It is at this time of year that Jews spend time in self reflection and assessment. The Jewish New Year or Rosh Hashanah, which begins tomorrow, starts a ten day period which culminates with Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. We can generally separate reflection into two categories: reflection on behaviour and reflection on attitude. The former focuses on how we act as human beings, how we treat others, our level of productivity and our personal moral and spiritual conduct. Reflection on attitude, conversely, has to do with the beliefs, opinions and views we hold. Often we spend time reflecting on how we acted over the past year but devote little time to reviewing our attitudes and strongly held views.
But in the confessions of the Yom Kippur liturgy forgiveness is also sought for sins which we have committed by improper thoughts and by a confused heart. This, in my view, is referring to sins associated with improper beliefs and opinions. We often take it for granted that the opinions and attitudes we hold are necessarily the correct ones. Asking people to question their deeply held beliefs is especially challenging in a community that demands an unwavering and unquestioning doctrinal belief.
Just when we thought that terrorists could not become any more barbaric, this week in Sydney, Australia locals faithful to ISIS had planned public beheadings of random people off the street. Having recently returned from a visit to Australia I can attest that it is a wonderful place. Despite the high cost of living Australia boasts a vibrant democracy, a healthy economy, ample opportunities, a generous welfare system, lots of good weather, beautiful outdoors and people there seem happy and friendly. Yet we have also learned that one of the leaders of ISIS is Australian.
Who are these Australian (and British) ISIS members and what do they want? What would inspire Westerners to leave their comfortable homes and join a force that murders innocent people, including fellow citizens of their own countries, in the most barbaric fashion and then post videos of their dastardly acts on the internet to brag?
Make no mistake about it Israel is in the midst of a war for its very survival. Hamas has invested in acquiring more advanced rockets to fire indiscriminately as Israeli civilians and to create a network of tunnels through which they seek to sneak into Israel to kill and capture thousands of innocent Jews.
Throughout this latest round of the conflict well meaning people have called for Israel to end its fight against Hamas. Most in the West don’t realize that Hamas is a fanatical religious organization whose raison d’etre is to have armed conflict with Israel leading to the destruction of the State of Israel. In fact the very idea of a cease-fire with Hamas is nonsensical because Hamas has only one goal, to destroy Israel. They see this as a religious obligation from God.
The great medieval Jewish poet and philosopher Judah Halevi wrote a poem about the Land of Israel which begins with this line: “My heart is in the East, yet I remain [physically] in the furthest point West.” This sums up how I feel about Israel. This feeling has intensified over the last few weeks as Israel faces some of the most serious challenges of its short life-span. The question I have asked myself over and over again is what can I do to help?
Often, we go through life without realizing that we are coasting. All of the functions of life seem to be working, yet we are not really participating. In a sense, we become spectators in the game of life. There are those who live their entire life this way.
What does it take to wake us up to the potentiality of a life fulfilled and well lived? What this really requires is spiritual awakening of sorts. In the Torah, there are a few passages that shed light on this phenomenon. As the Israelites wandered the desert, God commanded them to take a lamb and offer it as a Paschal (Passover) sacrifice. Those, however, that were unable to bring the sacrifice in the allotted time either because they were impure or because they were out of the vicinity complained to Moses about it, and asked, "Why should we be excluded so as not to bring the offering of the Lord in its appointed time, with all the children of Israel?” (Numbers 9:6 - 10).