My dear fellow Jews,
We live in an age of anarchy fueled by the unprecedented proliferation of media outlets that bombard our senses and expose our minds to extreme and radical ideas. Anyone with a computer can broadcast his opinions to the world on any topic of his choosing. All of a sudden, everyone is an instant expert and anything goes. Sacred human value systems that had endured for millennia are cast aside in favor of new mores and sensibilities that tear at the very fabric of our most fundamental and cherished institutions such as marriage and family. Tragically, many try to destroy the most basic human relationship of all, that between man and his holy Creator.
Rosh Hashana is the precious gift God gives us, His children, as a means to re-establish and fully repair our relationship with Him. However, how are we to return to our Father in Heaven when we are profoundly influenced by corrupting messages at every turn? What attitude might we adopt to counter the arrogance that characterizes these troubled times?
I believe we can find a valuable approach to mitigating this problem in the words we customarily recite on Rosh Hashana in conjunction with the special foods served at the holiday meal. We partake from the head of a lamb or fish and offer a simple prayer to Hashem, “Yehi Ratzon Milfanecha SheNihyeh LeRosh, V’Lo LeZanav,” literally translated, “May it be Your will that we be toward the head and not toward the tail.” But why do we ask that we be “toward the head” seemingly, subordinate to it, instead of asking to “be the head” itself? Moreover, what is the “head” referring to altogether?
Perhaps the subtlety of this formulation demonstrates that while we aspire to position ourselves at the head, we recognize we are not the final arbiters of our destiny. We humbly subordinate ourselves to a “higher authority” in seeking to fulfill our true purpose in life. Although the head is the seat of human intellect, we acknowledge that in the journey of life many events along the way defy our human comprehension and we must place our trust in Hashem, Creator of heaven and earth, who guides the tides of history in accordance with His divine plan.
The way to demonstrate our faith in Hashem is, first and foremost, to study the holy Torah and keep its beautiful Mitzvos. A Torah life is the opposite of a life of anarchy. It is filled with meaning and purpose and the richness of spiritual treasures gifted to us by our Father above. At times we may not understand the rationale for a particular Mitzvah. Nevertheless, just as a sick patient heeds a doctor’s instructions whether he understands them or not, how much more so must we follow Hashem’s prescriptions for life which is the essence of His Torah.
We are not trailblazers in this regard. The path of faith in Hashem has been charted for us by the very first Jew, our holy ancestor Avraham Avinu. On Rosh Hashana we invoke the memory of “Akeidas Yitzchak,” when Avraham demonstrated his willingness to sacrifice everything he held dear, even his beloved son Yitzchak, in order to follow God’s instructions, incomprehensible as they might seem. In the end, an angel of God told Avraham not to offer his son as a sacrifice. But the intention Avraham mustered at that fateful moment was transmitted to his children and grandchildren in all future generations to the present time.
Avraham is the “Rosh,” the “head” we refer to when we pray to Hashem “may we be toward the Rosh.” On Rosh Hashana, as we proclaim Hashem’s sovereignty over all of creation, we affirm our connection to the head of our people and express our own intention to live up to his example. This is a matter of critical importance for us Jews, as the challenges and threats we face today are very serious. The lesson we learn from Avraham Avinu is that precisely at the moment of gravest danger, our commitment to live in accordance with the Divine will is the only path to redemption.
At the threshold of a new year let us re-dedicate ourselves to keeping the Torah and performing acts of charity and kindness. In this merit, may we enjoy a healthy new year filled with joy, blessing and abundant spiritual growth.