Rosh Hashanah Edition 5775

VOLUME 72 NUMBER 8     September 19, 2014      Elul 24, 5774

This edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated in memory of Baila bas Yosef, Steve Hutt’s mother, ob”m who passed away last Friday. May her soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life, and may Hashem send comfort to Steve and Ellyn and the whole family.

Caught in the Act

By the Anonymous Columnist

They’ve added a new requirement to my employee evaluation this year: I need to upload 2 specific professional goals, and list the type of evidence I will produce to demonstrate growth.

I am not making this up; there’s no way my mega-bureaucratic company knows this is Elul, the month leading up to Rosh Hashana–and that my Real Evaluation is happening within moments – when I stand, along with all my friends and people who I’m not quite friendly with any more, but should be – and account for the growth I made and should have made in the last year.

Let me tell you about this Evaluation. I have to create two goals for myself: One goal has to address issues raised during my Evaluation last year, and the other goal has to be linked to the Universal Improvement Plan, the one that we have for the whole company. One goal will concern my own professional development, and the other will show how I am supporting the company’s growth as a whole. Again, with apologies to Dave Barry, I am not making this up.

As an employee, I saw this as just one more bureaucratic hurdle inflicted upon me by the higher-ups who need entertainment between golf games and million-dollar fundraisers in Vegas. That was, until I sat with my Supervisor to discuss my Evaluation, and my goals.

She tells me it’s an inspiration to watch me at work. She tells me it’s clear that I am a skilled and talented professional. She said the goals I chose would truly help the organization, and the people we serve. She points out specific nuances in the work I produce, and describes their value. She shows me how my job would be easier if I made this small change or that – and takes the time to brainstorm with me for ways to work smarter, not harder. She offers materials that will build me as a clinician and a service provider, so my clients will grow and thrive under my care. In the process, I realize that by rethinking my approach, I can actually turn my work-day inside out, spend less time and money, and increase my positive impact on others. She leaves a post-it note on my desk when I’m not looking: “Caught! In the act of being fabulous. I love to watch you with these kids!”

This is the last Shabbat of Elul, what Rabbi Yitzchok Berkovits calls “the Month of Dreaming.” It is the prelude to our yearly Performance Evaluation as Jews. It’s our chance to develop some personal improvement goals – of our own, and a goal for the way we work with and impact the entire Nation of Israel. Because when it comes down to it, we really are one big family, and what we do or say affects the other – even far away.

We as Jews know that the Real Evaluation is just around the corner. Less than a week. But the thoughtful reader might say: Hey, where’s the feedback? Where’s my post-it note? I am looking you in the eye right through this screen: can you honestly tell me that you have never seen the hand of G-d in your life? Have you never noticed “coincidental” or “serendipitous” happenings that were really like a big old kiss on your head? Take a moment. Look at the blessings around you. You are so loved.

But let me offer you something else, in a whisper, just between us: We talk to Hashem through prayer, and He talks to us through the Torah. Sit. Read. Learn. Plant yourself in front of a competent, trustworthy Torah teacher, and learn about our Universal Improvement Plan. Learn about how Hashem values you, and reflect on all the wondrous potential you’ve been given. Find manageable, small, concrete goals, and think about evidence you can “upload” throughout the year to demonstrate slow but steady growth. Chose small steps that will turn your world inside out, and help you work smarter, and live happier, and derive more joy from being a simple Jew. Because there is no simcha greater than kedusha (sanctity); no joy greater than learning about life through the prism of Torah. Because the rewards and privileges of living this life, your life, are infinite. Because- and I really mean this—my dear, you are and will be caught in the act of being fabulous!

May you be inscribed and sealed for a year of clarity, health, wealth and true growth.


by Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum

We are simply running out of time. Rosh Hashanah is around the corner and yet we are unprepared for the Day of Judgment. If we were summoned to a civil court for some kind of charge wouldn’t we be speaking to lawyers about how to deal with the court system? Shouldn’t we be concerned and make an effort to ‘cut a deal’ with the Heavenly court? Is it possible to do something like that? Probably not. So then what must we do in order to secure a favorable outcome?

Firstly, in order to prepare for Rosh Hashanah we have to understand the underlying theme of this Yom Tov. What are we struggling to achieve on this most important day and what is the appropriate protocol to accomplish this goal?

When we examine the text of the Shemoneh Esreh that we recite on Rosh Hashanah there seems to be a confusing message. On the one hand, we firmly and repeatedly emphasize that we await that day when Hashem’s ruling power will become reality. At that time, we will unify together in order to advance that truth amongst mankind. Whereas at the very end of the central blessing we conclude that we envision that day when all the evil that lurks here will be eradicated. What indeed is our focus? Are we aspiring for that time when Hashem’s kingdom will be clearly evident to everyone on this world? Or are we concentrating on the more aggressive aspect of our davening, the obliteration of all that is evil in this world? Or perhaps they merge into one.

The beginning of that section of davening begins that “Iniquity will close its mouth”. This is a rather unusual manner of referring to the evil that pervades this world. That we beseech Hashem that evil should no longer be able to ‘speak’ seems to understate the corruption that the forces of evil have wreaked upon us for centuries. However, perhaps we can understand from this the true feeble nature of the evil and corruption that surrounds us. The call to sin that we are constantly battling is truly nothing more than that. It has no actual message or content. The persuasive ‘voice’ of the Evil Inclination beckons us to do its bidding. However, our mission is to ignore that call and combat its temptation. What are our weapons with which to fight?

The armament that we must utilize is the recognition and acknowledgment of the supremacy and genuineness of Hashem’s kingdom! The famous dictum of our Sages states that even a little light, brilliance, and truth dispels the falsehoods that reign, seemingly untouchable in today’s world. The rhetoric that engulfs us can only confuse us if we allow it to do so. However, if we are focused on the absolute certainty that our legacy provides us, then we can assuredly march forward and dismiss all that attempts to dissuade us and advance an agenda that is bankrupt and insolvent.

This is all captured in the words of Maimonides when he explains the importance of the mitzvah of blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. When we hear our inner voice calling out to us, crying with the pain of an entire year of vice and sin, then we have the capacity to drown out that other voice that demands that we listen to it. It isn’t as much the volume of the shofar, but rather its intensity that is able to overcome the incessant shouting that claws at us and tries to drag us into the mud of iniquity and wrongdoing. However, on this special day, we have the inner strength to elevate ourselves and proclaim that we intend to forge a new path surrounded with the correct understanding of life and its truths.

Joke for the High Holidays

The congregant came to the Rabbi before Yom Kippur. He said, “Rabbi, you know I’m not going to make it to Kol Nidrei this year. It’s the big game.”

The Rabbi replied, “Don’t worry! That’s why God created the VCR.”

To which the congregant replied, “Terrific! You mean I can tape the services?!”


Man was created on Rosh Hashanah. Therefore on this special day we have the ability to recreate our very essence and ascend to an entirely new level of existence.