Rabbi Goldschmidt

Rosh Hashanah 5784

This year has been monumental in many ways – we have attempted to return to life as normal following Covid after having to radically redesign our businesses, education, and the lives of our families:

This year has also been the year of the ongoing Ukraine and Russian war, a conflict that seems to have no end in sight – we are now in our 6th month of active combative engagement (The holy Breslov Chassidim did not consider this a barrier to arriving in large numbers into the Ukraine this week to visit the grave of Rebbe Nachman in Uman).

The global economy is for many reasons facing headwinds, with rising inflation, interest rates and general instability:
Sri Lanka declared bankruptcy in June 2023, becoming the first country in Asia to do so since the COVID-19 pandemic began, I was actually there in the country (transferring in the airport!) on the day that the presidential palace was overtaken by members of the public, the tension was palpable. Today the situation is already much better and more stable, however many countries in the region are still financially unstable.

China also experienced a lack of growth leading to the defaulting of the Everglade group, for the first time in recent history China’s growth rate in terms of population has begun to slow and concerns are growing regarding the future demographic.

2023 has arguably been a year where AI technology has become available to the consumer and already its effects ripple throughout many sectors, many are concerned that the AI revolution may mean the end of their careers.

Israel and Saudi Arabia agreed to normalize relations in September 2023, in a breakthrough agreement brokered by the United States that could have far-reaching implications for the Middle East in terms of trade, tourism and the hope of peace.

Extreme weather was a major factor of the year with one of the hottest heat waves of history recorded in Europe, meanwhile earthquakes affected dozens of countries and took the lives of many particularly in Turkey and Morocco as well as the recent tragic deaths from flooding in Syria. Scientists are predicting that more extreme weather is likely to be part of our lives due to global warming.

Just outside of Earth, a private company called Virgin Galactic successfully launched its first commercial space tourism flight in July 2023. The flight took six passengers to the edge of space, where they experienced weightlessness and stunning views of Earth – albeit with a cost of $250,000-450,000 for a flight time of 90 mins (including 3 mins of weightlessness), in many ways the existence of space tourism only further highlights the vast inequality between rich and poor: whilst the affluent flew above enjoying the views of our beautiful planet, many millions of those below can barely afford food, shelter, and clean water.

The question today isn’t only what has transpired throughout the year , but rather the expansion of our understanding that there is no way that we can really plan for the unexpected, when we consider how many surprises this year had in store for us and our lack of ability to look into the future: we do not have control of all of the circumstances in our lives, we are only in control of our reaction: that is why our focus must be in our interpersonal and spiritual growth.

One of the most popular Rabbinical Jokes goes like this:

“Whilst it is important to do the right thing between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – it’s more important to do the right thing between Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana.”

That being said: How do we actually know that we have done Teshuvah, become better people and overcome our lower desires?
Whilst some might think it simple to suggest that our level of religious observance may be the indicating factor, when one considers that it is our inner motivations that are also called into judgement, it becomes revealed that our outer expressions are not enough by themselves to ascertain this.

The various festivals are a remarkable way of noting times passing, we can think of where we were last Purim, on Pesach etc. – rather than a specific calendar date we can be transported back to a Seudah with our family and friends and think about the circumstances of our lives during that specific time.

When we reach Rosh Hashana, we begin to consider the year as a complete unit, not of specific events that shaped us but of an entire process, how has our year been? Have we spent more time laughing than crying, more time rejoicing than in sorrow? Are the relationships between us, our partner, children, family, friends, and colleagues stronger? Are they more rewarding? Or are they static?

The Torah is so often compared to life itself and also to water: life much like water becomes stagnant when it ceases to move, when it refuses to flow and travel:

The very word in Hebrew for repentance connotes return, much like the droplet of water that travels as rain, is carried through rivers and is swept out to the sea only to be eventually evaporated and to fall as rain again – our lives are transient, we live with the peril of mortality and from our earliest years know our end is certain. The focus however becomes not one of obsession of our inevitable end, but of the journey our lives take whilst on this short sojourn, bound up with other sentient beings trying to ascertain the path of a good life, to live to the best degree our culture and personal ability affords us.

The sound of the Shofar is something that draws us back to our earliest history, it is the sound of the Israelites walking through the Tanakh and throughout Jewish history; it is the call towards a better tomorrow and the hope that this coming year can mark the end of our long exile and the beginning of the return to our personal and national identities, it is the call to correct the innermost part of man that desires often self-gratification and its own selfish needs, that which the traditional sources so aptly call the Animal Soul: and yet the great secret of the Shofar is that when the animal instead of being impediment to human development can become an instrument for the correction and betterment of the human purpose.

Let’s hope that this coming year brings peace, happiness, success, fulfilment, growth, safety, good health and redemption to us all.


Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tovah!


Rabbi Jonathan Goldschmidt 2023 ©