Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal: 5781 High Holiday Message

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Dear Friends:

The sound of the shofar calls to us to listen! But our tradition teaches us that salvation only comes when we open our eyes to suffering and take action towards solutions. Indeed, in both our Torah readings for Rosh Hashanah, an angel calls out, and Hagar and Abraham discover that what is needed to save a life was in front of them all along.

In both these Torah readings, the stakes could not be higher. A child’s life is in imminent danger. On the first day we read of Hagar and her son, Ishma’el, who were banished from Abraham’s household. As they wander in the wilderness, their water runs out, and Hagar sobs as she sees her beloved son dying of thirst. On the second day we read of Abraham preparing to fulfill what he believes to be God’s command, offering his own beloved son Isaac on an altar. We can imagine his own tears as he raises his knife.

And as each child endures terrible trauma and the possibility of death, an angel calls out to pause the action, and when Hagar and Abraham each look more clearly, the agent of salvation is near at hand. For Ishma’el, “Then God opened [Hagar’s] eyes and she saw a well of water. She went and filled the skin with water, and let the boy drink” (Gen. 21:19-20, JPS). For Isaac, “When Abraham looked up, his eye fell upon a ram, caught in the thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son” (Gen. 22:13).

In our world, some lives are threatened by natural forces of disease, hunger or thirst. And some are threatened by human acts of violence, racism, antisemitism, and bigotry. Suffering and injustice abound.

This Rosh Hashanah, the shofar is the call of the angel who tells Hagar, “Come, lift up the boy and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him” (21:18). And it is the call of the angel who tells Abraham, “Do not raise your hand against the boy, or do anything to him. For now I know you fear God” (22:12).

This year, let’s hear the sound of the shofar as the call of that angel. Let go of the knife. Reach out a virtual hand. Lift up one another. Heed the angel’s voice -- God’s voice -- commanding us, “Do not turn away from suffering. See it clearly, and look for the solutions that God is providing you. The well of water. The ram in the thicket. It is there, right in front of you! Seize it, save a life, save a child, save a world.”

Indeed, isn’t this what we have been doing in our synagogues and communities over these past few months? I have been inspired by the creativity, talent, passion, flexibility and incredible energy of our clergy, synagogue professionals, and lay leaders who have shown us that strong communities are not about buildings, but about people, relationship, connection, and spirit. And I’m grateful that USCJ has been able to play a partnership role in inspiring, connecting, training, and facilitating those connections and achievements.

May we hear the call of the shofar this year. May we see the world with clear eyes and a pure heart. And may we continue to act with love and compassion, with partnership and care.

Please accept my warmest gratitude for all that you have done this year as a leader of your community, and for all that we will do together in the year to come.

L’shanah Tovah Umetukah -- With Wishes for a Good and Sweet New Year,

Jacob

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