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Rabbi Wittenberg's Weekly Message

Erev Rosh Hashanah 5770
Friday 18th September 2009
29th Elul 5769 Dear Community,
 
 
Everything matters.
 
One line from the Rosh Hashanah prayers has been pursuing me over the last few days: Attah zocher ma’aseh olam, ‘You, God, remember the deeds of all time’. The thought of this line has somehow been making me feel happy; I hear it telling me that life, every single small part and particle of it, is precious and valuable, that life everywhere and always deserves our love and our respect, that nothing is simply irrelevant or forgotten and that everything matters.
 
I don’t believe in some vast ledger in the sky; I don’t believe in a punitive God watching and spying in order to record every human misdeed, though I do believe that God knows. I understand differently the notion that all our deeds are remembered. I believe it means that our words and actions always have an effect, that their impact is felt in the natural life around us, even somehow by the universe of leaves and trees and certainly by animals and birds, that how we conduct ourselves is registered and experienced by the people about us, whether they are known to us or not, that kindness invariably makes a difference and that indifference, rudeness, sharpness, cruelty and violence always create hurts, and that the greatest record of who we are is the human heart, vulnerable, tender, unfathomable in its capacity for love and also for pain. I believe that God, somehow, knows and cares about this process. Therefore how we behave towards the world of nature matters urgently, even in our street or patch of garden, and in the choices we make about what we buy, use and throw away. How we speak to people in the queue matters, and how we listen to people and whether we hear them and care about them matters even more. How we behave to those closest to us matters profoundly, because all we truly and ultimately have in life, if ‘have’ is an appropriate word, is the impact we make on the hearts of others, especially our loved ones, and the effect of their actions towards us, which we carry as memory and feeling and, hopefully, as enduring love.
 
There is chastisement within these realities. The effect of wrongs we have done, both individually and collectively, does not go away. We have to ponder the consequences of our words and deeds, experience and express remorse, and, above all, act on what they teach us for the future. Hence the great importance over these coming days of Teshuvah, repentance, which comprises this whole process of acknowledgement, apology and making good. None of us has done nothing about which we feel, or ought to feel, regret.
 
But, more importantly, the beautiful words of the liturgy, affirming the value of all life and every deed, are for our inspiration. How wonderful it is to be alive and to participate in this organic, interactive, breathing, vital, responsive universe. How infinitesimally small our part in it is, how immeasurably fleeting our moment of time! Yet we have the capacity, inspired from God, to give and share care, love, encouragement, joy and blessing. How great is our responsibility!
 
Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah; may this be a good, peaceful, worthwhile year which brings the hopes of humanity closer to realisation.
 
Jonathan Wittenberg