Rosh Hashanah Message from Rabbi Tzvi Graetz

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Rosh Hashanah this year begins in the evening on September 4 on the Gregorian calendar.  This is the earliest secular date for Rosh Hashanah since 1899.  We all know, of course, that the first of Tishrei is the start of the Jewish New Year.  And the first of Tishrei comes at the same time every year after the month of Elul.

Every year though, we seemed to be surprised that it is “already” Rosh Hashanah. Why is this?  Why do we always seem so unprepared?  The month of Elul is supposed to prepare us for the introspection of the High Holidays.  We blow the shofar each morning (except Shabbat) and say selichot prayers in anticipation of asking forgiveness from both God and people.

Outside of Israel, fall comes with back to school sales, falling leafs and changing of seasons.  There may be a happy new year sign if you live in a bigger city or grocery store shelves filled with gefilte fish and honey.  In Israel, you do feel the holidays coming.  Pomegranates, a symbol of the New Year are everywhere.  It is traditionally eaten on the second night with the blessing “ken yehi ratzon-may it be thy will, O Creator, that our year be rich and replete with blessings as the pomegranate rich and replete with seeds.” Radio stations play the top 40 songs of the year and lists of prayer services are printed and distributed.

Most of us though spend the month of August still in the throws of summer, squeezing out every last moment at the pool, on vacation or enjoying friends and family.  When the holidays inevitably come, we aren’t ready.  Honestly, I’m not sure we can ever be “ready” for the holidays.  The period that begins with Elul and really doesn’t end until Simchat Torah focuses on teshuva, on asking forgiveness from those that we have wronged and from God.  This is one of the hardest things to “get ready” for.  It isn’t necessarily that we don’t have remorse but asking forgiveness makes us vulnerable.  Already feeling bad, a rejection of a sincere offer for forgiveness can be hard.  And can make it that much more difficult to ask again the next time.

History has also taught us that we can never truly be prepared.  Even at the beginning of our history as a nation at the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites were so pressed for time their bread didn’t have time to rise.  And so it has gone, expelled from European countries, forced into ghettos, fleeing persecution, the Jews have always been a “wandering” people.  Now that we are once again in our own country, we still see this history manifested in the Israeli attitude of forthrightness and willingness to tackle a problem head on.

We must take every opportunity to right a wrong, forgive when asked, ask even though you may not be forgiven and be grateful for the moments we have both meaningful and mundane.  What will our year be like and what do we want to make of it? is a question that goes through all of our minds during this period of reflection.
“And the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun. For if a man live many years, let him rejoice in them all … and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thy heart….”  Ecclesiastes 11: 7-9

So as Rosh Hashana “surprises” us this year let us allow life to surprise us as well wherever we are living around the world, so that we, as Am Yisrael, have each year a new opportunity to start over again and to correct our relationships with our friends and family.

May we all be blessed with a New Year of health, happiness, joy and shalom.

Rabbi Tzvi Graetz, Executive Director, Masorti Olami & MERCAZ Olami