A new era for Beth Israel Sinai
This D’Var Torah is published in recognition of the last High Holy Days services at the current location of Racine’s Beth Israel Sinai.
After more than 6o years at 944 Main St., the synagogue will be downsizing to preserve the congregation for future generations, said Rabbi Martyn Adelberg. The current active membership of more than 30 families regularly participate in all Shabbat and holiday services and every Thursday he conducts a well-attended Torah class, he said. Over the last year, the group has acquired three new families.
“We look forward to a future of growing from strength to strength,” Adelberg said.
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The 12th century scholar Maimonides wrote in his famous Hilchos Teshuvah 2:6:
“Repentance and outcry in prayer are always proper. Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, they are especially proper. (During the Ten Days of Repentance), these prayers are answered immediately. As it is written (Isaiah 55:6), ‘Seek the Lord when He is found and call to Him when he is near….'”
Jews have always had an usually close relationship with G-d. Rather than going through intermediaries, both our ancestors and modern coreligionists have never hesitated to either question or even interrogate G-d. Abraham argued to prevent the destruction of the evil twin cities of Sodom and Gommorah. Noah, only slightly more religious than his contemporaries in an increasingly evil world, was called to save all life forms in an elaborately constructed ark. Moses repeatedly argued against the punishment and even extinction of G-d’s Chosen—albeit with mixed results. Survivors of the destruction of both Temples, suicides at Masada and York, the Spanish Inquisition, Russian pogroms and Nazi extermination wondered if they were “chosen” for annihilation. Interestingly, whatever historical atrocities befell the Children of Israel, G-d has not only guaranteed our ultimate survival but also our rebirth as an independent state in 1948.
The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are a time of intense reflection and teshuva (repentance). The Talmud explains that while G-d is always present to listen to us, the Holy One is especially close during the Days of Awe. Hopefully, we will take this opportunity to feel G-d’s nearness. Let me illustrate the meaning of teshuva with the following story. Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa was a famous Chasidic leader in Poland during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Though Reb Simcha published no scholarly works or commentaries, his students later transcribed his magnificent oral stories and poems. Reb Simcha used a parable of a king who banished his son for failing to live up to his royal responsibilities. The son preferred wine, women and song to affairs of state. (Sounds a lot like many of our politicians in Washington.) Banished to a rough rural province, the prince quickly adopted the life of a peasant. To insure his safety, the king had agents report regularly on his son’s condition. They were ordered to secretly help the Prince out of difficult situations.
Unable to bare his son’s continued exile, the king gave the prince a chance to redeem himself. An official emissary from the royal court was sent to give the prince the following message: “Your father loves you and is ready to grant you anything you want. What is your desire?”
The prince quickly responded: “Tell my father how grateful I am for his concern. Tell the king that it is cold here and my coat is worn. Please tell him to send me a new, warm fur lined coat!”
Imagine how the king reacted. He wanted his son to request the possibility of reconciliation or at least to express the desire to visit his family. After reconciliation, the prince could have even asked for the entire kingdom. Regrettably, the young man had forgotten where he belonged. The prince traded his destiny and heritage for a fur coat.
So Reb Simcha concluded: “We come to the Days of Awe when G-d longs for us to say we want to become better and more considerate, loving individuals. We strive to guarantee our heritage for future generations by becoming more observant Jews. We commit ourselves to tikkun olam, the helping of those less fortunate than ourselves. We commit ourselves to eliminating violence, hatred and bigotry. In other words, we work as Jews, Americans and citizens of the world to turn the tide of evil. This can and must be achieved once we embrace our ancient heritage as written in our Torah and literature.
Merely reciting the words of the High Holiday Machzor, even with the greatest kavanah (intent), is not enough. We must act upon its teachings and our promise to do teshuva. Don’t just promise to give more charity – give more charity. Don’t just promise to be tolerant and respectful of divergent opinions, teachings and lifestyles without acting more respectful and tolerant. From Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur we must advocate before the Holy Court and its Holy Magistrate for a new year of life, health, happiness, prosperity and peace for our families, community, country and the world. It is my fervent hope that our prayers will not only be heard but also answered. May we all be ultimately signed and sealed in the Book of Life.
Rabbi Martyn Adelberg is the spiritual leader for Beth Israel Sinai Congregation in Racine. The synagogue is not affiliated with a movement.