It seems that the New Year has a way of sneaking up on you. You just look around and it’s right there in front of you.
One of the important and exciting features of getting ready for Rosh Hashanah is the introspective way of trying to redefine your personal relationship with Hashem.
Among the many things we will be praying for over the coming days is the gift of peace in the land of Israel as well as in our personal or even professional lives. In too many instances, however, although we daven for these things on a regular basis, it seems like accomplishing these goals is elusive in today’s world.
These days it is not misplaced to contemplate the story in the Gemara about how after the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash some of the leading sages of that generation walked through the ruins of the Temple Mount. Most of them cried bitter tears over the destruction while, the Talmud says, Rebbe Akiva chuckled. Many wonder: What was this great leader of Israel laughing about at a time like that?
The Gemara explains and quotes Rebbe Akiva saying that now that he has seen the prophecy of Jerusalem’s destruction, as related by the prophet Uriah, come to pass, he is comforted in the idea that the prophecy of Zechariah—that someday Jewish children will be playing in the streets of the rebuilt holy city—will become a reality, too.
So as we look around on the cusp of a new year, perhaps it is incumbent upon us to see things in a way that does not diverge too significantly from the perception of the great sage Rebbe Akiva. There may be no better time to exercise that option than a few days before the New Year begins.
In a way, Israel is under attack. In the last few months more than 20 people were murdered in terrorist attacks, mostly on Israel’s roads. They were not in automobile accidents; rather, most were either shot or stabbed by Palestinian Arab terrorists with several being both shot and stabbed.
The State of Israel is split almost down the middle on the matter of the definition of a democracy—and especially their democracy. To this point, over the last several decades, Israel’s elected leaders did not necessarily have a say in what would be and what would not be the law of the land.
That decision was often made by the societal elites who dominated the country’s Supreme Court. And it is precisely this that the current government of Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to rightfully wrestle away from that dominant force, and return decisions that identify the Jewish state to the Jewish people.
Here in the U.S., we are currently witnessing an unparalleled downward spiral of that nature. It started not all that many years ago when the Supreme Court recognized same-sex marriage as a lawful marital union.
Not too long ago, liberal leaders like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and even Joe Biden said assertively and unhesitatingly that they believed marriage is a union between a man and a woman and that is how it has been since the beginning of time. It is only more recently that they feigned never really believing that and, along with our high court, redefined what marriage means.
These days, not only has same-sex marriage been recognized and normalized, but we are now dealing with a transgender movement that is maneuvering in the direction of regulating radical surgical procedures that seem to alter the gender of an individual.
Believe it or not, this subject matter brings us back to the Divine intent in creating this world in the first place.
Our holy commentators address this issue, and hassidic philosophy relates that Hashem desired a lower world where a nation that was uniquely His—the Jewish people—would work and endeavor to create a material environment that was worthy of a Divine presence.
Our sefarim refer to this status as a “dirah tachtona,” a lower-world dwelling place. But just as we know from the Torah and Talmud that we study that Hashem is capable of generous and infinite goodness, at the same time the reality can be that when He desires something of a “lower” nature, that can be interpreted or understood as a low type of an environment and status of which there is nothing lower—that is “Tachton she’ein tachton l’ mata mimenu.”
The Talmud relates to us about a time during the second Beis HaMikdash when the people prayed that there be no more prurient or base desires in the world that would lead so many to sin. They prayed that the desire to worship idols should be Divinely banished from the world. When they accomplished that objective, they further prayed that other types of desires like that related to promiscuity also disappear so as not to lead them to sin.
With that desire gone, though, they discovered that it translated into there being no more eggs to eat the next day, because if a desire is gone then it is fully and absolutely gone. The people, led by the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah, davened that decree be reversed, and it was.
And that brings us to 2023 or the threshold of 5784 years since creation. My father used to comment to me sometimes after reading the news that the world has gone mad. I wonder what his observation would have been about world events today.
The U.S. is allowing millions of un-vetted strangers from 121 different countries across our borders. In most cases we don’t know where they are going or in which part of the country they are settling down.
Things are bad on a multiplicity of levels. Whether its immigration, the economy, interest rates the highest they’ve been in 20 years, a detached president, cerebrally impaired members of Congress, a leading candidate for the presidency indicted four times in a clearly politically motivated prosecution—this all spells out trouble and difficulty.
Internationally, the situation is no better, with over half a million young Russians and Ukrainians killed in a senseless war with no end in sight, and the Biden administration one of the lone holdouts hoping to disassemble Israel and create a Palestinian Arab state when even the Arab world has given up on that prospect.
But as we prepare for Rosh Hashanah and consider all the difficulties and challenges that surround us, perhaps we can laugh just like Rebbe Akiva did two millennia ago. He chuckled at the tragedy only because he knew in his heart that just as the destruction had been prophesied and came to be, so would the redemption. And here we are again—a New Year, a time to smile.