For the week ending 19 September 2009 / 29 Elul 5769

The Old and the New

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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"Wring out the old, ring in the new."

No, the first word is not a spelling mistake or a typo.

It is a play on similar sounding words with a very serious message.

The transition from one year to another that takes place on Rosh Hashana presents us with a challenge and opportunity to learn from the past in order to enrich the future. We must therefore dedicate ourselves to the soul-searching that will enable us to "wring out" from the year gone by those experiences which we can analyze with the objectivity of retrospect and apply the lessons we have learned from them.

"Let the (old) year with its curses come to an end; let the (new) year with its blessings begin."

This is the prayer traditionally said by Jews as one year fades into another. The curses of the past year must, however, be viewed in the proper perspective. All individual or collective suffering serves the purpose of awakening us to a realization that we must try to improve ourselves. If we turn this realization into action we transform the curses into blessings.

It is a bitter comment on our times that the "man of the year" who made the most headlines is the Iranian dictator threatening the world with his potential for nuclear capacity. As we listen to the great debate as to whether he should be prevented from developing this capacity by force or by diplomacy, it is important for us to reflect on the prayer we will be saying four times a day on Rosh Hashana:

"And so instill a sense of fear, O L-rd our G-d, in all of Your creations… and all Your creations will bow before You and they will all join together to wholeheartedly do Your will."

While we respect and appreciate the human efforts being made by leaders of the free world to eliminate the Iranian threat, it is incumbent on us, as Jews who understand Rosh Hashana as a time for reinforcing our recognition of G-d as Creator and Master of the world, to internalize that the inevitable outcome of this saga is in His hands. The greater our faith is in Heavenly control of world events, the greater is the likelihood of our prayers being answered for G-d to provide the deterrent to a nuclear threat which the nations of the world have not been able to provide.

The truth is that this is really what Rosh Hashana is all about. Although it is the first of the "Ten Days of Repentance" we make no confession of our sins on this day. For the beginning of a genuine return to G-d must be a profound recognition that He is the Creator and Ruler of the world to Whom we are responsible and Who ultimately determines the reward for fulfillment and the consequences of negligence. This is the theme expressed in the above-quoted payer and in virtually all of the prayers and the sounding of the shofar.

Internalizing this theme will enable us to truly "wring out the old" and ring in a new year blessed with peace and prosperity.

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