Seeing Ourselves Anewby Rabbi Jacob Rupp August 27, 2018
How should one celebrate the New Year?
There are certainly many varieties of New Year celebrations depending on culture, location, background, etc.
Oftentimes we Jews feel like we are getting the short end of the stick by having to spend extra time in shul, instead of counting down in Times Square or setting off firecrackers and having a parade.
But like with all things, when deciding how to act, we need to consider the circumstances and opportunities that present themselves. That is to say, there is NO question that shorts and sandals would and are usually my default outfit.
To be brutally honest, I feel pity when I see the corporate individual, legal professional (or rabbi, ironically) dressed up in a suit and tie. The laid-back vibe of San Diego is a perfect fit for my preferred fashion taste.
That being said, I don’t wear shorts all the time. In fact, on a given day, I will have three or more complete sets of clothes in my gym bag as I begin the day. One dress casual outfit for work/shul, a set of gym clothes, and a set of “San Diego casual.” Our behavior should follow the needs and nature of the situation.
The Talmud gives three descriptions about how each and every one of us passes before G-d on Rosh Hashanah. The Mishna says, “On Rosh Hashanah all the inhabitants of the world pass before Him like “Bnei Maron.” What does this mean? The Talmud offers three possible interpretations of the unusual phrase “Bnei Maron”:
• All people pass before G-d like sheep being led through a narrow door and counted one by one for tithing.
• Individuals pass before G-d as if they were on a very steep and narrow mountain pass where one must carefully walk single file.
• Every person passes before G-d like the soldiers in King David’s army, walking single file on their way to war. (Rosh Hashanah 18a)
No matter which way you go, there is the element of the individual and the element of being a team that is present during Rosh Hashanah. And to put it bluntly, if we are ever down and despondent it’s because we forget that we are both.
A friend, mentor and rabbi of mine gave a beautiful speech about the role of appreciation in marriage. He says the most crucial thing we need from and we have to provide to our spouses is to appreciate them and enjoy them. Not because they are beautiful or because they are good providers, or even great parents or cooks—but just because of who they are. They are inherently special, instead of special because of x,y, z.
The human need to be seen, to be recognized and appreciated for being “me” is so fundamental to who we are that we will lash out, act out and do crazy things when we feel unseen. But the Mishna tells us that G-d sees us as individuals.
I used to see that as a scary thing. G-d sees all my flaws, the time I wasn’t nice to my mom, and the time I wasted my employer’s time while scrolling through my phone in the bathroom. It made me uncomfortable to be seen. But then on the other hand, I wanted to be noticed, to express myself, to be real, to say what I felt and be who I am. Ultimately, G-d sees us. He knows what we did wrong, sure, but He also sees what we do right. And who we are not for what we do but because we’re just us. And He sees what we can accomplish. Not in the intimidating “you have to become a doctor or lawyer” kind of way, but all of the greatness that we hold inside that we secretly wish we could do, He sees that also, He put it there and He wants us to use it.
Secondly, we are part of a team. Sheep, on a mountain, or as soldiers in an army. The flipside of being seen is feeling alone. Like there’s no one in our corner, no one to back us up. Without proper support, we become fearful, aggressive and defensive. But if we know we are part of something bigger, and our feet are on certain and safe ground, we feel protected, at peace and free to experiment.
And those are the major themes that surround how we should look at ourselves vis a vie our relationship to G-d. On one hand, He sees us. He loves and acknowledges every part of us — even the stuff we don’t want to see, and even the stuff we are too afraid to admit we want. He sees us and wants us to be the best version of ourselves. And if we should feel alone, He reminds us that we aren’t; we’re part of a nation, a special and beloved people who He has loved for thousands of years, and as such we can feel unique yet supported. And with this special sense of both individuality and peoplehood, we should feel inspired to go out into the new year with a sense of awe, purpose and courage.