Compendium of Rosh HaShana Articles

1. Article published in the Jewish Report

A community that prays together

So much has happened in the year since last Rosh HaShana. Many members of our community have celebrated wonderful simchas. And yet, at the same time, many have suffered much pain, some through the loss of loved ones, others through illness or other challenges. To be part of community means that we share in and feel each other’s joy and pain. To be part of a community is to look around us and feel deep empathy with other people and what they are going through. And especially, at this time of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, our Sages teach us that by connecting ourselves to community and connecting ourselves to the plight of others in kindness, we achieve great merit before Hashem.

We need to move beyond feeling for others to action, to doing something for them. By attending a simcha, such as a wedding, and dancing and fully participating we create joy for the simcha families. And at a time of loss or illness, when we visit we bring the comfort of our presence and words to those who are in situations of pain. Let us all look out for opportunities to perform acts of kindness and to reach out to as many people as possible in our community to share with them what they are going through.

One of the most powerful things we can do for somebody else is to daven for them, to pray. We cannot underestimate the power of prayer. Our Sages teach us that G-d willingly gave us power to change the world through our prayers. We can and must turn to Him for our every need and request. Each day at the end of the weekday Amidah, just before we take the three steps back, we have an opportunity to mention our own particular needs in our own words before G-d. The Amidah covers all of the general needs of the individual and community and indeed the entire Jewish people and the world. But at the end of the Amidah we have the opportunity to ask for things specifically in our own words – and we should seize that opportunity. Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur are important times to pray for a good and sweet new year.

When we pray, we don’t only pray for ourselves, we pray for others. That is why all of our prayers are formulated in the plural, because we daven on behalf of everybody. The experience of praying for others opens our hearts to them and demonstrates great kindness. We need to feel and think about the needs of others and to pray for them. In this spirit there will, please G-d, be a special unity prayer service for a good year for the community, taking place on the Fast of Gedaliah on Sunday, 24 September. It is an opportunity to come together in a true spirit of community unity, in a spirit of love and caring for one another, and in the spirit of deep empathy. It is an opportunity to pray for those who are sick, that they should be healed, to pray for the comfort of those who are in mourning and to pray for all, that the year ahead should be filled with simchas and nachas. This is what it means to be part of a community. This is what it means to believe in the power of prayer. This is what true unity means. Let’s stand together. Let us all make an effort to attend this service, but most importantly of all, let us all make an effort to harness the power of prayer now during Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, and, indeed, throughout the coming year as a way of changing the world for the good.

May Hashem bless us all with a good and sweet year, filled with His abundant goodness.

The community unity prayer services will take place on Sunday 24 September at 5.15pm at the Yeshiva College Shul, and in Cape Town at 6pm at the Marais Road Shul, and in Durban at 5pm at the Silverton Shul.

2. Article published in the Cape Jewish Chronicle

Dear Friends,

In 2003 Richard Pascal was presented with a challenge by the drug company, Genentech. It had just launched a new drug called Xolair, which was considered to be a brilliant new drug for asthma, and yet six months after the launch the sales of Xolair were not doing well at all. Pascal analysed the situation and identified two sales women who worked in the Dallas-Fortworth area and who were selling twenty times more than were the other sales people. Pascal’s approach was to analyse why these women were successful and to then communicate their method to the other sales people. Pascal discovered that the successful sales women were helping doctors with the practicalities of administering the drug. The practicalities were the barrier to the doctors prescribing it, and once this was overcome, the quality of the product sold itself. This was then shared with the other sales people and sales across the organisation increased dramatically.

This is an example of a change management theory called Bright Spots, discussed in a book called “Switch – how to change things when change is hard”, written by Dan and Chip Heath. It says that when approaching a situation to find opportunities for real impactful change the main idea is to focus on the bright spots – that is the areas that have brought success and achievement. Unpack, analyse and understand them with the purpose of applying them to other areas of your life.

This approach is actually deeply rooted in our Torah wisdom, and is crucial to successfully changing our lives for the good as we approach Rosh Hashana, which is a time of teshuva – repentance and real personal change and development. As we look to change we need to look for our own bright spots – the times we did a mitzvah successfully, and how we can expand the inspiration and magic of those moments to other mitzvahs in our lives; as Pirkei Avot (4:2) teaches, “One mitzvah brings another mitzvah”. This approach applies to every endeavour of life, including marriage, parenting, work and community.

The bright spots approach dramatically affects our attitude to personal change, as we search for positivity, which can be so powerful. It can help us become better people, but blind positivity can be harmful. We need to strike a balance. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveichik explains that when approaching the teshuva we need to come armed with two very different things. One is an unflinching honesty to confront our mistakes, and where we have gone wrong, and where we have stumbled. But secondly, we need to be positive and believe in ourselves and believe in our own potential greatness that lies within every human being.

Judaism is profoundly positive about people. Pirkei Avot (3:18) teaches, “Beloved is the human being created in G-d’s image”. This means that each and every one of us has a soul from Hashem which has infinite light and greatness within it. It is this soul in combination with the light of our Torah that enables us to transcend ourselves and our current situations and to achieve real greatness. This thinking applies not only on a personal level, but on on a communal level as well.

We began a process in July of this year of applying the bright spots methodology to our shuls and have embarked upon a shul renewal project, which we have called “Bright Spots”. The vibrancy of shul life has been key to the success of the South African Jewish community. But in a rapidly changing world our shuls need to innovate and stay ahead of the curve to remain engaging and relevant. And so we have embarked upon a bright spots process which has involved surveying the community to understand the bright spots We then held dedicated bright spots workshops in Cape Town and Johannesburg with all the key people involved in shul leadership. Our inaugural communal shul renewal conference collated all the wonderful bright spots in our community and looked at ways of expanding and extending these efforts. This process continues and we hope to see positive and proactive changes in our shuls as we go forward.

Bright Spots is all about positive thinking. Let us think of where we have done mitzvahs, and think how those moments of inspiration and clarity can illuminate other mitzvahs. It is about harnessing positive achievements and directing that positivity to making the world into a better place. Let us this Rosh HaShana apply the bright spots approach to our own lives and to our shuls and may we all merit to be inscribed for a good and sweet New Year.

With blessings,

Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein

3. Article published in the Jewish Tradition

Partnerships are everything. Nothing important of high impact can be done without partners. From the beginning of creation G-d said, “It is not good for man to be alone”. As you turn the pages of this magazine, you will see many stories about how dynamic partnerships have changed the trajectory of key issues for our community.

You will read of the partnership that we embarked upon with Robbie Brozin to redirect and renew the Kosher Department here at the UOS. You will read of an important partnership with Dr Richard Friedland in establishing the Brit Regulatory Board to help govern this vital mitzvah for our community. Richard is joined by his fellow board members, all of whom are leading figures in their fields, whether it be law, medicine or halacha. You will read of the partnership that has led to the establishment of the Abuse Review Board, where a few outstanding people have agreed to take on the onerous responsibility of providing vital oversight to protect victims of abuse. On the Abuse Review Board we have a leading advocate and a psychologist, as well as the medical officer of the Teddy Bear Clinic and two outstanding rabbis. You will read of how the dayanim of our Beth Din partnered with a retired High Court Judge to revolutionise the rules of court for the Beth Din, to make it more accessible and user friendly, as a dispute resolution platform for our community. This approach of partnerships has been crucial to create so many things over the years, like CAP, which has been a partnership with security and operational and business experts in our community who help put it all together.

My experience has been that to truly create society changing projects it is absolutely crucial to turn to our talented community to help make these things happen. The South African Jewish community is blessed with talented people in every sphere of human endeavour. What is so inspiring is that all of these people who make so much possible serve as volunteers completely for the cause – to make a difference, to do the mitzvah, to make the world into a better place.

And for each of us our greatest partner of all in life is Hashem Himself. The Talmud makes it clear that when we do good things in this world, we become partners with Hashem in creation. This is a radical idea. The Talmud is teaching us that G-d views us, not only as His loyal servants, but as His partners. This is a great compliment from the King of all Kings that we mere mortals can aspire to be His partners. And in all of our mitzvah endeavours of life in raising families, earning a living, helping the people around us, fulfilling the mitzvahs of the Torah, we are in fact partnering with G-d. What an honour.

May Hashem indeed bless all of our partnerships with success so that we may merit to make this world into a better place.

4. Article published in the Yeshiva University Lamdan

Rosh HaShana : The Birth of Freedom

The key to understanding the themes of Rosh Hashanah is the date. The Day of Judgment for the world was not chosen arbitrarily, but is specifically on this date – not because it is the first day of the year (in fact, the Mishnah mentions four different kinds of new year), but because it is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. As we say in the Rosh Hashanah davening after each time the shofar is blown, Hayom harat olam, “Today the world was created.” This is because human beings are the reason for Creation. As the well-known Mishnah says, “He who saves one life is considered to have saved an entire world; and he who destroys one life is considered to have destroyed an entire world.”

We understand that Rosh Hashanah is the day Adam and Eve were created. But what is the connection between this and judgment?

To answer this, we must first take a look at what makes the human being unique. G-d created many things in the world; why is the human being considered to be “an entire world” unto himself?

Man’s uniqueness

The Rambam (Laws of Teshuva ch. 5) explains that what makes human beings unique is our ability to choose between good and evil. He quotes the verse from the beginning of Bereishit, where man’s potential is described as yod’ei tov vara, creatures who “know good and evil.” The Rambam explains that this means two things: firstly, it means humans have a conceptual understanding of good and evil. Animals, no matter how seemingly intelligent, cannot grasp such abstract, intellectual concepts. The human being’s intelligence is qualitative superior to that of an animal, because human beings have been granted moral reasoning. Secondly, says the Rambam, we have free will to act upon this knowledge. As the Rambam puts it, nothing can prevent the human being from exercising his or her G-d-given free choice.

The first of Tishrei is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, the first human beings, with their gift of free choice. Thus, on Rosh Hashanah, we celebrate not only the creation of human beings, but the creation of free-willed human beings.

The Rambam further explains that since a person has free choice, he has only himself to blame for his sins. We cannot blame our mistakes or our sins on our DNA, our upbringing, society or anything else people use to excuse their actions. Of course these are all factors, but ultimately every human being exercises free choice and is therefore held accountable for his or her actions. Furthermore, says the Rambam, having free will means we have the ability to change. Just as we chose to do wrong, we can choose to do right and repent. Some people believe in free will but not in their power to change. However free will means that we can change.

Now we can begin to see how the themes of Rosh Hashanah are interrelated: Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of man – a free-willed being. Because we have free will, we are held accountable for our sins and good deeds and hence Rosh Hashanah is also the Day of Judgment; and because we have free will, we also have the power to change and hence Rosh Hashanah is a day for repenting as well.

Rosh Hashanah, then, is a time to contemplate the concept of free choice. As the Rambam says further in the same chapter, free choice is the pillar upon which the entire Torah stands, for it provides the logical framework for everything in the Torah; how can Hashem command us to do mitzvot and offer us reward for our good deeds if we are not free to choose? The concepts of reward and punishment make sense solely in the context of free choice.

This is why, interestingly, the Rambam codified the principle of free choice specifically in the Laws of Repentance. The Rambam codified all Torah law in a masterwork of fourteen books, each with sub-sections. When studying the Rambam’s work, the first step is to understand why he chose to codify a particular topic under a particular section. The Rambam could have codified the principle of free will in his opening section, which is the Laws of the Foundation Principles of the Torah; yet he codified it in the Laws of Repentance because unless we believe in free will, repentance makes no sense. We have to believe in free will, firstly to understand that we are accountable for our actions, and secondly, to understand that we have the power to change.

Perhaps this is also why Rosh Hashanah is the day we crown Hashem as King. The Talmud says, Ain melech belo am, “A king is not a king without a nation.” G-d only became King once He created Adam and Eve, free-willed beings who chose to recognise Him as King. Hashem is a King only when people recognise Him as such, of their own free will. And so on Rosh Hashanah, the anniversary of Hashem’s kingship over us, we crown Him once again.

The symbolism of the Shofar

Where does the shofar fit into all of this?

The shofar, as we know, symbolises repentance. The Rambam (Laws of Teshuva ch. 3) writes that even though the mitzvah of blowing the shofar is, as he terms it, g’zeirat hakatuv, a Divine decree which we do not fully understand, nevertheless we can find a message for ourselves in the mitzvah. (We like to attribute reasons to mitzvot, and though there are indeed many inspiring explanations for them, we have to step back with humility and acknowledge the fact that we keep the mitzvot because G-d has commanded us to do so, and we will never fully understand the depth of His reasoning.) The Rambam says that the message of the shofar is Uru yesheinim, “Awake, those who sleep.” The shofar is our spiritual alarm clock, waking us to examine our deeds. We develop certain habits; we get locked into a certain way of thinking and a mode of behaviour. Rosh Hashanah is a time to step out of the routine and the habits we have developed, to take stock of our lives and assess where we are holding. The shofar calls upon us to take responsibility for our actions, both good and bad, and to chart a path of change, improvement and repentance.

In addition to symbolising repentance, the shofar also symbolises freedom. It was the sound of the shofar which announced the Jubilee year, the fiftieth year in the cycle when all slaves were freed and all ancestral land was returned to its original owners. The shofar blown at the beginning of the Jubilee year heralded a great spirit of freedom, as the verse says Ukratem d’ror ba’aretz, “you will call freedom throughout the land.” (Vayikra 25:10)

What is the connection between freedom and repentance?

Based on what we have said, the connection is clear: the ultimate freedom is the ability to choose between good and evil, and the freedom to change our ways.

Now we can begin to see how all the themes of Rosh Hashanah come together: Rosh Hashanah is on the first of Tishrei, the anniversary of the creation of mankind; it also celebrates the uniqueness of human beings, namely, free choice; having free choice means we are accountable, and therefore Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment; and lastly, it is also a day for repentance because having free choice means we have the ability to change and become better people. Hence the shofar, which represents freedom as well as repentance, is the main mitzvah of the day.

The danger and blessing of free will

One more point to consider on Rosh Hashanah, as we contemplate free choice and how we have exercised it throughout the previous year, is that there is a dimension to free choice which is not entirely positive; it is actually quite frightening because, in effect, free will enables the most terrible acts of evil to be committed. When G-d gave human beings free choice it was a radical step on His part and indeed a big risk because He was creating creatures that could, theoretically, do whatever they want.

The idea that G-d has given humanity such freedom is quite a terrifying thought. It is like a parent giving a teenager the car keys, saying, now it’s in your hands, you choose how you are going to use it. Are you going to get a driver’s licence and act responsibly, or are you going to drink alcohol and be reckless? G-d gave us the keys, so to speak. He said, you are free to run your life the way you want to. We will be held accountable for your choices, but we can freely choose how you want to live.

This is indeed a terrifying concept, and this is why the Gemara debates whether it would have been better for man had he not been created. The Gemara comes to the conclusion that Noach lo la’adam shelo nivra, “it would have been better for man not to have been created, but now that he has been created, he should repent and improve.”

Rav Yitzchak Hutner, one of our great rabbinic thinkers of the twentieth century, asks, how can the Talmud say that “it would have been better for man had he not been created,” when G-d Himself said, after He had created man, that everything He created was “very good”? This question is backed by the Midrash which says that when G-d said it was “very good” He was referring to the human being. How can the Gemara say that it would have been better not to create man, when the Torah says clearly that it was very good?

Rav Hutner resolve this contradiction with the following story: a young Torah scholar who was appointed to be a Dayan, a judge, in the Beth Din of his city came to his mentor and said he didn’t want to take the position because he was terrified of making a mistake in ruling on halachic matters. His mentor assured him that he should take the position and said to him, who should be appointed – someone who is not afraid of making mistakes?

Rav Hutner uses this story to explain what should be our attitude toward the concept of free choice. This young Dayan was certainly more than qualified: he had a fine mind, knew the material and was able to interpret and apply the halacha appropriately. But what made him a good Dayan was the fact that he was afraid of making a mistake. In other words, what qualified him for the position was his fear of his power.

Free choice, says Rav Hutner, is indeed a terrifying thing because inherent in it is the possibility of evil. However, as the Rambam said, free will is a prerequisite for fulfilling mitzvot: without belief in free choice mitzvot have no meaning. It may be difficult to live with free choice, but it is impossible to live without it. Thus, says Rav Hutner, if we regard free choice as our right to do whatever we please, then indeed it can lead to terrible consequences. But if we are afraid of free choice, if we realise what an awesome responsibility it is, then we are certainly qualified to exercise it and it is indeed a blessing. This resolves the seeming contradiction in the Gemara: if a person believes that it would have been better for man not to have been created, because he is so afraid of the power G-d has given him, then indeed the creation of man is “very good.”

Rosh Hashanah is a mixed celebration. Rav Hutner quotes a verse from Nechemia, which says Al tivku, ki chedvat Hashem hi ma’uzchem, “Do not cry [on Rosh Hashanah] because the joy of G-d if your strength.” The prophet told them not to cry, because they did indeed have reason to cry – namely, because on Rosh Hashanah we were given the mixed blessing of free choice. Yet the prophet tells them not to cry, that there is in fact reason for joy, precisely because free choice is what enables us to serve G-d in the first place, to perform good deeds and be rewarded accordingly.

Rav Hutner says this is reflected in the two sounds of the shofar: the straight sound, which is the tekia, and the broken sounds, the shevarim and teru’a. The broken sounds, according to the Gemara, are like a sob, while the straight sound is the clear, joyful sound of celebration. On Rosh Hashanah, we have both. It is true that when G-d created human beings on the first of Tishrei so many years ago He created the possibility for terrible destruction in the world. But we can still rejoice with this knowledge, because free will means we can do good.

We cannot take this freedom for granted. Free choice is the essence of who we are, making us accountable for our actions but also providing the possibility of repentance. We have been entrusted with an awesome gift which can also be the most destructive force and therefore we must regard it with trepidation. Rosh Hashanah is a time to think about how we have used our freedom. When we approach it with the right attitude, then we will truly respect this gift of freedom and use it for the good.

5. Article as broadcast on Chai FM

Rosh HaShana is almost upon us, and so this week instead of looking at the parsha, I would like to reflect on Rosh HaShana. Our Sages teach us that before every festival we need to prepare and get into the right frame of mind. We cannot just walk into shul on Rosh HaShana night and expect to be inspired. We need to prepare in advance, to think about what we are meant to be doing on Rosh HaShana; to go through the Machzor and review the prayers to get the maximum meaning and power from the day and from our time in shul.

G-d’s kingship and judgment

What is Rosh HaShana really about? On the one hand it is a Day of Judgment. On the other, there is a major theme which begins with Rosh HaShana and runs through Yom Kippur: the kingship of Hashem. If you look through the prayers of the Machzor, the translations and the commentaries thereon, you will see that the kingship of Hashem takes centre stage. What does it mean that G-d is King, and why is Rosh HaShana, the Day of Judgment, designated as the day for proclaiming G-d’s kingship?

Rosh HaShana actually commemorates and celebrates a certain day in history. It is, as we say in our prayers, hayom harat olam, “the day the world was created.” But our Sages explain more specifically that it is the anniversary of the creation of human beings. Rosh HaShana is celebrated every year on the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, on the sixth day of creation. When we say “today the world was created” we are referring to the world of human beings; each person is an entire world – as the Mishnah says, to destroy one life is to destroy a whole world, and to save one life is to save a whole world. What does Rosh HaShana being the anniversary of the creation of the first human beings have to do with the kingship of G-d?

There is no king without a nation

The Maharal of Prague explains that G-d only became King on the day that Adam and Eve were created. Hashem has many attributes; He is the Creator, all-powerful, all-knowing, eternal. All of G-d’s attributes – which, of course, are beyond our comprehension – are not dependent on us. But there is one dimension of Hashem which is dependent on us and that is His kingship; as the Talmudic Sages put it, ain melech belo am, “there is no King without a nation.” A king cannot be king unless there are people who recognise him as king. Thus G-d was the Creator, the all-powerful and all-knowing – he was all of these things before Adam and Eve were created, but He was not King. Only when Adam and Eve were created, as human beings with free will to choose to accept Hashem as their King, did G-d become King.

Rosh HaShana is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve but it is also the anniversary of when G-d became King. This is why, says the Maharal, it is a Day of Judgment. Obviously, being the day of creation of human beings, it is a good time to reflect on humanity and an appropriate time for judgment. But justice and judgment are part of the manifestation of G-d’s kingship; they are part of a king’s tasks, the judiciary branch of the government.

Furthermore, says the Maharal, to forgive and to pardon is also part of G-d’s kingship because only the king can grant a royal pardon. This is what Yom Kippur is about, when we ask G-d for forgiveness. Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur are about judgment and forgiveness but the uniting theme of these ten days is the kingship of Hashem, when we crown him as King of the world.

G-d’s authority is a prerequisite to keeping the commandments

Rosh HaShana is the day we coronate Hashem. What does it mean to crown G-d as King?

The Shema which we say twice every day has two main parts, the opening verse Shema Yisrael “Hear O Israel, the Lord our G-d, the Lord is One” and the first paragraph, and then we have the second paragraph Vehaya im shamoa, “Behold if you will listen to My commandments,” which sets out the principles of reward and punishment. The Mishnah in Berachot, page 13a, says that these two paragraphs represent two concepts and the one must come before the other. In the first paragraph we accept Malchut Shamayim, the kingship of heaven, upon us. In the second paragraph we accept responsibility to keep His commandments. The Mishnah says this is why the first paragraph comes before the second; before we can talk about His commandments, we have to accept the authority of the One Who commands. Keeping Torah means not only keeping the 613 commandments, but more than that, it is about acknowledging that Hashem is King and that He has authority over our lives. There is a relationship we have with G-d that is outside of the commandments. The commandments are obviously very important—in fact, on Rosh HaShana we’re judged on whether we have been observing them. But equally important is the acceptance of the authority of Hashem and the fact that He is King. This concept stands independently, not just as the logical prerequisite to keeping the commandments. On the very first Commandment Anochi Hashem Elokecha, “I am the Lord your G-d,” Maimonides comments that it is a commandment to believe in Hashem. There is a famous debate between him and Nachmanides, who says it is actually not a commandment but a statement of fact; if you believe in Hashem, you don’t need to be commanded and if you don’t believe in Him, how can you be commanded to? Either way we interpret this verse, it is establishing a concept which goes beyond the level of commandment, even according to Maimonides. The fact that Hashem is King is the foundation upon which the Torah stands.

Acknowledging Hashem as King is the foundation of everything

The longest Amidah we have is the Mussaf of Rosh HaShana, which has three components, one of which is Malchiyot, kingship, referring to the kingship of Hashem. In the Malchiyot section there are ten verses about the kingship of Hashem quoted from different books in the Bible. The Gemara in Tractate Rosh HaShana, page 32a, asks why specifically ten verses are quoted. Three answers are given and from these answers we can better understand what Hashem’s kingship is.

The first answer is from Rav Levi, who says that the ten verses referring to the kingship of Hashem correspond to the ten praises that King David said in the well-known chapter in Psalms, haleluhu b’teka shofar, which contains ten praises of Hashem. Rav Yosef says the ten verses correspond to the Ten Commandments whereas Rabbi Yochanan says that the ten verses correspond to the ten statements with which the world was created. In these three opinions lies the answer to the question of what Hashem’s kingship means.

The corresponding to the Ten Commandments represents that we have to keep His commandments because He is the King and He has given us commandments to fulfil. The other aspect of Hashem being King goes beyond just the commandments and that is the fact that as King He governs this world and is intimately involved with this world and how we lead our lives, what is called hashgacha pratit which means personal supervision. G-d is interested in what happens to every one of us, every single day; he guides events even down to the smallest detail. Hashgacha pratit is beyond our comprehension; Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan once gave the following analogy by way of explanation: it is like a grand master playing chess, for example in chess exhibition matches where he can be playing 50 people or a hundred people at once and is moving from board to board, moving all the chess pieces. So too G-d, so to speak, is playing billions of chess games all the time and all over the world (obviously we are only using human analogies to get some sort of comprehension, though it is something beyond our human understanding) so even though we have free choice, like in chess you have free choice, nevertheless Hashem is watching every board every piece and every move. This idea is reflected in Rav Levi’s opinion that the ten verses correspond to the ten praises that King David sang to Hashem. King David had a hard life and had many trials and tribulations. He had to run away from King Saul, he lost a child, and he had another child who staged a rebellion against him; he had to fight many battles for the Jewish People. He had a very difficult life and yet he was so bonded to Hashem that he sang praises to him – in fact, King David wrote the Book of Psalms, where he pours out his heart to Hashem with complete faith and belief in Him. King David always maintained an emotional and spiritual connection to Hashem, no matter what was going on in his life. The ten verses of kingship corresponding to the ten verses of praise in that chapter of Psalms represents that G-d being King means not just that we fulfil His commandments, but that He is involved in our lives and that He watches everything that happens. We praise Him for the good and for the bad, for the sweet and the bitter, because we know that ultimately everything is for the good and He is governing this world with justice and goodness.

Rabbi Yochanan’s opinion is that the ten verses referring to G-d’s kingship correspond to the ten statements with which He created the world. If you look in the beginning of Genesis, you will see many statements with which Hashem created the world – “and G-d said, ‘let there be light,’’’ etc. These ten statements are actually part of the blueprint of creation. The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot in the beginning of Chapter Five says that He created the world with ten statements to reward the righteous who sustain it and to punish the wicked who destroy it. What does this mean?

Torah is a unifying force

The Maharal explains that the number ten represents two concepts: unity and disparity. Number ten is not a new number, but a number that brings together the other nine. There are only nine unique numbers; eleven is just ten plus one. Ten represents and the unity that G-d brings to a world of disparity. G-d’s Torah – the blueprint – is what unifies the world. When we look at the world, it seems to have so many disparate, separate elements; it is often fragmented. But there is one unifying force in the world and that is Hashem and His Torah which is the blueprint. His kingship means that every aspect of creation fits into His blueprint. The Torah is not religion that is divorced from our every-day lives, that only occupies a certain part of our world. It contains everything. To acknowledge that G-d is King of the world does not mean simply to acknowledge that we must keep His commandments or that we see His hand in our daily lives. It means that His will and His thoughts expressed in His Torah actually have relevance and application to every aspect of creation. This is what it means to be a King. Sovereignty is not divisible; a sovereign government means they are sovereign over every aspect of what takes place in the country. Hashem has sovereignty over every aspect of what takes place in the world and His Torah is the blueprint which holds it all together.

The kingship of Hashem is a broad and fundamental concept upon which Judaism is premised. On Rosh HaShana we stand before Hashem in judgment. From Rosh HaShana to Yom Kippur we are introspecting, trying to look at what we have done wrong and how we can do right, how we can fix our sins – both sins between us and our fellow human beings and sins between us and Hashem. We look for ways of fixing and improving but the whole time the overarching theme is that we do so under the kingship of Hashem. Rosh HaShana is about crowning G-d as King over every aspect of life.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish everybody a ketiva vachatima tova, may we be written and sealed for a shana tova umetuka, for a good and sweet year filled with Hashem’s abundant blessings.

6. Message for the shul magazines

Be Bright

If your child comes home with a school report which has an A, 3 Bs, a C, and an F, how would you respond? Most parents tend to focus on the problem and fixate on the F. But there is another way. Why not look at that lonely A? What went right that your child did well in that particular subject? Is it possible to analyse the factors that allowed your child to succeed? Can those factors be replicated across the other subjects? Perhaps therein lies the secret to their success. This is the fundamental truth behind the change management technique known as “Bright Spots”. I came across this example and this term in a book called “Switch – How to change things when change is hard”, written by Dan and Chip Heath.

The bright spots approach says let’s look at the areas of success. When looking to making changes in life, don’t only look at the problem areas, but look at where you are succeeding, look for the bright spots in your life, and expand upon them. When we understand the good things which we have done, we are able to ask ourselves crucial questions about these achievements. Why were we able to do good in these situations? What motivated us? What were the factors that led to doing the right thing? And as we answer these questions we are able to understand these bright spots better and then to expand them to the other parts of our life. It’s not to say that we should ignore our mistakes and where we have gone wrong. But what the bright spots approach teaches is that we can often learn so much more from our areas of strength. The plan then is to expand the bright spots to cover other parts of our life.

The truth be told, the idea behind the bright spots theory is one which comes from the ancient wisdom of our Torah. The idea is rooted in our whole approach to confession. Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur is a time of repentance and introspection. During Yom Kippur in particular we confess our sins before Hashem. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveichik explains that included in the confession process is not only to look at where we went wrong, but also to look at our mitzvahs, our good deeds, and where we went right. As we approach Rosh Hashana, let’s not only ask “What am I doing wrong?”, but “what am I doing right?” What’s really working in my life? What’s causing me to grow in the direction I want to and how can I expand and amplify its effect? Let us think about all the times when we did act with generosity, with spiritual devotion, with enthusiasm and with commitment to Torah values. Let us analyse, deeply understand and embrace those occasions and expand them to other mitzvahs.

Bright spots is a marvelous technique to use in our own personal development. It applies to all areas of life – marriage, parenting, work and community. We are now applying the bright spots approach to our shuls. We live in a changing world and our shuls need to stay ahead of the curve in order to remain relevant and engaging. We need to future-proof our shuls. We began a process in July of this year of applying the bright spots methodology to our shuls and have embarked upon a shul renewal project, which we have called “Bright Spots”.

And so, we began on a process to find the bright spots in our shuls across the country. And there are so many. We began with a community-wide survey to understand what people feel about where their shuls are working and engaging for them and where they are not. This data was then presented at a Bright Spots Conference, bringing together rabbis, rebbetzins, shul chairmen and committees, youth directors, shul secretaries and all people involved in the management and direction of shuls. It was an all day workshop and it is part of an ongoing process of applying the bright spots methodology to our shuls.

Vibrant and engaging shuls have been a key to the success of the South African Jewish community. If we are to maintain this we need to constantly innovate and adapt to changing circumstances. The bright spots process is an initiative to do exactly that. The process continues and hopefully you will be seeing positive changes in your shuls as the months unfold.

What I love most about the bright spots approach is that it is optimistic. It teaches us that the answers to a better future are within our grasp. We need to just look at where we are achieving already and to expand those bright spots. And so too as we look ahead to the new year, let us engage in a true process of personal teshuva – of repentance – with Hashem in a positive and proactive way, so that we can have a year of bright spots for all.

With warmest Rosh HaShana wishes to all! May Hashem inscribe us all for a good and sweet year filled with His blessings.

Posted on 20 September 2017 in Text, Your Life