For the week ending 8 September 2018 / 28 Elul 5778

Renewing and Improving Our Ways

by Rabbi Nota Schiller
A Message for Rosh Hashana
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Remember the story of the textile manufacturer who scrounged together his savings over some years to afford his first winter vacation in Miami? Immediately after checking in he rushed to the pool to discover a big sign: "No swimming allowed!" Being the cut-rate hotel that it was, the part-time lifeguard had not yet appeared. Nothing could deter him from actualizing his dream of swimming in January in a Miami pool and so he plunged in. Very quickly a guard appeared and screamed, pointing to the sign, "Didn't you read what it says: No swimming allowed"?

"Yes, but that’s not how I read it." "How did you read it?" "No! Swimming allowed."

Punctuation, diction, nomenclature, each makes a world of difference. Sloppy terminology is both a cause and a result of uncritical thinking and expression. That allows for calling terrorists "Freedom Fighters" and murderers "Resistance Groups".

While Rosh Hashana is a day of judgment, the prophet indicates there will be an ultimate Day of Judgment. The Vilna Gaon explains that only then, at the Messianic climax of history, will all the extensions and ramifications of our earlier actions through the centuries become evident. A similar idea was expressed in a secular manner some 40 years ago when the Chinese Premier, Zhou Enlai, was asked what lasting impact the French Revolution (1789) had had upon the world. His response was, "It's still too early to tell".

The Midrash teaches, "Renew your ways, improve your ways." A second position: "Improve your ways, renew your ways." Rabbi Meir Simcha HaKohen of Dvinsk (“The Ohr Somayach”) explains: To "renew" is to produce a new generation to carry on the mitzvahs and the tradition. Oft times an older generation beleaguered by culture gap takes to imitating the leniencies of the younger assimilating generation. It never works. "Renew the generation? Improve your ways". Your consistency and dedication will inspire. Other times it starts the other way. Parents themselves relax in the seemingly less weighty mitzvahs. Invariably, then, the children will relax in the weighty mitzvahs. "Improve your ways – Renew your ways."

“How?” asks the Midrash. “With the Shofar”. (A play on the root form Shaper — to improve — Shofar.)

No person prizes words, diction and syntax more than the Torah Jew. So much of Talmudic analysis is linguistically scrutinized. Yet the mitzvah of Shofar means owning up to the transcendent moment that is beyond words.

A tiny bit of breath injected at the narrow end of the Shofar comes out the wide end and echoes for generations.

כתיבה וחתימה טובה

Ketiva v’chatima tova – May we all be written and sealed in the Book of Life and have a good and sweet year!

Rav Nota Schiller

Rosh HaYeshiva

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