A Message for the New Year

Every year I ask my students who are planning to convert to Judaism what they find most appealing about our faith.  Some like the fact that Judaism allows them to question matters of belief. Others are impressed that like Abraham and Moses, we can challenge God.  Still others embrace our traditions, our love of learning, our social outreach to those in need and our sense of community.  But the one aspect of Judaism that receives the most praise is our attitude toward sin.

The rabbis taught that we humans are born with two inclinations: one is to do what is right and the other is to break God’s laws and sin. The choice between the two is ours. This concept may not seem earthshaking to those who grew up believing it, but to those who learned the opposite, that we are born without choice because we are born sinful, this notion is revolutionary.

The practical difference between the two views is enormous.  If a person is born sinful by nature there is nothing he or she can do to change the direction of his or her life.  But if a person is born with the freedom to choose his or her own moral course, then he or she has the opportunity to grow and become a better human being. This concept forms the basis of our Jewish commitment to social justice. We would not strive to fix our broken world if we did not think people had the ability to change.

Indeed this is what Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are all about.  The Ten Days of Awe invite us to evaluate our lives, make note of our misdeeds, pledge to do better and then begin anew. This chance to make things right is a gift of our faith which we should never take for granted.  Donna joins me in wishing you fulfilling growth and meaningful renewal as a New Jewish Year begins.