For most of Jewish history, Jews have had to devote almost all of their energies to living and to surviving.
Living. So many things are so easy for us today that we forget that, until very recently, most people had to spend most of their time attending to the most basic necessities of life. And because Jewish life tends to be a bit more complicated, that was especially true for Jews.
And most especially true for Jews was how much effort had to be devoted to surviving. To surviving the unfair government decrees aimed at the Jewish community, the pogroms and the anti- Semitism and the hatred and the persecutions and all the rest. To be a Jew was to be a target, and Jews had to spend a good portion of their days doing what needed to be done just to make sure there would be more days.
Living. Surviving. Those two things pretty much took up pretty much all that Jews had.
How different things are for us today. We are Jews in an era when Jews are strong, safe and powerful.
Which, it seems to me, all adds up to us having no excuse not to be the best Jews we can be. After all, we have opportunities like Jews have never had before.
And yet, I think it fair to say, and sad to say, that Jews from the past, despite needing to be so occupied with living and surviving, took their Judaism more seriously, did more with their Judaism.
Now part of that is human nature. When you're under threat, when you're afraid, when times are tough, when things seem hopeless, when you are overwhelmed and feel overpowered, it is easier to cling to G-d and to hold tightly to Judaism. The old "no atheist in a foxhole" reality.
It's somehow easier to be a good Jew when Jewish times are bad.
And somehow harder for those of us who have it so easy.
You would think it would be the opposite. You would think that Jews who had to spend all their time struggling to live and working to survive wouldn't have the energy or ability to really get into being Jewish. That they couldn't afford that luxury.
You would think that those of us today, footloose and fancy free in terms of our day to day lives and in terms of being free and secure as Jews, would use our freedom and ease to get very much into our Judaism, to devote ourselves to our Judaism.
You would think all of the above would be true, but it is not.
The sad but true fact is that we are not taking full advantage of the opportunity we have to really be the best Jews we can be.
That fact strikes me most at High Holiday time. For the truth is that High Holiday time is the easiest time of the year to get into being Jewish.
That's right, the easiest. For starters, it's only three days and it ain't so tough to get up for three days. We all know how to do our best, be at our best when we have a big test or a big meeting or a big presentation or a special occasion. We gear up and can be at the top of our game precisely because it is something finite, something that doesn't come around too often.
And, of course, that's especially true for the High Holidays when the stakes are, well, so high. Imagine if you were a defendant on trial for your life in federal court. No doubt, you'd be at your best dressed, best behaved, most attentive, most focused.
We are on trial for our lives, only it ain't a federal judge but the truly supreme court. G-d Himself judges each and every one of us, decides for each and every one of us if we will live this year or not, be sick this year or not, have money this year or not, etc. etc.
Not only the quality and nature of our lives hangs in the balance, but we very literally are on trial for our lives.
Which is why it's easy to be a good Jew this time of the year. It definitely concentrates the mind to stand in synagogue and read the prayer, "on Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed who will live and who will die who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted."
Definitely the kind of thing that will get you to be at your best. Especially when you figure you only have to do it for three days.
Which is why my message, as we begin a new Jewish year, is not about the High Holidays, because you'll all do fine with that. My message is about the other 362 days of the year.
I have said over and over and will continue to say over and over, that we are, by far, the luckiest Jewish generation in all of Jewish history. Well, it's time we started acting like it.
And that means even on days of the year that are not the High Holidays.
For starters, that means truly loving other Jews. Sounds easy, but how many of us really do that? My observation is that almost none of us do that.
Loving other Jews means loving all Jews. All Jews. Even if they have very different political views than you do, even if they belong to a different denomination than you do, even if they define living a Jewish life very different than you do.
Love them anyways. Just because. Forget about the details which make you mad and remember the only detail that counts. They are your fellow Jews, your brothers and sisters.
Be a more loving Jew and you will be a far happier person.
It really isn't so hard to love all Jews, and it is the hardest thing of all to do.
All of us are so invested in what we think the right way to be Jewish is, each of us is so convinced our way is the best, the only way, that to simply acknowledge that you are connected by special bond with Jews totally unlike you seems a concession too difficult to make.
But it isn't. Indeed, because we are so free and so able to live the Jewish lives we choose, it is easier than ever to be gracious toward other Jews, to respect other Jews, to send positive vibes in the direction of other Jews.
And not just on the High Holidays, when it is no big whoop to be Jewishly generous. Do it every day of the year.
That is my High Holiday message to you. Don't worry about the High Holidays. You know what to do and you'll do it. The key is to make every day feel like a high holiday. Meaning making the most of everyday by being the best Jew you can be everyday.
It means loving all Jews. It means caring about all Jews. It means being proud to be a Jew, it means doing what you can to be a part of the Jewish community. Everyday. You got the time, since you don't have to catch your dinner or go down to the river to clean your clothes or travel 30 miles on horse to see the doctor. And you have the freedom because there ain't some anti-Semitic government commissar out to make your life a living hell.
You are living the good life in so many ways. Which is why it's both your opportunity and your privilege to make your Jewish life as good as it can be, in as many ways as possible.
I wish that this new Jewish year is one in which you make the most of the wonderful times in which we live and that all Jews truly feel love in their hearts for all other Jews.