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Learning how to ‘live our best lives’

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There’s a 13th century piyyut (liturgical poem) called “Achot Ketana,” which means, “Little Sister.” Hazzan (Cantor) Abraham Girondi began, “The little sister — her prayers she prepares and proclaims her praises. O God, please, heal now her ailments. Let the year and its curses conclude!” And the final verse reads, “Let the year and its blessings begin!

What appropriate sentiments for this year! It’s not that I think anything will magically happen when Rosh Hashanah begins Friday evening, but there’s something about the change of the seasons, and the coming of a new year, that does give me hope for the future.

The things that have been plaguing us such as Covid-19, racial tensions, climate change, anti-Semitism won’t suddenly disappear because the calendar changes. What can and does change is us — and how we approach things — and the start of a new year is the perfect time to examine the role each of us plays in both the blessings and curses of life.

During the month of Elul leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we engage in a process called heshbon hanefesh, which is translated as “an accounting–or an examination–of the soul.” How did we do this past year? What went well, and what can I do better? Where did I fall short? Especially this year, what have we learned?

The Hebrew word teshuva is usually translated as “repentance,” but it means so much more. Teshuva literally means “turning,” or “turn back/towards,” and with respect to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it means that we consider how we can turn towards our authentic selves and towards God. How do we become the person we want to be, the one we’re truly meant to be?

None of us was perfect, nor will we be. But we’ve learned that by following medical advice and government guidelines about social distancing, proper hygiene and wearing masks, we have the capability to help limit the spread of the coronavirus, which is no small feat. By attending peaceful walks and rallies, we showed our support for everyone in our communities; black, white and persons of color; Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Rosh Hashanah is the “birthday” of humanity. According to Jewish tradition, the world itself came into being on the 25th day of Elul, and on the 6th day, shortly before Shabbat, Adam and Eve were created, ate the “forbidden fruit” and were expelled from the Garden of Eden. Midrash Vayikra Rabbah (a rabbinic teaching on the book of Leviticus) tells us, “The Holy One of Blessing said, ‘Adam, you are a precedent for your progeny. Just as you came before me for judgment and I absolved you, so shall your progeny come before Me for judgment and I will absolve them.’ When? On Rosh Hashanah, ‘In the seventh month, on the first day of the month.”

What I believe God wants most from us is to be our best selves and to live our best lives. May the coming year of 5781 bring us the blessings of health, happiness, prosperity and shalom.

Susan Elkodsi is the rabbi for the Malverne Jewish Center, which is located at 1 Norwood Ave., Malverne.