What really counts

About 6 weeks ago on Shabbat Nachamu, I was davening for some comfort.  It is hard to fathom how an individual can find the power to overcome the constant bad news we are fed.  I wanted comfort from the negativity.  Iran is left untouched to pursue its genocidal ambitions.  The USA are positioning to elect a populist President whose agenda is unknown.  The world is in financial meltdown.  The cost of living has reached the point where basic commodities become an affordable challenge.  High profile religoius leaders blame Israel for the crimes of its enemies and can brazenly suggest that today’s victims of the Nazi’s are the Palestinians.  A very small portion of the democracy of Israel (0.54% of the population) elect a new Prime Minister who apparently thinks that the spritual core of the Jewish people, the place that connects heaven and earth, can be given over to a people who make no secret of their desire to slaughter us.

At every turn, we are fed bleak and demoralising things to contemplate.

Well guess what folks?  The sun will still come up tomorrow.  We still have our families, we still have roof’s over our heads.  We still have the gift of free thought, the ability to challenge our minds, to help other people, to enjoy our day to day activities, to be proud of our own idealism and conduct.

Some people like to sit in front of TV, and be fed a fantasised diet of social depravity, through depressive scripted drama, or even more depressive news (which some people even equate to reality).  Others prefer to leave the TV off, and do more constructive things.  Such as learning gemara, doing mitzvot, can educating their children.   

Jewish tradition has within it the value of Tikkun Olam – healing a fractured world.  Sometimes there is a tendency to take this out of context, to make this the central tenet of Judaism and place this value on a pedestal as the be all and end all of the Jewish mission.  Whilst it is a very important concept, tikkun olam must be understood as a means to an end, not an end in itself.  The “mission” or the “goal” of Judiasm is “Shema Yisrael” - realising the oneness and unification of Hashem’s creation.

There was an article in the general press about the construction of an Eruv in Vienna.  Somebody poked fun at the article by mocking the tradition and suggesting that the legal fiction of a string boundary is an insignificant priority in the context of the woes of the world.  Sure, if you look at the action with a sterile or non-religious view, it seems like a lot of hard work for nothing.  But they miss the point when they claim that G-d did not say anything about stringing wires around our neighbourhoods.  In fact, in their effort to discredit the concept they touch on the very point that the eruv represents.  As one of the responses noted; “lo bashamiem hi”, the law is not made in heaven.  It is human Rabbinic interpretation that defines how we live the Torah, and this is the reason why Judaism is a living religion.  It is why we survive.  G-d gave us the intellect and the ability to perfect the intentions of creation through the ability to make and implement decisions. 

When I think back to Shabbat Nachamu, and the short period of the past few weeks, it is true that the world has changed a lot.  Our political and economic climate has shifted significantly.  However our values and our abilities have not.  We can sucumb to the negativity, or we can show our character by responding in the best way possible.  Our TIkkun Olam can be realised by building up the environments around us, by giving to the people who are close to us, and by motivating ourselves towards working hard on our character refinement and work ethic.  We cannot however lament about the massive socio-economic breakdown that is beyond our individual control. 

This is what really counts.  Throughout this month we have been listening to the call of the Shofar, and when Shabbat ends tomorrow we will commence the penetitial prayers of slichot.   We will take action that is intended to bring forgiveness, and we will use the gift of teshuva.  This untranslatable term is a unique Jewish concept that allows us to put right a matter that we regret, but internalising what was wrong, doing our best to make positive change, and forever changing our conduct to prevent it from recurring.  It is an absolute transformation, not a verbal platitude.  It is a character elevation, not an empty pledge that will see us revert to repeat our mistakes. 

What really counts is the call of the shofar.  We may hear its call, but we need to ask ourselves, are we actually listening?   If we are, we will find more than the comfort of nachamu.  We will also find the positive motivation and the constructive intent to make a difference, and overcome all the limitations and barriers that our living environment places before us. 

In the lead up to Rosh Hashana, may we exercise good judgement and perform Teshuvah such that we can walk into Shule on Yom Tov with a clear consience and a fitting resolve.