By MICHAEL FREUND, JPOST—
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.
Indeed, the 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 time soon.
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 demands.
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 Heaven.
“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 creation.
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 now.
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 decree.”
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.
But 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.
The bottom 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 own destiny.
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.