Why the frenzy?

  • Yossy
In Yiddish, they would always say “Nog a yohr in Afrika!” - “Another year in Africa!” It seems pretty inane but we all seem to go through the very same performance annually. “Oh my G-d, it’s Rosh Hashanah already!” “Where has this year gone?” You’d think that by now we’d have got accustomed to it.
by RABBI YOSSY GOLDMAN | Sep 02, 2015


Yes, time does fly. In fact, the idea features in one of our most famous prayers on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Just after Unesaneh Tokef (“Who will live and who will die?”), we read a most eloquent paragraph about how finite we are and how short life is. “Man was created from dust and our destiny is back to dust.”

We muse about how “life is like withering grass, a fading flower… a dissipating cloud… and a fleeting dream”.

Indeed, life is but a dream.

And the realisation that it’s almost Yomtov, sends us into a tail spin; somehow it inspires a buzz of frenetic activity. But why is there such stress and pressure in our minds and hearts? Is it just the homemakers and balabustas anticipating their big dinners, lunches and the rush for new recipes?

Is it the selection process for the best seats at our preferred shul? Or is it the knowledge that some very earnest, solemn, Holy Days are almost upon us?

For rabbis, this is certainly the high-pressure season of the year. Some of my colleagues even call it the “silly season”. But it’s not just the demand to produce outstanding “keynote address” sermons. There is the intense awareness that Judgment Day is coming.

From the beginning of Elul, the month of preparation for Rosh Hashanah, there is this anxious strain building up in the back of our minds. The trick, of course, is to get it to the front of the mind and actually do something about it.

With each passing day this month, we become more aware that in just a short while, the heavenly court will be scrutinising our past performance, not only professional but personal and spiritual.

That’s why this is, traditionally, a time of Cheshbon Hanefesh - the season for soul-searching, introspection and personal spiritual stock-taking.

So, I believe that the deeper reason behind the frenetic rush of adrenalin in the Jewish bloodstream at this time of year has more to do with trying to work out who we are and where we are in life than what we are serving for dinner or what is our seat number in shul.

So, where do we find ourselves? How many young people have gone off to uncharted frontiers in an effort to find themselves? They may search all over the world but at the end of the day we are not to be found in the mountains of Tibet or the ashrams of India. And we certainly won’t find ourselves by escaping to Sun City for Yomtov.

A fellow once told me that his son decided to go off in search of himself. So he said goodbye to his parents and set off on his motorbike across South Africa in an effort to finally discover his true inner identity.

Sometime later, the father called his son and asked him: “Nu, my son, did you find yourself?” “Yes, dad,” he replied. “Really?” asked the father. “That’s fantastic. So where exactly did you find yourself?” “Just past Bloemfontein, dad.”

In the Torah reading shortly before Rosh Hashanah, (Deuteronomy 22) we read about the mitzvah of Hashovas Aveidah, returning lost articles to their rightful owner. You may not have known this but “finders keepers” is not exactly a Jewish idea. These laws are outlined in great detail in the Talmud (Bava Metziya, Chapter 2).

While there are occasions when we may indeed keep what we find in the public domain, generally we are taught to make every effort to find the rightful owner and return the lost articles to them.

Historically, the biggest lost and found department in the world was located in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

During the three pilgrim festivals, Pesach, Shavuot and Succot, people who had found things, would assemble at a special demarcated point to announce what they had found. Those who were looking for their lost valuables would have an opportunity to reclaim them provided they could identify them as theirs by sharing some of the unique characteristics of the objects in question.

It makes perfect sense that where Jews would congregate in their masses was the ideal place for this mitzvah to be observed.

Today, the synagogue has taken the place of the Temple in Jerusalem, albeit to a much lesser degree. Clearly, we long for Moshiach and the Beit Hamikdash. But the synagogue is an obvious place for a Jew to go to find people who may have seen his or her lost article. And the genius of Judaism in identifying the synagogue as the “congregation” and the place to find each other, goes way beyond finding a lost talis, umbrella, watch or wallet.

It is in shul that we also find G-d. We can also rediscover our faith, our people, and our community. And perhaps most importantly of all, we find ourselves. It is not only material things we find in shul. We find spirituality - our true, inner self, our soul, the real me, the real you, the real Jew comes out in shul.

So, you don’t really need an airline ticket to the Far East or even a motorbike ride to Bloem. All you need is to come to shul. But it does require some quality time in G-d’s House. Don’t just chat to the neighbour you haven’t seen since last Yom Kippur. Open a book, whisper a prayer and listen to an inspiring word. Close your eyes and reflect on life and its meaning while the beautiful music provides some spiritual “surround sound”. 

And I want to ask you all to keep on the “lost and found” trail - for yourselves and for each other. Find some missing Jews. Find a Jew who may be lost spiritually, or simply does not have a shul to call home and bring them home.

Bring them to shul. There are so many people out there who would love to come but may just need someone to invite them; welcome them and acclimatise them until they feel comfortable.

Please G-d, in the days leading up to Yomtov, we will take the time to find ourselves and to reach out to others who would love to join us on the journey. 

I wish you Shana Tovah - a meaningful New Year.


1 Comment

  1. 1 Denis Solomons 16 Oct
    Rabbi Goldman the Rabbi in abstentia.
    Perpetually overseas or in Cape Town .
    While we realise that he has a large family he must respect and show some loyalty to his congregation.
    He is simply just not around .
    At this very moment in time he is in New York .


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