Letter from Rabbi

As Rosh Hashanah 5782 approaches, let us pause to consider where we have been in the past year and where we would like to be in the next.

We fervently hope that the global nightmare of the COVID-19 pandemic will end this year, as we continue to battle upsurges in the illness due to the Delta variant. Although breakthrough infections are being reported, we can also see that vaccination almost invariably prevents hospitalization and fatal illness for the vaccinated, while the unvaccinated are falling deathly ill in record numbers, again threatening to overwhelm an overly stressed medical system. It is completely beyond me why so many people, even some in hospitals due to COVID, refuse to be vaccinated and thus protect themselves and all around them. Of course, there are always exceptions – some folks have valid medical reasons for not being vaccinated.

We all know what Jewish tradition has to say about this, don’t we? U’vcharta b’hayim – choose life! Haven’t we learned countless times that pikuach nefesh, saving a life, is the greatest of all mitzvot?

I hope and pray that this year will bring a radical shift in how all of our citizenry see its role in protecting and defending our country. But we cannot simply hope and pray – our words and wishes, no matter how well intended, are inadequate to the task. I urge us to engage in social action, even to get into “good trouble” when necessary, as the late, great John Lewis would say. Let us find ways to join into the task of restoring truth and sanity to politics and always call out those who lie to us, who oppress the disadvantaged and disenfranchised, and who actively subvert our democracy.

Our liturgy is clear – the change begins with us. Our own personal teshuvah (meaning alternately repentance, atonement, or simply, a return to the path) is the vehicle, and communal teshuvah is even more powerful. Let us figure out where we have failed, repent, vow to not do sin in that way again, and then, when faced with the same situation, choose that time to do the morally right thing.

If we truly believe that we are G-d’s agents in perfecting the world (tikkun olam) through the performance of mitzvot, then we have no choice but to do all that we can to address all of the problems that we encounter, to call to task all of those opposing that work, no matter how high and mighty they are, and to actively engage in the holy work of repairing our communities, our nation, and our world. May this be the year when our actions will join with those of “the helpers” everywhere to bring the uplifting changes that are so desperately needed.

But the change cannot end with us – we fix ourselves so that we can, as mussar teaches us, “carry the burden of the other.” Let us brainstorm, as a congregation, how we can make our Mishkan Torah community a greater force for good and thus become the more powerful, more relevant synagogue and Jewish community center that we in our hearts know it is.

Phyllis and our family join me in wishing you a new year filled with health, joy, and meaningful, impactful, holy work!

Rabbi Saul Oresky