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December 2, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review

Rosh HaShana: The Birth of Freedom

By Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein





South Africa's Chief Rabbi on understanding man's uniqueness and role in creation

Why Rosh HaShana is much more than 'Jewish New Year's '

JewishWorldReview.com | The key to understanding the themes of Rosh Hashanah is the date. The Day of Judgment for the world was not chosen arbitrarily, but is specifically on this date --- not because it is the first day of the year (in fact, the Mishnah mentions four different kinds of new year), but because it is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve.

As we say in the Rosh Hashanah prayers after each time the shofar (ram's horn) is blown, "Today the world was created." This is because human beings are the reason for Creation. As the well-known Mishnah says, "He who saves one life is considered to have saved an entire world; and he who destroys one life is considered to have destroyed an entire world."

We understand that Rosh Hashanah is the day Adam and Eve were created. But what is the connection between this and judgment?

To answer this, we must first take a look at what makes the human being unique. G-d created many things in the world; why is the human being considered to be "an entire world" unto himself?

MAN'S UNIQUENESS
Maimonides (Laws of Teshuva ch. 5) explains that what makes human beings unique is our ability to choose between good and evil. He quotes the verse from the beginning of Genesis, where man's potential is described as , creatures who "know good and evil." Maimonides explains that this means two things: firstly, it means humans have a conceptual understanding of good and evil. Animals, no matter how seemingly intelligent, cannot grasp such abstract, intellectual concepts. The human being's intelligence is qualitative superior to that of an animal, because human beings have been granted moral reasoning. Secondly, says Maimonides, we have free will to act upon this knowledge. As Maimonides puts it, nothing can prevent the human being from exercising his or her G-d-given free choice.

The first of the Hebrew month of Tishrei is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, the first human beings, with their gift of free choice. Thus, on that date, Rosh Hashanah, we celebrate not only the creation of human beings, but the creation of free-willed human beings.

Maimonides further explains that since a person has free choice, he has only himself to blame for his sins. We cannot blame our mistakes or our sins on our DNA, our upbringing, society or anything else people use to excuse their actions. Of course these are all factors, but ultimately every human being exercises free choice and is therefore held accountable for his or her actions. Furthermore, says Maimonides, having free will means we have the ability to change. Just as we chose to do wrong, we can choose to do right and repent. Some people believe in free will but not in their power to change. However free will means that we can change.

Now we can begin to see how the themes of Rosh Hashanah are interrelated: Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of man — a free-willed being. Because we have free will, we are held accountable for our sins and good deeds and hence Rosh Hashanah is also the Day of Judgment; and because we have free will, we also have the power to change and hence Rosh Hashanah is a day for repenting as well.



Rosh Hashanah, then, is a time to contemplate the concept of free choice. As Maimonides says further in the same chapter, free choice is the pillar upon which the entire Torah stands, for it provides the logical framework for everything in the Torah; how can the Divine command us to perform our religious duties (mitzvos) and offer us reward for our good deeds if we are not free to choose? The concepts of reward and punishment make sense solely in the context of free choice.

This is why, interestingly, Maimonides codified the principle of free choice specifically in the Laws of Repentance. Maimonides codified all Torah law in a masterwork of fourteen books, each with sub-sections. When studying Maimonides' work, the first step is to understand why he chose to codify a particular topic under a particular section. Maimonides could have codified the principle of free will in his opening section, which is the Laws of the Foundation Principles of the Torah; yet he codified it in the Laws of Repentance because unless we believe in free will, repentance makes no sense. We have to believe in free will, firstly to understand that we are accountable for our actions, and secondly, to understand that we have the power to change.

THE SYMBOLISM OF THE SHOFAR
Where does the shofar fit into all of this?

The shofar, as we know, symbolizes repentance. Maimonides (Laws of Teshuva ch. 3) writes that even though the duty of blowing the shofar is, as he terms it a "Divine decree which we do not fully understand". Nevertheless we can find a message for ourselves in the duty. (We like to attribute reasons to mitzvos, and though there are indeed many inspiring explanations for them, we have to step back with humility and acknowledge the fact that we keep the I>mitzvos because G-d has commanded us to do so, and we will never fully understand the depth of His reasoning.) Maimonides says that the message of the shofar is "Awake, those who sleep." The shofar is our spiritual alarm clock, waking us to examine our deeds. We develop certain habits; we get locked into a certain way of thinking and a mode of behavior. Rosh Hashanah is a time to step out of the routine and the habits we have developed, to take stock of our lives and assess where we are holding. The shofar calls upon us to take responsibility for our actions, both good and bad, and to chart a path of change, improvement and repentance.

In addition to symbolizing repentance, the shofar also symbolizes freedom. It was the sound of the shofar which announced the Jubilee year, the fiftieth year in the cycle when all slaves were freed and all ancestral land was returned to its original owners. The shofar blown at the beginning of the Jubilee year heralded a great spirit of freedom, as the verse says "you will call freedom throughout the land." (Lev. 25:10)

What is the connection between freedom and repentance?

Based on what we have said, the connection is clear: the ultimate freedom is the ability to choose between good and evil, and the freedom to change our ways.

Now we can begin to see how all the themes of Rosh Hashanah come together: Rosh Hashanah is on the first of Tishrei, the anniversary of the creation of mankind; it also celebrates the uniqueness of human beings, namely, free choice; having free choice means we are accountable, and therefore Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment; and lastly, it is also a day for repentance because having free choice means we have the ability to change and become better people. Hence the shofar, which represents freedom as well as repentance, is the main duty of the day.

THE DANGER AND BLESSING OF FREE WILL
One more point to consider on Rosh Hashanah, as we contemplate free choice and how we have exercised it throughout the previous year, is that there is a dimension to free choice which is not entirely positive; it is actually quite frightening because, in effect, free will enables the most terrible acts of evil to be committed. When G-d gave human beings free choice it was a radical step on His part and indeed a big risk because He was creating creatures that could, theoretically, do whatever they want.

The idea that G-d has given humanity such freedom is quite a terrifying thought. It is like a parent giving a teenager the car keys, saying, now it's in your hands, you choose how you are going to use it. Are you going to get a driver's license and act responsibly, or are you going to drink alcohol and be reckless? G-d gave us the keys, so to speak. He said, you are free to run your life the way you want to. We will be held accountable for your choices, but we can freely choose how you want to live.

This is indeed a terrifying concept, and this is why the Talmud debates whether it would have been better for man had he not been created.

Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner, one of our great rabbinic thinkers of the twentieth century, asks, how can the Talmud say that "it would have been better for man had he not been created," when G-d Himself said, after He had created man, that everything He created was "very good"? This question is backed by the Midrash which says that when G-d said it was "very good" He was referring to the human being. How can the Talmud say that it would have been better not to create man, when the Torah says clearly that it was very good?

Rabbi Hutner resolve this contradiction with the following story: a young Torah scholar who was appointed to be a a judge, in the rabbinical court of his city came to his mentor and said he didn't want to take the position because he was terrified of making a mistake in rulings. His mentor assured him that he should take the position and said to him, who should be appointed — someone who is not afraid of making mistakes?

Rabbi Hutner uses this story to explain what should be our attitude toward the concept of free choice. This young judge was certainly more than qualified: he had a fine mind, knew the material and was able to interpret and apply the law appropriately. But what made him a good judge was the fact that he was afraid of making a mistake. In other words, what qualified him for the position was his fear of his power.


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Free choice, says Rabbi Hutner, is indeed a terrifying thing because inherent in it is the possibility of evil. However, as Maimonides said, free will is a prerequisite for fulfilling our religious duties: without belief in free choice religious responsibilities have no meaning. It may be difficult to live with free choice, but it is impossible to live without it. Thus, says Rabbi Hutner, if we regard free choice as our right to do whatever we please, then indeed it can lead to terrible consequences. But if we are afraid of free choice, if we realize what an awesome responsibility it is, then we are certainly qualified to exercise it and it is indeed a blessing. This resolves the seeming contradiction in the Talmud: if a person believes that it would have been better for man not to have been created, because he is so afraid of the power G-d has given him, then indeed the creation of man is "very good."

Rosh Hashanah is a mixed celebration. Rabbi Hutner quotes a verse from Nechemia, which says "Do not cry [on Rosh Hashanah] because the joy of G-d if your strength." The prophet told them not to cry, because they did indeed have reason to cry — namely, because on Rosh Hashanah we were given the mixed blessing of free choice. Yet the prophet tells them not to cry, that there is in fact reason for joy, precisely because free choice is what enables us to serve G-d in the first place, to perform good deeds and be rewarded accordingly.

Rabbi Hutner says this is reflected in the twin sounds of the shofar: the straight sound, which is the tekia, and the broken sounds, the shevarim and teru'a. The broken sounds, according to the Gemara, are like a sob, while the straight sound is the clear, joyful sound of celebration. On Rosh Hashanah, we have both. It is true that when G-d created human beings on the first of Tishrei so many years ago He created the possibility for terrible destruction in the world. But we can still rejoice with this knowledge, because free will means we can do good.

We cannot take this freedom for granted. Free choice is the essence of who we are, making us accountable for our actions but also providing the possibility of repentance. We have been entrusted with an awesome gift which can also be the most destructive force and therefore we must regard it with trepidation. Rosh Hashanah is a time to think about how we have used our freedom. When we approach it with the right attitude, then we will truly respect this gift of freedom and use it for the good.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish our entire community a good and sweet year. My wife always says that we wish a good and sweet year because although everything G-d does is good, sometimes we have to go through bitter experiences which are ultimately for the good. So we ask G-d to give us a good year but also a sweet one — that whatever we have to go through should not only be for our ultimate good but it should also be a sweet experience.

May we all be written and sealed in the Book of Life and be blessed with a good year filled with G-d's abundant blessings.


Previously:


When economics becomes a disastrous utopian delusion
The Holistic Healer --- and doctors
In the army now . . . and always
Living with ideals --- in reality
Expansion Of Spirit
Laughter And Destiny
Truth Stands the Test of Time


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The author is the Chief Rabbi of South Africa and the author of "Defending the Human Spirit: Jewish Law's Vision for a Moral Society," which explores the Torah's legal system compared to Western law. In using real court cases he demonstrate the similarities and differences between Judaism's view of defending the vulnerable and Western legal practice.






© 2013, Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein

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