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Shana Tova & Shabbat Shalom 5781

Friday, 18 September, 2020 - 3:03 am

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

It has been a different and unusual year for every single person on planet earth.

Whether you are young, old, a student, a retiree, a business owner or a salaried worker, your life was disrupted and altered in one way or another.

Even if you were not directly affected, those around you were. This had an impact on you as well.

I think I speak in the name of everyone, when I say that this year had its challenging moments. And I extend my empathy to those who are still enduring the painful limitations of this virus that is still running amok in many places in the world.

On this auspicious day, the last day of this year and mere hours away from the New Year, I would like to focus on what inspired me about this year. From the ‘1,000 feet’ ‘helicopter’ perspective, it was a very uplifting year.

One of the side effects of the long-winded lock downs in cities across the world was the fact that nature reclaimed areas where human life had previously encroached. Monkeys overran certain parts of Lopburi in Thailand. Pumas were seen in the streets of Santiago, Chile. Kangaroos were hopping around Adelaide in S. Australia. 

From coral reefs rejuvenating, to pollution levels dropping, this year has brought with it some remarkable side effects. 

I would like to make what some may consider an audaciously bold observation. 

This year, humanity reclaimed their commitment to Divine values.

What do I mean?

Think of the following question. 

If you could only save one of them, would you save your favorite pet or a random stranger?

Google that question and you will be quite shocked at the varied responses.

I tried it in real life. I asked some teens. Thank G-d most of them got it right and chose to save the human stranger. But some did ask me how old the stranger was. How dear the pet was. As if those details could change the decision regarding who to save. Our modern world with all of its advances also has some blind spots. Particularly in the field of moral soundness. 

When Covid19 hit our world, almost every news article had the disclaimer that the virus was most dangerous to the elderly or those who had other compromising medical conditions. For most others it was touted as being an illness that their body would overcome without undue danger.

The world went into lockdown.

To save the vulnerable. 

Strangers.

Elderly strangers.

Strangers with weaker health. Maybe without all that many years of life ahead of them.

Yet the world instinctively shut down to save those strangers. 

At the cost of giving up convenience and comfort. In many cases at the cost of enduring suffering and considerable financial loss. Some would even face ruin.

The world would not take such measures to save the extinction of pink elephants for example. To raise money for elephant conservatories, yes. But society at large would not cancel weddings, funerals, prayer services, college graduations to save animals. Nor plunge governments trillions of dollars into increased debt. Nor keep kids away from school. And the list of measures the world at large took just goes on and on.

NO!

For animal life, even for our closest pets. We would not willingly enforce and endure distancing and quarantining with all of its difficulty and negativity to the individual and to society at large.

For human lives though. Even for saving the lives of total strangers. 

YES. 

The world stopped. Shut down. Quarantined. For saving human life we are enduring the greatest disruption the world has known in recent history.

WHY?

Because G-d said so.

On Rosh Hashana five thousand seven hundred and eighty years ago, G-d created Adam as the first human in the Divine image.

A while later, to Noah, G-d gave a clear instruction to be handed down to all of his descendants, (every human being is a descendant of Noah). Human life is sacred. Thou shalt not kill is a Divine unchangeable and immutable moral value. 

Murder, taking someone else’s life is forbidden. So is taking one’s own life. Or standing by passively when someone’s life is being endangered. 

Two stories come to mind where I have witnessed the instinctive decision being made and accepted by society at large to preserve life. It is quite likely that you too have had similar such experiences. 

I was at least twice on an airplane that did an emergency landing to save a stranger’s life. All three hundred people accepted that disruption nobly. They understood that their plans could be redrawn, but the life that needed to be saved could not be brought back if it was lost. My subsequent inconvenience because of missed connections paled in comparison to my deep-seated sense of fulfillment of having participated in a ‘human-life-is-sacred’ affirming event. 

While I was once in a major traffic jam on the way from Philadelphia, the newscaster reported a bridge closure as the reason for the delay. Someone was threatening to jump off the bridge. Police activity caused a massive delay. Nobody questioned the moral soundness of causing the delay merely to save a stranger’s life.

I am sure you too have had similar experiences where you have put everything on hold because a life was at stake, even someone you didn’t know.

But these experiences are all individual and highly localized ones. They were also very brief.

This year, second part of 5780 and first part of 2020 has delivered a message to the world of unprecedented proportion. 

This year we lived through an all-encompassing, totally disruptive event, that thunders forth a declaration and statement made by the entire living human race as one collective.

This year will be remembered in the annals of history as the years that the world SHUT DOWN. 

I believe that this year must also be remembered as the year of our reclaiming our commitment to G-d based morality.

THE YEAR WHEN HUMANITY MADE ITS COMMITMENT TO G-D’s COMMANDMENT TO PROTECT LIFE. HUMAN LIFE. THAT EVEN A STRANGER’S LIFE IS SACRED.

In the earliest stages there was a virtually conflict free consensus. 

Instinctively everyone knew it was right and no one complained.

(The subsequent and currently ongoing discord about how much to open or close is not in conflict with this observation. It too is in the context of discussion how to save lives. The arguments are because the experts are divided as to what preserves life more effectively, when taking long term effects into account as well).

All of this leads us back to the fact that this year there is a heightened universal awareness of G-d.

The fact that a microbe smaller than we can see (six hundred times smaller than the diameter of a hair), can wreak such havoc on our world, reminds us that we are vulnerable. We are not the all-powerful invincible men we thought we were. 

For me, even more awesome than the errant virus microbes’ destructive capabilities, is the fact that a hundred trillion microbes regularly coexist in our bodies and act in the coordinated fashion that allows us to live and function. How do they all get along? The cohesiveness and coordination of all aspects of creation point to G-d the Creator of life in all forms.

This is the year where humanity reflects and sees without any doubt that it is not we, who created ourselves, rather Almighty G-d Who is the Creator of the universe and all therein.

My dear friend, don’t let the preachers of ‘gloom and doom’ put you into a tailspin of despondency and depression. 

This is an inspirational year. This is a year where all the inhabitants of the world are aware that G-d is at the helm of our vehicle. 

He and only He is steering.

This year is not one we will forget.

Let us remember it for the awareness of G-d that it brought to the forefront of the collective human consciousness.

Let us remember it for the reminder of our belief in the G-d given Divine moral code.

This Rosh Hashana, the day of creation of Man, we the Jewish people may not all be in Synagogues as we usually are. Lockdowns and restrictions on crowds will keep us away from some of the usual nonessential traditions.

(the hearing of the Shofar being blown in person is the main Mitzvah of Rosh Hashana, it can and will be done this year in numerous venues around the world, here in Bangkok we have a ‘Shofar in the Park’)

But we will be expressing in the most effective and impressive way possible that we believe in G-d and His commandments.

(Click here to the Rosh Hashana prayers (page 17) and you will  see that the central prayer for Rosh Hashana is ‘may everything that has been made, know that You have made it… and may everyone who has the breath of life in his nostrils declare that the Lord, G-d of Israel is King and His kingship has dominion over all’. In light of this, this Rosh Hashana may be one of the most intense ones of recent times).

Let’s be uplifted and inspired to get closer to G-d. 

G-d loves us unconditionally. We are SURE He will give us a good and sweet year. That is why we celebrate with sweet things.

Let us recommit ourselves to fulfilling G-d’s objectives for us. To study more Torah and do more Mitzvahs. To be more forgiving and benevolent. 

As Jews we also have been tasked with sharing the Divine rules of universal morality with the world at large.

If this message resonates with you, share this universal and fundamental message with others.

The message of 5780/2020 in my humble opinion is 

Believe in G-d and in His moral directive to preserve and cherish human life. 

May we merit to complete the Divine mission and usher in the coming of Mashiach.

Shana Tova

Rabbi Yosef Kantor


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