Rabbi Mark Wildes: MJE, Rosh Hashanah 5775/2014: First Night

WHAT’S YOUR MISSION STATEMENT?  (First Night)

A young man was learning to be a paratrooper. Before his first jump, he was given the following instructions: “Jump when you’re told. Count to ten and pull the rip cord. In the unlikely event your parachute doesn’t open, pull the emergency rip cord. When you get down, a truck will be there to take you back to the airport.”

The young man memorizes the instructions and climbs aboard the plane. The plane climbs to ten thousand feet, and the paratroopers begin to jump. When the young man was told to jump, he jumps, he counts to ten, and he pulls the rip cord. Nothing happens. His chute fails to open! So he pulls the emergency rip cord. Still, nothing happens. No parachute. “Oh great,” said the young man. “And I suppose the truck won’t be there when I get down either!”

I thought this was an appropriate story with which to open our Rosh Hashanah services, because Rosh Hashanah is a time to determine what’s really important in life, and what’s not as important. Compared to what was happening to the paratrooper in the sky, whether the truck would be there at the airport or not was probably not very significant. We get too hung up on things that, in the grand scheme of things, don’t really matter very much. And on the other hand, we sometimes fail to pay attention to things that are truly deserving of our time. Rosh Hashanah is an opportunity to take stock and to evaluate what is truly important in our lives; to think about how we are spending our precious time and what areas could stand some improvement.

As I say each year, Rosh Hashanah is the time to make up our own personal mission statement. If we do this for our businesses and our careers, then why not for the parts of our lives which are even more important? What are my goals and objectives for the coming year? What do I hope to achieve in terms of the relationships in my life or in terms of moral and spiritual growth? Am I moving forward in these areas or I am stagnating?

The Talmud tells us:”shuv yom echad lifnei mitatcha”- “repent one day before you die”. Since we obviously don’t know when that day is, teshuva, repentance (or really, the process of returning to God) is something we are encouraged to do every day of our lives. So what’s so special about the High Holidays? If teshuva is an all-year-round mitzvah, then what’s different about the teshuva we do on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?

One of the greatest rabbinic minds of our generation, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, explains the difference in the following way: teshuva is something we are encouraged to do every day of our lives but the teshuva we do every day is designed to keep us in line with our goals and aspirations. When we veer off from pursuing those goals, we have the everyday teshuva as a tool to keep us on the right path. But what is that path? What are the goals and aspirations that we set our sights on?  That, says Rav Lichtenstein, is the teshuva of Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah is the time to choose the path, to create the goals and the objectives for the coming year, to plot out a spiritual and moral direction to which we will aspire in the future year. “What do I want to accomplish in the coming year?” “How far do I wish to take my Judaism and relationships with other people?” These are the kinds of questions we ask ourselves on Rosh Hashanah.
And we ask ourselves these questions within the context of our prayers, because the prayers we say all year, and particularly the ones we recite on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, are designed to help us focus on our purpose in this world. This gives us the proper context with which we can map out the direction we choose to follow in the coming year. Take advantage of this opportunity to create your own mission statement. Use the prayers we will say together to help inspire you; we will say some of the prayers in English and recite or sing some of them in Hebrew. If your Hebrew is a little rusty, feel free to use the transliteration, and if you don’t know a song, just hum along anyway. Humming is also considered a form of prayer.
It is a great honor and pleasure to welcome our Chazzan, Rabbi Arnie Singer, and our Educational Directors, Rabbi Avi and Shira Heller, and thank Miriam, our West Side Director, for all their hard work in helping us plan and carry out our High Holiday programs.

May our prayers uplift and inspire us, may they be received favorably before Hashem, and in that merit may each of us be inscribed in the book of long life, happiness and peace.
Shanah Tova   

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