Renewing the Year, Renewing the World

Rosh Hashana is often referred to as the “Birthday of the World,” and for that reason we considered not only a celebration of the New Year, but of the world’s creation as well.

Yet lately, our world seems to be on the verge of catastrophe: wars, natural disasters, economic crisis, global climate change. How do we celebrate and look forward to the New Year, when the threats to our world can seem so overwhelming? How do we make sense of a seemly senseless world?

Questions such as those above have no simple answers, but our tradition offers a compelling perspective. According to the Lurianic Kabbalah, during the creation of the world some of the divine presence was shattered and remains hidden throughout the world. It is the human role to repair the world by liberating these divine “sparks,” so that creation can be repaired and restored according to God’s divine plan. In Hebrew the term for this human role is tikkun olam or “Repair of the World.”

Of course, this leaves us with an incredibly daunting task: How are we as individuals supposed to repair the world with all of its problems? As it is said in Pirkei Avot, “It is not up to you to complete the work, neither are you free to desist from it.” No one of us is expected to repair the world on our own; instead we each contribute through mitzvot and acts of hesed (literally “loving-kindness”). Every time that we do a mitzvah or act to heal our community—whether it be by giving tzedaka, taking on a social or environmental issue, or even just reaching out to those around us who are in need—we are putting a piece of the puzzle in place, we are repairing our broken world.

Still, as simple and beautiful as all this may sound, finding time in our busy schedules to search out opportunities to help may seem impossible. We know that there is important work to be done, but how to find the opportunities when we have so much else on our plate? This is why I am so excited about the work of our local Council of Community Services. The Council of Community Services (CCS) is umbrella organization for the various community service organizations and congregations in the Port Chester/Rye Brook/Rye Town area. They bring together these institutions to do tikkun olam in our own backyard—whether it’s by working with our seniors and young people, reaching out to the poor and disenfranchised, or simply bringing together our diverse communities to share our cultures and traditions. Recent and on-going projects of the Council include:

  • The Port Chester Culture Festival (held in May) with art exhibitions, poetry readings and live performances by a variety of musical groups,
  • The up-coming “community service weekend” to bridge the gap between our teens and senior population,
  • God’s Green Market—a volunteer-run organic farm that brings fresh produce to Port Chester’s low income community,
  • The Community University: a series of community wide classes on everything from Chinese medicine and Latin dance, to knitting and creative writing.

As a synagogue and as individuals, we have the opportunity to get involved with these and other projects that have a concrete and positive impact on our local community. We can renew and restore holiness by starting in our own little corner of the world. Please contact me if you would like more information, or want to get involved.

May this New Year renew us, and may we renew our world.