Musings for Rosh Hashonah, 5776

musingsBy Steven Windmueller, Ph.D.

In some measure these days of our reflection offer us a moment of reprieve from a year filled with thunderous anger, immense pain, and moments of violent hate. This past year the Jewish calendar has been marked by the stains of anti-Semitism and by an environment marked by internal discord. Jews would be targets on the streets of Paris and elsewhere. But beyond these forms of external assault, we would be engaged with one another in own internal battles over the complexities and uncertainties of our political condition. Our sense of peoplehood this year would be diminished. The tense Jewish battleground would find us caught up in conflict with our brothers and sisters over the fate of the Jewish State. This ugly war carried on amongst us would play out within every dimension of our lives. And across the world in Tehran and beyond, mullahs, ayatollahs, and terrorists would be celebrating our people’s distress and trauma. In Washington, as elsewhere, politicians and pundits would cynically take advantage of our divisions.

Yet, our tradition speaks to us about the notions of Jewish healing, mediation and negotiation. Our history is replete with creative interventions where Jews over time and place would master ways of overcoming internal divisions in the name of K’lal Yisraoel (for all Israel) and makhloket l’shem shamayim (an argument for the sake of heaven). Our teachers would instruct us that debate carried forward constructively can enhance the soul of our people.

This is the hour where our tradition challenges us to hear the sounds of the Shofar where our age-old story is re-enacted, as we are called upon to step away during these days of our reconnection from those places of our pain and anguish. As we are reminded, the New Year is not only about our accounting for our personal journeys, it is also about our common pathways as a people whether residing in the land of our forefathers or operating as outliers among the nations of the world. The power of words during these days of inward reflection carry with them a message signaling our collective fate and reminding us of our shared destiny. Through our actions we are called upon to achieve wholeness. At this one moment we operate as the repository of all of Jewish history, as if each of us experiences simultaneously the Exodus, encounters Sinai, accepts the responsibility of Jewish nation-building while at the same moment endures the trials and triumphs of our varied Diaspora encounters. We become the embodiment of the Jewish enterprise allowing our common destiny to bind us up as one people.

We are reminded that the power of the Jewish experiment in history is comprised of a two-pronged message: our covenental obligation centered on repairing the world and our particularistic responsibility to sustain and grow our civilization. The former contains our universal stamp connecting us to peoples everywhere, the latter reminds us of our specific commitments to nurture the Jewish body politic where we remain intertwined with one another.

There is no place at this sacred season for the politics of hate, as this is our opportunity to reclaim our collective Jewish voice!

Dr. Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles. To see his collection of writings, visit: www.thewindreport.com.