A Commentary by Jeff Dunetz
Yesterday President Obama released his Rosh Hashanah message to the Jewish community. Giving credit where credit's due, I Obama's words were pretty appropriate. He talked about charity and introspection which are a big part of the Jewish Holidays. The President missed a big part of what the High Holidays are about-- understandable since he isn't Jewish and he was a law rather than a theology student.
To help the President out, I decided to respond to hes Rosh Hashanah message with one of my own. A message that explains to him why progressive Politics is antithetical to the meaning of the Jewish Holidays:
With the setting of the sun on Sunday, Jews across the world will begin the observance of the Yomim Noraim (Days of Awe), a ten day period book-ended by the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This year’s High Holiday period comes at an interesting time for America as the first night of Rosh Hashanah is only 51 days before the United States goes to the polls to choose between two radically different directions, one which emphasizes personal responsibility, the other emphasizes a reliance on government. Only one of those directions is compatible with the true meaning of the High Holidays.
The popular view is the two holidays are observed by going to Synagogue saying a few prayers and begging God for forgiveness. Nothing can be further from the truth.
The High Holiday period is all about personal responsibility. All the prayers and readings are just tools to help us look inward, formulate a personal accounting of our deeds over the past year, good and bad and to understand what we have learned, or need to learn to correct.
As for forgiveness, we are taught that our maker is not like a big massive government who will fix everything. For earthly-type mistakes, we must first approach the people we have harmed to request forgiveness and if necessary make restitution to them, we must discover what within ourselves led us to mess-up and correct them. Only then can we approach God for absolution.
It’s not that God couldn’t fix everything, but his direct involvement would destroy the delicate balance he set up during creation.
The creation narrative in Genesis explains that man is created in God’s image. The Torah is not teaching us that we are all dead ringers for the “big guy upstairs.” If that was the case everyone’s driver’s license would have the same picture, the Sport’s Illustrated Swimsuit Issue would seem a bit creepy, and no one would be able to solve crimes as eye witness testimony would be useless and everyone would have the same DNA.
“Created in God’s image” is supposed to teach us that just as God acts as a free being without prior restraint to do right and wrong, so does man. God performs good as a matter of his own free choice. Because we are created in his image man also has the opportunity to do the right thing as a matter of free choice. Only through free choice, can man truly be “in the image of God”.
That is why God created a world where both good and evil can operate freely. The Rabbis explain this when they said, “All is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of Heaven” (Talmud, Berachot 33b). In other words God controls all the options we have, but it is up to man to pick between good and bad.
Free will is the divine version of limited government. God picks the winning direction but does not choose winners or losers. Neither does he interfere with the process of learning through repentance and understanding ones actions. We are not divinely perfect nor are we meant to be. We are only supposed to be closer to that divineness when we leave this world, than when we entered it.
Because we all are created in God’s image Jews believe that ”All men are created equal,” This does not mean as many in the progressive establishment will tell you, that when it comes to talents, looks, preferences, or natural abilities we are all equal. Nor does it mean we all should have the same big screen TV, wireless internet, cookies and cream ice cream, or savings account balance.
Jewish tradition respects economic success, so long, as it is obtained honestly, and proper respect is shown for the social responsibility that comes with it. That social responsibility is a personal duty and a job for the community led by its religious leaders, not the government. The Hebrew word for charity, tzedaka, has in its root the word tzedek which means righteous, because we are taught that personally giving charity is one of the keys to being righteous.
What is actually meant by all men are created equal is we all have the same ability to be infinitely good or wicked, we all have the same ability to forge a relationship with God regardless of our intellectual capability, social background, physical strength, golf handicap wealth, etc. During the high holidays, we evaluate how well we have used the “lot we have been given” for good deeds and to forging that heavenly relationship.
Some of the Sages have suggested that when God created the world, sparks of his holiness were spread across the earth. Every time that a person makes the choice of performing a righteous act, one of those sparks is purified and sent back to heaven. Through that process we become closer to God.
President Obama, the progressive Democrats and the nanny-state government takes away that choice. They believe that if the choice was left up to the individual, they would do the wrong thing. Therefore government needs to take an omnipotent role and control our decisions.
The Jews who support progressivism are moving away from God, they are worshiping the golden calf of government. They are rejecting the free will given to us by our maker, and giving it to the government, retarding their spiritual development and as a result regretting their opportunity to get closer to God. In a progressive society, the ten “Days of Awe” are not necessary, there is no introspection needed because government makes their choices for them.
In an English dictionary the word sin is defined as any act regarded as such a transgression, esp. a willful or deliberate violation of some religious or moral principle. There is no word in Hebrew matching that definition.
Instead Jews talk about “Chet” missing the mark. It is an archery term referring to an arrow which “missed the target.” The person who missed the mark is considered to have made the mistake due to a lack of focus, concentration or skill. The purpose of the High Holidays is for each Jew to determine why they missed the mark. The answer cannot come from someone else or from the Government. It has to come from inside each person.
In the same vein the word for repentance is “Teshuvah” which means return. In other words we have returned to the correct path. Repentance implies simply feeling bad for what you have done; Teshuvah involves changing what it is inside you that led you to go off course.
As the Rabbis tell us, the only way to do "Teshuvah" is by personal reflection and personal choice (as opposed to governmental regulation). God gives us a road-map in the Torah, Prophets, Psalms and other sacred texts, but to truly change ourselves, and ultimately to truly change the world, we have to discover for ourselves the best way to read the road map.
In its purest essence the Jewish High Holiday period is the antithesis of the various forms of liberal and progressive government. We learn from the “Ten Days of Awe” that we must be honest with ourselves and rely on our own introspection to find the right path. We learn that while God may be evaluating the path we take and provides a road map to the right way, he does not make the decisions for us.
Progressive and Liberal governments take that free will away from you, they make the decisions, determine the path, eliminate the need for introspection and your opportunity to find those sparks of God in the world. In the end what those governments take from its citizens is the greatest joy of all, finding for themselves the path that will draw them closer to God.
To all my friends both Jew and Gentile,
Le-shana tova Tikatevu ve-Techatemu
May God Write And Seal You In The Book Of Life For A Good Year.