From Rabbi Naomi - High Holy Days Message

Jewish life revolves around doing mitzvot.  Usually translated as commandments, my teacher Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, of blessed memory, referred to mitzvot as action directives. More than a thousand years ago, the great sage Saadia Gaon wrote The Book of Beliefs and Opinions in which he divided the many mitzvot into two groups: the ethical and the ritual.  Saadia wrote and spoke in Arabic, the lingua franca of his time (892-942) and place (the Academy of Sura in Babylonia).

In progressive Jewish communities today, we have the freedom and the responsibility to choose to do the mitzvot that call to us.  Which rituals are woven into the fabric of family and community life, and which ones do we take on for ourselves?  Which ethical action directives are moral imperatives for us?

We have many beautiful ritual and ethical mitzvot for the Yamim Noraim, the High Holy Days.  We study, pray, sing, greet one another kindly, make amends for any wrongdoing, and give tzedakah to alleviate suffering and redress injustice.

One mitzvah supersedes all others: pikuach nefesh, preservation of life.  Before Covid we came together in the conviviality of our synagogue to wish one another a good New Year, and support each other in our efforts to improve ourselves and our world. Life saving vaccinations are starting to turn the Covid tide, but the work is not yet complete; many among us are still at risk of serious illness or death. Also in this troubled time we see a steep rise in deadly attacks on Jews, other minorities, and even school children and teachers as easy access to military weapons takes its toll on our heart-broken country.

For decades we enjoyed welcoming visitors to our High Holy Day events at Temple Beth El, but this year, for pikuach nefesh, to preserve life, our events will be held at private, secure locations and open exclusively to the one hundred and forty Temple families and their guests.

Bezrat HaShem, with Divine Help, may we all be strengthened and inspired by tradition, motivated and invigorated by innovation, and face the coming year with gratitude and hope.

L’shanah tovah ~ Wishing you a good New Year,
Rabbi Naomi