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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Parashas Shoftim: Royal Retrospection

By Rabbi Sender Haber

My father grew up in Buffalo, NY. At one point he decided that he would like to become a Rabbi in Buffalo. He went to Israel and studied in Jerusalem for many years until he was ready to go back and become a Rabbi. Everyone thought he was crazy. “You’re leaving Jerusalem and going to Buffalo? – There are no religious Jews there!”.

Imagine if a young man in Africa decided that he would travel abroad, study, become a doctor and return home to treat Malaria in his hometown. After many years of study we could see his fellow medical students telling him the same thing: “You’re going to North Africa? – There’s Malaria there!”

Unfortunately, many people forget where they came from and why they started out. The Torah tells that every king had an obligation to write two Torah scrolls. He would keep one Torah with him at all times and read from it when he judged, when he rested and while he ate. The other Torah would remain in the Bais Hamikdosh. As he carried the smaller Torah around with him there was a danger that the Torah would lose some of it’s original message. Words could fade, letter could cracks and portions could become damaged. Once a year the king would personally go to the Bais Hamikdosh and consult with his backup Torah Scroll. He would fix the cracked letter and rewrite the faded words, he would renew his personal Torah and make sure that it was consistent with the Torah he had begun with.

Symbolically, this is a way for the king and for every person to make sure that they remain on task and that they don’t forget their original goals and how they started out.

When a young person begins their life, he or she has a good idea of what she wants to look like in coming years. Many people are privileged to have parents, grandparents and other role models who can help them write their own personal mission based on thousands of years of knowledge and experience.

What separates the men from the boys, and the girls from the women, is the ability to look back at that message, that goal, and that determination and purity one year, five years and even twenty years later. Every person needs to be able to regularly pull out their original goals and compare them with their life today. They need to take the time to fill in the blanks, rewrite the faded letters and fix the cracks. Life takes many twists and turns and those who successful are those who able to adapt but not lose sight of their basic goals. It is easy to get caught up in day-to-day living and go years and years and years without looking back at that original set of goals and aspirations.

Yogi Berra said that if you don’t know where you are going – you are sure to get nowhere quickly. We are fortunate to know where we are coming from and where we are going. If we can stick to our ambitions and never lose sight of our goals, we will go even further and make the world a better place.

We begin the year saying that this will be THE year. All to often, twelve months later we find that it has been ‘just another year’. True greatness for ourselves and for the Jewish people comes when the end of year and who we have become matches the beginning of the year and what we aimed for.

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