Rabbi Richie Reflects on the High Holy Days

Of the VERY many prayer poems that we Jews recite during the High Holy Day period, one of my favorites is entitled, “Achot Ketana, Little Sister.” It is a metaphor for our People Israel, referring to the original poetic language used in that great love-song of God and the Jews, Shir HaShirim, the Song of Songs. Achot Ketana, an acrostic penned by Avraham Chazzan of Gerona, Spain, in the 1200s, reflects on the vagaries of Exile, Galut, and bemoans the Little Sister, Israel, who has been buffeted about by the winds of that exile for millennia. In its recurring refrain, the poem asks God to give us surcease from sorrow: “Let the Old Year end, with all its curses, Taychel shana v’killeloteha.” In the final strophe, however, it lifts us with this inspiring message: “Let the New Year begin, with all its blessings, tachel shana u’virchoteha.” We are a very optimistic People, no?

As we ended the year 5777, we certainly saw manifest many kellalot, curses. We, in South Florida, were buffeted by Hurricane Irma, and it was no “gentle repast.” So many other tragedies loomed over the horizon, as we all well know. And, as we began 5778, even more challenges beset us: Las Vegas’ Massacre, the massive wildfires, and so many more. It may seem like more of the same, a carryover from 5777. Still, we summon our courage and gird up our faith; we await the blessings, and many berachot, which the year just begun will surely vouchsafe unto us. We NEED to have faith – in God and in our selves.

As I write this, we are in the waning days of Chol HaMoed Sukkot; we will begin the reading of the Torah anew on Shabbat Bereshit. And in that Torah, we may think of our faith in God in our time of trouble, yes. And that is a good thing. But more than our faith in God, let us also think of the flip-side, which I believe is the essence of our Torah: God’s unfaltering faith in US. We CAN be better; or, as the Latin phrase would have it, let us strive for “imitatio Dei,” the imitation of the Divine.

Yes, we all know that there are many curses in the world of humanity, but let us never forget that there are many blessings, too. These often emerge in times of crisis and despair, when we actively take a role in making this world a better place, and ourselves better people, by our own positive actions. Imitatio Dei, writ large.

May the year 5778 summon us to such noble activism. May we act as “shitufo shel haKadosh Baruch Hu,” God’s partner – or Little Sister, if you will — and Imitate the Divine by our own noble deeds, daily. In so doing, we will not only do honor to God, true, but moreover, we will validate that faith which God forever places in each and every one of us. And that, my friends, is God’s unfaltering blessing for us all, throughout ALL our years.

Taychel shana v’killeloteha. Tachel shana u’virchoteha.

Shanah Tova.

Rabbi Richard Polire