There will be challenges this year that will require us, as Jews, to heed and to think and to act in ways that are just and righteous and true. And we know, from deep in our bones, what is true or false? What is right or wrong?
- For some it will be a moral decision we have to make at work.
- For others, we will have to make difficult choices in the coming year about our families and friends.
- And for others still, right and wrong will play out in our activism.
- As a Jewish people, we know right from wrong because the moral compass set within us tells us so. Where do Jews get this moral compass? We know right from wrong from Torah. The great prophets of Israel all spoke truth to power. And so did Nathan, even to King David, when it was necessary.
We Jews know about right and wrong from our historical experience. We know from hundreds of years of unjust governments and laws in Europe, and so we have a special responsibility to heed the prophet Isaiah, to be a light onto the nations.
And we Jews know about right from wrong because it is the central theme of these days of awe. We say in the liturgy: Hayom Harat Olam – today is the birthday of the world. Today the world is created anew. This is our annual opportunity to remember what our true values are once again and to rediscover the moral foundations of our lives. To live a moral life we need to be self-critical. A good question for Rosh Hashanah is – what have we done as individuals and as a community that is shameful? The failure to do that is what the rabbis call azut panim – the strength of the face – summoning the inner strength to face down every twinge of conscience.
As Jews we get a sense of right and wrong from scripture, from experience in history, and from our worship. How does this deep sense of right and wrong work in the uncertainties of everyday living?
We practice our faith when we work daily to protect the dignity of others.
We practice our faith when we offer kindness to animals.
We practice our faith when we avoid extremism.
We practice our faith when we model being the kind of person we want our children and grandchildren to grow up to be.
We practice our faith when we act as if someone is always watching.
We practice our faith when we live with patience in a world of chaos.
We practice our faith in our moderation, in a world teeming with indulgence and gluttony.
We practice our faith when it’s time to speak out and when it’s time to keep silent.
We practice our faith when we strive for the truth; even when others abhor it.
We practice our faith when we live with humility.
A rabbi was once asked: “How does a person bring life into a darkened room?” His answer: “Strike a match.” Then they asked him, “Rabbi how do you bring light to a darkened world?” – His answer: “Become the match, become the light!”
The world needs us, as Heschel teaches, to find our prophetic voice once again. Our task is to find it, to strike the match and to light the fire of Torah — not to bring the world to Judaism but to bring Judaism to the world!
Dear friends – the page on our calendar that reads 5780 by the Hebrew reckoning is still clean and new. Nothing is yet written on it. Nothing will be written on it until we do the writing.