Friday, August 23, 2013

Getting Ready for Rosh Hashanah - Rabbi Ozer Bergman

One of the things we learned from our ruminations about Uman and LSD is that a big part of our spiritual—excuse me, Jewish—mission is getting along with our fellow Jews. (Of course, Rebbe Akiva put this a bit more succinctly when he said “Love your fellow as you love yourself” [Leviticus 19:18] is a major principle of the Torah [Bereishis Rabbah 24:7].)

But loving people—even if you don’t like them and even if you can’t stand them—and inter-acting civilly is not the last step. It’s the first step. The real power of love is much greater. Pardon the cliché, but the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts.

As you know, Rosh Hashanah is Yom HaDin, Judgment Day. We pray to be written in the Book of Life, for a sweet, happy and healthy new year. But that judgment thing, you know, just won’t go away. Fortunately, God also wants us to come out with a good verdict. So we have to give Him some good reason to make it come out right.

Each of us has the ability to influence the verdict. In fact, you are one of the judges. You are not the chief justice, but your opinion will not only be heard, but it will factor into the final decision. Rebbe Nachman teaches, “On Rosh Hashanah one must be wise and think only good thoughts, that God will be good to us ….” (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom #21).

That means, don’t just wish for a good year, and don’t just hope for happiness and good fortune, but “be wise.” Think about what is good, what would truly be good if it happened, if it existed. “Think only good thoughts” about how you, and others, can be better at living a more wholesome Jewish life, for example. Focus and concentrate on how and in what ways “God will be good to us.”

Don’t be selfish and use your wise thinking only on you and yours. Think about your friends, neighbors, local, city, state and federal governments. (I’m not a big fan of politicians, to put it mildly. 

This recommendation is not for their sake, but ours, per the Mishnah [Avot 3:2], “Pray for the welfare of the government.”) Think wisely about the material misery of so many across the globe, but think even more wisely about the decline of morality and of civilization which need to be reversed.

Our individual efforts to “think only good thoughts” will have a positive impact, but only to a limited degree. The reason? Because as strongly as you or I focus on bettering the world, we are acting singly. We can mitigate the judgment only to our individual limits. But what if we thought together? What if we were so in love with one another before Rosh Hashanah that we agreed on which were the best, or most necessary, points to “be wise” about and we focused on them together?

Yeah, that would be pretty cool. Now, maybe it’s too close to Rosh Hashanah 5774 to do something globally, maybe not. But certainly, it’s not too late to discuss with some friends and fellow shul/synagogue/chaburah-goers about which “good thoughts” to think and in what ways we want “God to be good to us.” Ditto, for folks, spouse and siblings.

Uniting in peace and love, even as a small group, creates a mind much greater in scope, with much greater power. The Rebbe teaches (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom #62):

When thought is intensely concentrated and focused, it can exert great influence. All faculties of the mind, conscious and unconscious, down to the innermost point, must be focused without distraction. When many people do this without distraction, their thinking can actually force something to happen. (See there for a caveat!)

A final word. We usually think of “good” in material terms, “more” and “better,” “bigger” and “faster.” When Rebbe Nachman says “good” he means an eternal good beyond our comprehension—but within our ability to live. 

© Copyright 2013 Bergman 

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