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Over the Rabbi’s Disk

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Rabbi Howard S. Herman, D.D.

Be the Change You Hope to See

As Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur come into focus, we find ourselves faced with immense and seemingly insurmountable challenges to which our attention gravitates. As Jews, we are generally counseled to use this period in a reflective manner and tend to concentrate on how to make things better, or at least what we must do to bring about some kind of change in ourselves or our environment.


Popular psychology urges readers “be the change you wish to see.” In other words, take the lead, change yourself first, and then allow your example to spread to others. You might think to yourself, “Well, that is really a slow way of achieving an effect, but perhaps changes that come about slowly and deliberately last the longest.” So, as much as we hope to convince others to change, our powers extend only to ourselves. On the other hand, our influence and our examples allow the possibility that our ideas might spread  to like-minded souls also seek change In something about themselves in this new Jewish year.


How do we motivate change? To begin, one must personally feel the need or desire ifor change to occur. We accomplish this by strengthening our capacity for vision and imagination. In other words, we need to envision or imagine what it is we wish to become. What do we want to build and how are we going to execute it? The upheavals we experience give us a glimpse of what something better might look like.


What does a better me or a better world look like and how doI make thishappen? These are questions only you can answer for yourself as life unfoldss. No one else sees life or the world exactly the way you do so you need to make change happen on the basis of what you see. If you can ally others to your vision, then you might have the chance to bring about these changes as a team. You can attract others by paying attention to their voices crying out for change. At this time of year, the shofar is blown many times, persuade us to stop and pay attention. We need to listen and hear others who are crying out for the same things that we need.


In his Laws of Repentance Maimonides says that as God judges the world annually before Yom Kippur, God finds it perfectly balanced between its sins and good deeds. God’s judgement is withheld until your mitzvot are put on the scale. If your good deeds and bad actions are equal, you need just one more good deed to tip your scale to the greater positive, and with it, change the world’s. It doesn’t have to be a big mitzvah. just one big enough to tilt the scale. Maimonides teaches us here that every person and every person’s little actions make a difference to the whole world.


All of the traditions for the High Holidays underscore the theme of “beginning.” So this is a time for significant initiatives -- to re-create ourselves in a significant way that brings us closer to God. The overarching theme of these days is “change." No one expects 100 per cent change, but we hope we can bring about change whose motif is accountability.


We are responsible for our actions -- we don’t live in a vacuum. What we do or say has an impact and resonantes in the world. We are not eternally condemned to follow a habitual path. We do have the ability and wherewithal to change our ways. The Talmud (Nedarim) tells us that change, also translated as repentance, was created before the world was created. It means that the notion of changing ourselves and our course of action is an integral part of Creation. The world could not exist without it.


Shanah Tovah U’metukah


Rabbi Howard S. Herman DD

Naples Jewish Congregation

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