- Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald
Rosh Hashana 5781-2020: A Message for the High Holy Days: ‘Export, Export!
- Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald
- Sep 14, 2020
(updated and revised from Rosh Hashana 5763-2002)
Beginning this Friday evening, September 18th, and continuing through Saturday and Sunday, September 19th and 20th, we will celebrate the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashana 5781. Because it is Rosh Hashana, the normal weekly Torah parasha will not be read. Instead, on Shabbat, Genesis 21:1-34 will be read, in which G-d remembers the barren Sarah and the miraculous birth of Isaac takes place. On Sunday, Genesis 22:1-24 will be read, a portion that is known as the Akeida or the binding of Isaac.
So here we are, Erev Rosh Hashana, marking the joyous new year, and l’havdil (to make a distinction), in the midst of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic and the profound racial unrest in America.
Given the reality, how can we compose a somewhat upbeat Rosh Hashana message?
As the Hebrew poet, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, wrote in the 12th century when recalling the destroyed Temples in Jerusalem: “How can food and drink taste pleasant to me, when I witness the dogs dragging away our brave youth?” It’s been a bitter year for the Jewish people as anti-Semitism continues to raise its nasty head, and a pretty miserable year for the world, as well. We really need a new start. Hopefully, this time of renewal in the Jewish calendar will prove to be a propitious time for optimism--and the “pick-us-up” that we collectively require.
Rosh Hashana marks the beginning of the period known as the “Ten Days of Penitence,” the ten days in which the Jewish people are individually judged, preparing for their fate to be determined on Yom Kippur. It is a time when the Al-mighty calls His people to teshuva, to repent, so that He can forgive their sins and inscribe them all in the Book of Life. It is a time for us to prove to the Al-mighty that we are really worthy of being inscribed for Life. We do this by making extra-special efforts during these ten days to perform meritorious acts, deeds of kindness and generosity, and avoid negative behaviors, such as gossip and hurting others.
The sainted Chofetz Chaim, offered the following meaningful parable regarding the proper way to conduct our lives.
A young man survived a terrible shipwreck. After drifting in the rough seas for several days by hanging on to pieces of the shattered vessel, he managed to paddle his way to an island. Arriving on the shore dazed, his clothing ripped to shreds, he unexpectedly heard the shrill cries of men running toward him. Certain that the savage natives of the island would rip him apart limb by limb, he began to pray. Instead, the natives gently lifted him, wrapped him in a beautiful long velvet robe, placed a crown on his head, and called out, “Long live the King.”
The islanders brought the survivor to a magnificent palace, and began to treat him as if he were truly the king of the island. To help him recover from his ordeal, they fed him dainty foods, and bathed him in spices and oils. Once restored to health, the servants prepared sumptuous meals for him, and gave him a most beautiful wife.
Thus the survivor spent his days and nights, luxuriating, as is expected of true kings and regents.
After a month of living in this royal manner, the would-be king gathered enough courage to ask one of his trusted chamberlains to explain what was going on, and what would be his fate. The wise servant informed him that almost every year a shipwrecked survivor lands on the island. It was the islanders’ custom to appoint this unfortunate soul to serve as king of the island for exactly one year. After the year, the survivor is taken, stripped of everything in his possession, placed on a raft, and cast back into the sea, naked as the day he came.
The poor fellow began to cry, “What will become of me? How can I save myself?” The chamberlain told the young survivor to heed his advice well, and began repeating the words: “Export, export.” The poor fellow could not understand, and the chamberlain explained. “Over the period of the next year, you must prepare for the future. Every day, without the islanders’ knowledge, you must send a small vessel from the island containing some of your royal possessions. Not far from here is another island. There, your servants will set up an alternative home for you. As the year draws to a conclusion, send your wife, and any children that you may have, over to the island. And so, when the year is up, and the natives take you and cast you back into the ocean, you will be able to paddle over to the island and begin to live your life again.”
The Chofetz Chaim explains that the story of the shipwreck, the survivor and the islanders, is really a metaphor for life. Every one of us arrives in this world, and is greeted at birth by a chorus of admirers, parents, and family members who shout: “Long live the King. Long live the Queen.” Every child is hailed as royalty. For much of our lives, we humans are treated to the luxuries of this world, often to excess. But, when our lifetimes reach their conclusion, we all leave this world naked as the day we came, except for those good deeds and acts of kindness that we have accumulated and exported during our mortal years. Only they, accompany us during the next stage of our journey.
It is during this period of The Ten Days of Penitence, that we particularly need to make our lives more meaningful by “exporting.” We are fortunate, because there is really no better time to start exporting, than the propitious period of the High Holy Days, and those days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, when the Al-mighty longs for our noble and good deeds. Now is the perfect time to make a special effort to “export” abundant amounts of good deeds and acts of kindness, and to perform mitzvot in excess. Now is the perfect time to pray with special intensity for a year of peace and security, for us, for our families, for the Jewish people, and for the world.
And so, as we stand before the Al-mighty in judgment and passionately offer our positive deeds and our fervent prayers, remember the words of the wise chamberlain, “Export, export.” These “exports” are the only “valuables” that will prove meaningful to us on our ultimate journey.
Shanah tovah u’metukah. May we all be inscribed for a healthy, happy, good, sweet and peaceful year.
May you be blessed.
Rosh Hashana 5781 is observed this year on Friday evening and all day Saturday and Sunday, September 18th, 19th and 20th, 2020.
The Fast of Gedaliah will be observed next Monday, September 21st from dawn until nightfall.
During the period of the Ten Days of Penitence, we need to make our lives more spiritually meaningful. It is during the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur that we must make particularly sincere efforts to "export" good deeds and acts of kindness.