.”

While not a direct translation, this name expresses an aspect of our nation that is particularly valued in our Jewish tradition.  What is the covenant of which Artzot HaBrit speaks?  It is the Constitution of the United States of America, the supreme law of the land.

This concept appeals to us because we are the first people in the history of the world to have a document that functions as the supreme law.  Of course, it is the Torah.

Having a written brit, or covenant, at center of national identity is not the only similarity between Judaism and the United States.  Both polities imagine some of the same qualities in the ideal leader.

The Declaration of Independence, after establishing the fundamental human rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” along with the rights of people to reject a government that fails to ensure those rights, lists a number of grievances against the King of Great Britain.

In establishing the Republic, the Founding Fathers wanted to draw clear distinctions between the monarchy that they had rebelled against and the democracy that they were establishing.  They understood the need to have a unitary executive, but they were fearful of the abuses that could ensue if power was left unchecked.

In creating the office of President, the Founding Fathers limited his powers and ensured that he would have to serve the Constitution, rather than the other way around.  That is why, when the President is sworn into office, he promises to “Preserve, Protect, and Defend the Constitution of the United States – so help me God!”

The Federalist Papers were published in the years 1787 – 1788 under the psuedonym Publius.  They were written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay to promote the ratification of the Constitution by each of the States.

In Federalist Paper number 69, Alexander Hamilton enumerates some of the differences in power between the President of the United States and the King of England.  He notes that the President is limited to a four year term, while the King serves for life.  The President can be impeached and removed from office, while the King is personally sacred and inviolable.  The President has veto power, but he can be overruled, while the King’s veto is absolute.  Both are the supreme commanders of the military, but the President cannot independently declare war, sign treaties, or raise armies, while the King can do all three.  The President does not have unlimited power to appoint officials, and the King does.  And finally, the President has “no particle of spiritual jurisdiction,” while the King is the “supreme head and governor of the national church.”

At the time, these kinds of restrictions on the power of a national leader were unique in the world.  But the idea of subjecting the leader to a written covenant, limiting his warmaking powers, and otherwise preventing him from self-aggrandizement was not unheard of.  In fact, it bears striking similarities to the Torah’s vision of the ideal king, as presented in the Book of Deuteronomy.

I do not suggest that the Founding Fathers explicitly modeled the Presidency on Deuteronomy’s laws of kings. but there certainly seem to be similarities.  How did this come to be?

In the 18th century, a complete education included learning classical languages like Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, as well as acquiring extensive knowledge and mastery of the Hebrew Bible.  Yale, Columbia, and Dartmouth have Hebrew inscriptions on their university seals, and until 1817, Harvard graduation ceremonies included a Hebrew oration.

For Puritan colonialists, what for them was the Old Testament had great significance.  I think it is safe to say that the Founding Fathers’ critiques of the overreaching of King George and their imposition of limits on the power of the President were influenced, at least in spirit, by the Torah.

This morning’s Torah portion, Parashat Shoftim, teaches us much about leadership.  It commands that judges and officials administer the law justly and impartially.  It mandates the establishment of a higher court that will issue rulings on cases that are too baffling for local leaders.  (The Rabbis understand this as the basis for the Sanhedrin, the court of 71 rabbis, judges, and priests who function as the High Court of the land, with added legislative and executive powers.)

The Torah portion also deals with kings, albeit with ambivalence.  Unlike its treatment of judges, officials, and the High Court, the Torah does not command the appointment of a King.  It is optional.  “If,” Moses tells the Israelites,

after you have entered the land that the Lord your God has assigned to you, and taken possession of it and settled in it, you decide, asima alai melekh –  “I will set a king over me, as do all the nations about me,” you shall be free to set a king over yourself… (Deuteronomy 17:14-15)

So what powers does a King have?  If we go exclusively by what is written in the Torah, absolutely none.  The King only has limitations.  Listen to these restrictions on the power of the monarchy.  Does this fit your image of a King?

• He is not allowed to accumulate too many horses, or send people down to Egypt to get more horses.

• He is not allowed to acquire too many wives.

• He is not allowed to amass too much gold and silver.

• He must have a copy of the Torah, written by the Priests, always at his side.  He must read it constantly so that he will learn to revere God and follow its laws.

• He may not act with haughtiness towards other people.

Nowhere in the Torah are the people actually commanded to follow the king and do what he says.  In the relationship between king and subjects, the responsibility is unidirectional – it is the king who serves the people.

When we think about royalty in pre-modern times, we usually think about the unlimited exercise of power.  The king’s word is law.  He rules by divine right.  The people owe him their total obedience and respect.  He can impose taxes and raise armies.  He gets to live a life of extravagance and pleasure.  As a famous monarch once said, “It’s good to be the king!”

Parashat Shoftim’s model is that of an anti-king.

Not only is he not allowed to build up the army, impose heavy taxation, and live the good life, he is also bound by a constitution – the Torah.  His job is to promote and enforce the commandments, and lead the people in observing the terms of the covenant not with a human king, but with God, the King of Kings.

It is a utopian vision of leadership not so dissimilar to other systems that place a wise, benevolent executive in charge of leading a society in accordance with principals of justice, “the good,” or philosophy.  Think Plato, Aristotle, Locke, and so on.

But is such a utopian vision realistic?  Apparently not.

After the Israelites conquer the Promised Land under the leadship of Joshua, they split up into tribes.  Various local and regional chiefs lead the people through one crisis after another.  Order gradually breaks down over the next two hundred years, and the Israelites have finally had enough.  They turn to the Prophet-Chief Samuel and ask him to appoint a King over them.  Tnah lanu melekh lshofteinu – “…appoint a king for us, to govern us…”  (I Samuel 8:6)

Samuel is disappointed, but God reassures him and tells him to ascede to the people’s request.  Samuel’s reaction is surprising, because the Torah already anticipated the Israelites’ future desire to be ruled by a human king.  Had not Samuel read Parashat Shoftim?

The nineteenth century Polish Rabbi, Yehoshua Trunk from Kutna (1821-1893), points to a subtle distinction between what Deuteronomy allows, and what the people request.  In Deuteronomy, when the people ask to set a king over them, they say asima alai melekh.  Whereas in Samuel, the people say t’nah lanu melekh, give us a king.  What is the difference between setting and giving?

Without going into the complexities, Rabbi Yehoshua from Kutna says that Deuteronomy’s vision of sima, setting a king, implies that he is going to be immersed in the people, and his job will be to guide them in the ways of God, influencing their thoughts and actions, and helping them to focus on the innermost realm of the heart.

When the Israelites in Samuel request n’tinah, to be given a king, they are asking to have a leader placed above them.  What they want are the pomp and circumstance, the external trappings of power that characterize the leaders of all the other nations of the world.

But God does not want Israel to be like the other nations of the world, and certainly does not want its king to fall to the hubris that afflicts so many human leaders.

In telling Samuel to go along with the people’s request, God knows that they are not motivated by the lofty ideals of the Torah, but as the saying goes, “people get the leaders they deserve.”

Samuel warns the people what the king is going to do them.  He will draft your sons into his army and your daughters as cooks and bakers.  He will seize farmlands, vineyards, and orchards.  He will tax you, and consign you to serfdom.  Eventually, you will regret this decision.

But the people insist that they want someone to go out in front of them and lead them to victory in battle.

Things start to unravel almost immediately.  The first king, Saul, turns out to be deeply flawed.  David brings the nation to greatness, capturing Jerusalem and expanding the borders, but not without his share of trouble.

His son Solomon builds the Temple, but violates every single  one of Deuteronomy’s laws about Kings, fulfilling Samuel’s warnings from just three generations ago.  He imposes heavy taxes and forced labor to build the Temple.  He buys horses and chariots from Egypt.  He accumulates vast riches.  Solomon marries seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, whom he allows to introduce their idolatrous foreign practices into the Holy Land.

When Solomon dies, the united monarchy ends as the northern kingdom of Israel breaks off from the southern kingdom of Judah.  The righteous king, as described in Shoftim, is an ideal that turns out to be exceedingly difficult to implement.

The establishment of Israel in 1948 has reignited issues about Jewish power that have not been practical considerations for nearly two thousand years.  Is Israel a nation like any other, or do Jewish history and values make it different?  What should the role of Torah and Jewish law be in a country that is committed to freedom of religion and equal rights?  Who is authorized to interpret Jewish law?  How does Israel maintain itself as a Jewish state and a democracy?  What does it even mean to be a Jewish state?

You might be surprised to know that Israel does not have a constitution.  According to Israel’s Declaration of Independence of May 14, 1948, there was supposed to have been Constitution in place by October 1 of that year.  But the above questions were so difficult to resolve, the question of an Israeli constitution was placed on the back burner.

Because of the international and domestic pressure cooker that Israel always finds itself in, these questions are being dealt with and tested on a daily basis.  Israelis wrestle with the dilemma of creating a society based on the lofty ideals and values expressed in Jewish law and tradition while facing the very real and practical challenges that often are a question of survival.

One of the reasons that Israel is so important to Jews everywhere is because it creates powerful opportunities to put Jewish values into practice on a national level.  That is a possibility that did not exist for nearly two thousand years.  As we see on a daily basis, it is not easy.

We refer to the modern State of Israel in our prayers as reishit tz’michat geulateinu, the beginning of the flowering of our redemption.  The question of whether that is true or not depends on how Israel the country and Israel the people deal with these challenges.  I take it as a positive sign that Israelis, as well as Jews in the Diaspora, are actively engaged in wrestling with the question of how to exercise power in ways that embody the ethical principles of the Torah.

Making Our Insides Match Our Outsides – Rosh Hashanah I 5774

Most of us probably don’t spend much time thinking about what we want written on our gravestones. As a Rabbi, I actually do think about this quite a bit, because I often help people design their family members’, or even their own markers.

Here are a few epitaphs, messages inscribed on gravestones, that I did not have a hand in.**1**

Some describe the manner of a person’s death, as in:

Here lies a man named Zeke.

Second fastest draw in Cripple Creek.

Others seem to be more about the living:

Sacred to the memory of

my husband John Barnes

who died January 3, 1803

His comely young widow, aged 23,

has many qualifications of a good wife,

and yearns to be comforted.

Gravestones sometimes say something about the deceased’s personality:

Beneath this stone, a lump of clay,

Lies stingy Jimmy Wyatt.

Who died one morning just at ten

And saved a dinner by it.

And then there are those that purport to give advice to the visitor:

Reader, I’ve left this world, in which

I had a world to do;

Sweating and fretting to get rich:

Just such a fool as you.

Sometimes, a person has specific ideas about his or her own epitaph. Thomas Jefferson, the founder of my alma mater, the University of Virginia, left clear instructions of what he wanted to appear on his gravestone at Monticello. The inscription reads:

Here was buried

Thomas Jefferson

Author of the Declaration of American Independence

of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom

Father of the University of Virginia

Our third president, a man who accomplished so much in his lifetime, wanted to emphasize what he had given the people, not what the people had given him. These three accomplishments stand out as legacies that continue to shape the lives of millions to this day.

The message that we leave behind on a tombstone, or in most cases, the epitaph that is placed upon our tombstone by others after we die, is one of the ways in which we leave our legacy to the world. The advice I give is that the epitaph should say something about who this person was, and what they cared about.

How was she known in the world? Was she kind and generous? Was he a loving father and grandfather, or maybe a patron of the arts? Was she a musician, a great reader, or a gourmand?

Six generations from now, will a descendant be able to gain an understanding of his ancestor when he visits the grave?

What happens when there is a discrepancy between how a person sees herself and how the outside world sees her?

I experience this as a parent. Our children want to be recognized and acknowledged. They want the reassurance that they matter. They want to be truly seen for who they are.

And the truth is, this does not end at childhood. Most of us want to be seen for who we are. But few of us feel that we are. There is a disconnect between our internal and external experiences.

Each year, Rosh Hashanah presents us with an opportunity to realign our outsides with our insides.

One of the aspects of Judaism that many people seem to admire is its emphasis on action. It is not what we think that matters, but rather, what we put into practice. When the day of judgment comes, we will not be held accountable for all of our ugly thoughts, the times when we lashed out at each other in our minds. What will be piled on God’s scales of justice are our actions. What did we do in our lives?

People seem to like this aspect of Judaism.

But we also emphasize the interior life. We affirm the existence of something called a soul. We speak of God’s Presence dwelling within us. We point to a Divine Spark that is buried deep within the heart of every human being. The interior life matters also.

What is the definition of a person who is at peace? It is someone whose insides reflect what is outside – tokho k’voro.

Who among us can claim this? That the self we express out to the world is the same as the ideal self that we would like ourselves to be?

In the Haftarah that we read this morning, the first day of Rosh Hashanah, we encounter someone who experiences this disconnect between internal hopes and external experiences. We meet Hannah, favorite wife of Elkanah. Hannah is unable to become pregnant. Inability to conceive is a common Biblical motif. The basic pattern goes like this: The woman is beloved of her husband, but is unable to have a child. The people around her make fun of her, which exacerbates her suffering. God intervenes on her behalf, and she becomes pregnant. Within a year, she gives birth to a boy, who lives a remarkable life. This is a motif that repeats itself numerous times. Think of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, the unnamed mother of Samson, and Hannah.

The story of Hannah is remarkable in that it describes both the internal and external sides of the story. We know how the outside world is interacting with Hannah. We are also told what she is feeling, what she does not express. There is a discrepancy between Hannah’s inner self and the self that she portrays to those around her.

Every year, she would travel, with her husband, her husband’s other wife Peninah, and all of Peninah’s numerous children, to offer a sacrifice at the shrine in Shiloh, where the Priest Eli presided.

This was a particularly sad time for Hannah, made worse by Peninah, who would deliberately make fun of Hannah by flaunting her numerous offspring in the face of her sad rival.

Elkanah sees that his wife is depressed and tries to comfort her in his way. “Hannah, why are you crying and not eating. The food is getting cold. Why are you so sad? Aren’t I more devoted to you than ten sons!?”

While everyone else is experiencing food coma, Hannah gets up to pray. Eli the Priest looks at her, sees her lips moving without uttering a sound, and immediately jumps to conclusions: she must be intoxicated. “How dare you defile the Lord’s sanctuary in your drunkenness!” he yells. Here she is, pouring her heart out to God, and God’s own Priest completely misunderstands her.

Hannah is experiencing great pain. She is not the person who she wants to be. She is not living the life that she has imagined. Nobody sees her as she sees herself. Nobody understands her pain and sorrow. Instead, they insult her, or patronize her, or misjudge her. Hannah is utterly alone. She has nobody with whom she can share her suffering.

So what does she do? This is how the text describes it: “Hannah was bitter of soul, and she prayed to God, all the while crying her heart out.”**2**

She channels her anguish and pours her heart out to the Lord. If no other human being can understand her, perhaps God can.

Hannah’s tale has a happy ending. The woman who begins the story bitter of soul has her prayers answered by God. She gets pregnant and gives birth to a son whom she names Samuel. He will eventually become a chieftain, prophet, and anointer of kings. At Samuel’s weaning, Hannah returns to Shiloh to dedicate her son to a life of service to God. Again, she opens up her heart and this time offers a prayer of blessing and gratitude to God.

Our tradition identifies Hannah as the model for heartfelt prayer. Whenever we are feeling that the words in our siddur do not resonate with us, do not express what we are feeling in our hearts, we would do well to remember that the early Sages did not think that fixed words were the most authentic way to pray. Hannah’s way is the ideal to which we ought to aspire. To bring what is internal, whether sorrow, gratitude, or joy, and make it external.

To do this, we must appraise ourselves honestly. What is the ideal self that we wish we could be?

Perhaps I strive to be generous, or to make a difference in my community. Maybe I want to be well-read, or knowledgeable. Or perhaps I want to be a reliable friend and confidant? Maybe I want to have a healthy body.

We often try to teach our kids: “It doesn’t matter what other people think.” Well, it is not exactly true. In fact, there are some people in our lives whose opinions matter. People whose views of us we should care about. What we should be teaching is to be selective, to figure out which people are the ones whose opinions count.

Pick one person in your life whose opinion you care about. It could be a spouse or partner. Maybe it’s your mother or father, or possibly a son or daughter. Maybe you have a friend whose opinion really matters. Or perhaps a mentor, teacher, or someone you work with.

Let’s take a few moments to ask ourselves: How do I want this person to see me?

Now let’s ask the more difficult question: How may this person actually see me?

Put another way: If this person were to write my epitaph, would it be the same as if I had written it myself?

I am going to guess that there is a difference between how we want to be seen, and how we are seen.

So what will it take to become that person that we strive to be, and to be known that way by others?

As the Nobel Prize winning author, Isaac Bashevis Singer said: “We know what a person thinks not when he tells us what he thinks, but by his actions.”**3** By focusing on our actions, maybe we can change ourselves from the outside in.

One of the Sages of the Talmud, Rabbi Ila’i, teaches that if you want to know what a person is like, you have to look at three aspects of his or her behavior.**4**

Amar Rabbi Ila’i: Bishloshah d’varim adam nikar.

“Rabbi Ila’i said: A person is known by three things.” Then he makes a little pun.

B’khoso, uv’khiso, uv’kha’aso.

b’khoso – by his cup, uv’khiso – by his pocket, uv’kha’aso – and by his anger.”

What do each of these things mean?

Let’s start b’khoso, by his cup. In Rabbinic literature, a kos, a cup, is a euphemism for wine. Our tradition sees alchohol, potentially, as a great blessing: “Wine gladdens a person’s heart,”**5** Psalms teaches. But the Rabbis also recognize the harm that overindulgence can bring.

And so, b’khoso is about enjoying the world. A person is known by the way in which he or she takes pleasure in life.

The Talmudic Sage Rav taught: “A human being will have to give account for all that his eye beheld and he did not eat.”**6** The world that God created is a blessing, one which we are meant to appreciate and enjoy.

A person is known by the quality of his enjoyment of the world. Did he hold back, denying himself the ability to experience pleasure? Perhaps he overindulged, consuming so much that he could not appreciate the earth’s blessings. Or maybe he found the sweet spot, cultivating a sense of gratitude by being constantly open to the world’s bounty, recognizing it as a gift from God that must be appreciated, conserved, and shared.

However we enjoy the world, people will know us by it.

A person will also be known b’khiso, by his pocket. How we spend our money says something about us. What percentage of our income do we give to tzedakah? Which causes are the ones which inspire our generosity: hunger, curing disease, education, the arts?

How much do we tip?

How well do we save for the future?

Do we give gifts to our friends and family members?

How do we choose to spend money on ourselves?In contemporary society, with widening income gaps and disposable consumerism, a significant portion of our community has the ability to buy and buy and buy – with much of that buying making no difference in our quality of life. How have we managed to resist those pressures?

Our peers, and our children, see how we choose to spend our resources. What lessons are they drawing about where our priorities lie?

Finally, a person is known b’kha’aso, by his anger.

Anger is not a bad thing. Anger is important. Anger can tell us when there is injustice. Anger points us towards wrongs in our world that need to be corrected. Our challenge is twofold. On the one hand, we have to learn to pay attention to our anger. On the other hand, we have to not allow ourselves to be consumed by it.

So what makes you angry? Needless violence? Children who start school already behind because they don’t have any adults to read to them? Pollution in our air? Dirty clothes left on the living room floor? “The size of a man is measured by the size of the thing that makes him angry.”**7**

Once you are angry, what do you do about it? Nothing? March in the streets? Donate money? Volunteer? Start an organization? Start yelling and waving your arms? Anger is a useful emotion only so long as we direct it towards righting that which is wrong.

We will be known by the things that make us angry and what we choose to do about it.

Our task is to make these aspects of our lives reflect the kind of person we imagine we can be in our hearts.

We celebrate Rosh Hashanah as the new year, the day on which God created all that is. In our mahzor, we state hayom harat olam. “Today the world is conceived.” Not 5774 years ago. Not four and a half billion years ago. Today. Creation is renewed today – in each one of us.

Rosh Hashanah offers us the choice of becoming a new person. The past is gone, never to be repeated. There is only the eternal present, and hope for the future. What can we do to make our outsides match up with our insides? To make the self that others see reflect the self that we want to be?

This year, focus on three things: b’khoso, u’v’khiso, uv’kha’aso. By our cup – the way that we enjoy the blessings of the world; by our pocket – how we choose to prioritize our resources; and by our anger – how we express our moral outrage.

This year, let us become new people.

**1**I found these epitaphs at the following websites: and

**2**I Samuel 1:13

**3**Isaac Bashevis Singer, New York Times Magazine, Nov. 26, 1978.

**4**BT Eiruvin 65b

**5**Psalms 104:15

**6**PT Kiddushin 4:12

**7**Attribution cannot be confirmed. Most likely J. Kenneth Morely or Christopher Morely.