With the onset of Rosh Hashana, it is difficult to recall the last time that the
High Holy Day season seemed as rife with so much uncertainty.
coming months promise to be fateful ones, as Israel grapples on several fronts
with momentous strategic and diplomatic challenges whose repercussions will be
felt for decades to come.
Anyone unsure of what to pray about need only
glance at the evening news to find plenty of pressing matters that seem to be
piling up on the national agenda. From Iran’s ongoing march toward nuclear
weapons to the strife in Syria and the Muslim Brotherhood’s consolidation of
power in Egypt, the Middle East will not be dropping out of the headlines any
On the Palestinian front, Mahmoud Abbas has vowed to seek
United Nations recognition of “Palestine” as a non-member state at the upcoming
meeting of the world body’s General Assembly in New York. Such a move would pave
the way for even more international recognition of the Palestinians and will
further augment the pressure on Israel to capitulate to their
And then there is the November presidential election in the
United States, as well as the increasing likelihood that Israelis may also find
themselves going to the polls early next year.
It is no wonder that
Tzachi Hanegbi, the former head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense
Committee, told a group of Likud activists in Jaffa last week that, “we now
stand, in my opinion, before the 50 most fateful days in Israel’s history since
perhaps the 1973 Yom Kippur War.”
So just where does all this leave us? I
for one refuse to yield to despair, for the simple reason that we have a special
opportunity to alter the course of history.
Yes, that’s right – though we
may not realize it, on Rosh Hashana we have the power to influence events on
both a personal and national level, by beseeching the Creator to show mercy to
His people Israel.
For according to Jewish tradition, this is precisely
the time when how the next 12 months will play out is decided upon in
“On Rosh Hashana it will be written and on Yom Kippur it will be
sealed, how many will leave this world and how many will be born, who will live
and who will die...” says the poignant Unetanah Tokef prayer composed by Rabbi
Amnon of Mainz a millennia ago.
In other words, this is the period when
everything hangs in the balance, when God sits in judgment of all of
So whatever will become of the Iranian nuclear program, or the
uprising in Syria, or the Palestinian ploy at the UN, is being decided upon
As Rabbi Avigdor HaLevi Nebenzahl, the former Chief Rabbi of the Old
City of Jerusalem, has written, “All the headlines of the upcoming year, may
they be for the good, will be written in Heaven on Rosh Hashana and will only be
published later, when the events themselves transpire.”
And just how can
we influence the outcome? Here, too, the Unetaneh Tokef provides the answer in
the well-known formula: “repentance, prayer and charity remove the evil of the
This tells us that we are not passive actors on the world stage,
neither individually nor collectively. Our actions have meaning and our prayers
have an impact.
Not all of us can be in one of the secret services and
take covert measures to thwart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s genocidal plans.
each of us can certainly stand in introspective prayer on Rosh Hashana, and
plead Israel’s case before the Heavenly court.
Of course, we must still
do everything humanly possible to forestall the threats that we face, whether
militarily, diplomatically or politically.
But we can also ask God to
intervene on our behalf and tilt the outcome in our favor.
line is that this Rosh Hashana, we have a chance to help compose the headlines
for the upcoming year. We are not victims of fate. Rather, we are authors of our
Through our prayer and good deeds we can make ourselves and
our people worthy of a better future.
And with the manifold dangers we
currently face, this should provide a measure of comfort, empowering us all to
do what Jews have always done: transform despondency into deliverance.