1. “To be Included, We need to Include.”
By: Rabbi Mendy Samuels
As I was thinking about the theme of Rosh Hashanah, one word kept entering my mind again and again. Inclusion!
We pray that G-d should include us for a year in which we will see blessings, nachas, parnasah, marital bliss, good health, wisdom, peace, learning, getting closer to Hashem, and of course for a year of Mashiach. We pray that Hashem include us, and not G-d forbid exclude us, from any and all of these blessings.
In equal measure, G-d looks at us and notices if we ourselves have been inclusive or exclusive.
Have we perhaps not included people because they didn’t fit the criteria that we deemed appropriate or normal based on our own standards? Using those same standards would it be fair to say that G-d might not include us as well, heaven forfend? Have we been perfect? Do we think we deserve to be included?
We should all try to emulate G-d and practice inclusion for everyone. We cannot minimize the benefits of what someone who seems to be physically or intellectually different, can bring to our communities.
This is a mission that comes naturally to Chabad. Our mandate is to make sure that everyone feels welcome and included during the upcoming High Holidays and every day.
Imagine if we all came together and stood before the Almighty G-d as one family – as one cohesive unit. Surely Hashem would include all of us in the aforementioned brochos and inscribe us for a sweet New Year with the ultimate blessing of the coming of Moshiach Now!
2. The importance of Every Individual’s Presence
The Talmud (Taanit 8a) declares that for an individual’s prayers to be accepted favorably, they must be recited with kavana, with the proper intent.
However, the Talmud also states that the prayers recited with a Minyan (ten or more Jews praying together) will be spontaneously accepted by Hashem. There is no mention at all of kavana!
This speaks to the inherent value and importance of every single Jew and that only when all of us participate equally, do we have a real community.
3. From Rabbi Yitzchok Shochat
Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet arrived on shlichus to the UK in 1991. In 1993, at the young age of 28, he was offered the position as rabbi of the Mill Hill Synagogue. His vibrancy and dynamic leadership has resulted in a continuous growth of membership, now in excess of 3000 members.
Celebrating Each Neshama- The Meaning of Being Valued:
When I was growing up, my father’s shul consisted of mostly elderly men and women. They were Holocaust survivors from Keltz in Poland, and the shul was called the Keltzer Congregation. Their families attended shul frequently, so there were a handful of kids around each week as well.
There was one boy Moshe, the son of a Holocaust survivor, who had cerebral palsy. As kids, that meant nothing to us. We only knew, as innocent kids do, that he walked strangely and spoke strangely. We would never have dared make fun of him; our parents raised us to know better than that. But as children we could not help but gawk with intrigue and curiosity.
Interestingly, none of that ever perturbed Moshe. He was aware of his difference and he always kept to himself. What intrigued me the most however, was that my father would always smile at him, talk to him and joke with him, for the better part of twenty years.
Then there was Simchas Torah, when I would watch my father put his hands on Moshe’s shoulders and dance with him in one spot. I will never forget the look of jubilation on the young man’s face.
In a world where many people, young and old alike, just stare – young Moshe and later older Moshe – felt valued, felt like he belonged.
I thought about all this only recently and I called my mother and asked her what had become of Moshe. She told me that he had become a highly successful accountant and best of all, that Moshe had gotten married!
When you make someone feel valued, you will discover a potential you may not have realized is even there. A person who feels valued will accomplish things that even they may have thought impossible.
”Al tadin es chaver’cha ad shetagia lim’komo”
The Talmud tells us: “Al tadin es chaver’cha ad shetagia lim’komo” Loosely translated it means ‘do not judge your friend until you have stepped in his shoes.’
I once made a startling observation when having the misfortune of walking with an ostentatious sling on my hand following surgery on my arm.
It tended to draw a lot of sympathy. Cars and busses would stop, enabling me to cross the road. People politely sidestepped allowing me to pass. And there were always those who kindly inquired as to about my well-being.
I began to wonder about the many people who don’t wear the badge of their pain on their sleeve. I realized that there are people that are hurting on the inside where we cannot readily recognize the depths of their wound.
When we see someone acting out of character, do we pause long enough to consider that perhaps they may be undergoing some emotional difficulty? Pressure at work, at home or personal distress. Or do we simply become indifferent, refusing to look a little deeper?
You Need A Nose Job!
There’s a very curious story told in the Talmud about Rabbi Elazar who was once travelling along the road, when he passed a rather homely looking individual. Looking at him, Rabbi Elazar remarked: “How ugly is this man.” Upon hearing this insult, the man turned to the rabbi and said, “go complain to the craftsman who formed me.”
In other words – you don’t like the way I look? Take it up with the manufacturer.
Rabbi Elazar felt an immediate sense of remorse and followed the man for miles begging his forgiveness.
What is happening in this story? Is it conceivable that a righteous man like Rabbi Elazar could be so superficial as to judge another based on external appearance?
Can you imagine a Rabbi coming into a Shul today and saying, “Mrs. Silverstein there’s no easy way for me to say this, so I’ll just come straight out with it. You need a nose job!” Unthinkable right?
Rashi explains our story. This homely man was really Eliyahu Hanavi in disguise, looking to teach the Rabbi a lesson.
Indeed the Rabbi did not reflect on the man’s external appearance. He looked beneath the surface and he didn’t like what he saw. The man that stood before him was void and null of any spirituality. “How ugly is this man.”
But the man retorts: “Go to the craftsman who formed me.” By definition, I too am a creation of G-d. Though I may not be of the same lofty status as you, the same Craftsman who formed you formed me as well. I too have a neshama and a chelek Elokah – a spirit of G-d contained within me. At my core, I too am good.
The prophet Elijah was looking to teach Rabbi Elazar an important lesson that is very pertinent to each and every one of us.
It’s amazing how we are quick to jump to conclusions and form preconceived notions without ever looking beneath the surface.
There are multi-layers that make up the constitution of man, and we have to peel away those layers in order to be more attuned and sensitive to what’s really going on, because we don’t know where the other has been. We can’t see the DNA makeup of their soul.
If we understood this viscerally, we would be less judgmental of one another and we as a people would look altogether different.
Do you ever wonder why the Almighty made us such that we have to first crawl before we can walk? Why not simply let us just hop off the birthing table and walk out of the room?
Do you remember when your own children first started to walk? Do you remember how many times they fell? Do you remember saying to them, “come on you can do it?”
Maybe G-d wants us to undergo that experience at the earliest possible stage of our life so that, the same voice echoes and reverberates within our souls throughout our lives.
Whenever we hit life’s speed bumps; whether in relationships, at work, in life and we feel ourselves falling, that same voice is there cajoling us to pick ourselves up and walk again. Sometimes we have to strive to be that voice for the sake of others.
The Gift of the Challenge
A man once came before the Rebbe and explained that he was thinking of marrying a certain non-Jewish girl. The Rebbe stared at him intently then replied: “I envy you.”
The Rebbe went on to explain: “The fact that G-d presents you with such an incredible challenge, means that He has equipped you with the strength and capability of overriding that challenge. As I don’t have that particular challenge, clearly I am not endowed with those unique strengths either.”
The man went on to marry someone else and to build a wonderful Jewish home.
He said that was a turning point in his life. “A different Rabbi that I spoke to told me it would be wrong because of the Holocaust, the many people who died for the sake of being Jewish. He spoke to me about the past.
Another Rabbi told me how I would affect my Jewish lineage going forward. He spoke to me about the future.
But here was one Rabbi who was addressing me as a person; in the here and now of my current life, without prejudice. And that really spoke to me.”
That same principle applies in every instance. Each challenge comes with a corresponding strength. What we might mistakenly perceive at first glance as a disability, is really just an external layer, masking what is in fact, a unique ability. A special beauty and luminescence to be brought to the world. A challenge is really a wrapping for the gift inside. Go out there and unwrap that gift within another.
4. Rabbi Yehoshua Soudakoff
A Rosh Hashana Message
By Rabbi Yehoshua Soudakoff is a Deaf Jewish Rabbi and the executive director of the Jewish Deaf Foundation, a nonprofit organization serving the Jewish Deaf community around the world.