Featured in local papers on Thursday, August 29, 2002. Copyright 2002 by Yosef Y. Polter

"Where are you?"
The first day of Rosh Hashanah - Jewish New Year - commemorates, among many other things, the sixth day of creation: the day Adam and Eve were created, 5763 years ago.  On that same day they ate from the tree of knowledge against G‑d's directive.  Later that day G‑d spoke to them asking "Ayekah?" ("Where are you?")  Adam answered, using his new-found awareness, "I'm hiding because I am naked."

The teachings of Kabbalah and Chassidic thought tell us that Jewish holidays are more than a commemoration of these historical events.  In fact, they celebrate similar Divine revelations, which occur every year on a given holiday, albeit not with the same physical manifestation.

On Rosh Hashanah - the Day of Judgment - G‑d asks every individual "Where are you?".  Where are you in life?  Where are you in your character improvement?  Where are you in acts of kindness?  Where are you in moral and ethical values?

How do we answer this annual question?  Unfortunately, for some of us the answer might be, "I'm hiding from you because I am naked: I lack values; I don't fear heaven; I have not improved my character."  But instead, we can work on ourselves, so that when the question is posed on Rosh Hashanah, we can answer proudly that we are well dressed with acts of kindness, moral decency, high ethics, honesty, integrity, and charity. 

Rosh Hashanah closely coincides with the upcoming anniversary of the indescribable horror of September 11.  It is a natural time to contemplate: What can we do to make the world a better place?  How can we ensure that such carnage never happens again?  How do we honor the memory of the slain? 

The answer is that we can improve the world by first improving ourselves, and then our surroundings.  A change in air quality in one location eventually affects far off-places; the same ripple effect occurs with behaviors and attitudes.   Very few of us can bring about direct and immediate change to a world gone mad.  But we can all realize long-term change to the world indirectly, through our own betterment.

The greatest challenge for mankind is the battle within.  Defeating one's own inclinations, drives, and habits can be much more difficult, and indeed more heroic than defeating great empires.  If we really want to make a difference in the world, and lead it back from the madness of 9/11 or other ills that have plagued the world this past year, we must begin with ourselves.  That is the only action that is fully under our control.  And don't underestimate the atomic power of this seemingly small achievement.

If we make a serious effort, we will have G‑d's blessing.  We will also then be able to answer the tough, but simple annual question: "Where are you?"

Best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year.  High Holiday services are free of charge, but please call to reserve.

Rabbi Yosef Polter is the director of the Chabad Center, located at 148 Great Road (Rt. 2A) in Acton.  For more information, please call (978) 758-8994 or 929-2513.  Also visit www.chabadofacton.com