Erev Rosh Hashanah-Which Leap of Faith will You Take?

When you hear the term “leap of faith” what do you think of? Many of us believe we have faith but in reality we cling to the status quo. We are afraid of making the changes that would improve our lives, taking the steps we need to experience personal growth.

I know that the thought of uncertainty terrifies me. It is much easier to stay within my Daled Amot, the 4 cubits of personal space with which I am familiar. At the same time, I know that if I don’t take risks, going into uncharted territory, I will never develop into who I am meant to be.

There’s a story of a man who went out for a nice, peaceful drive. He drove through the mountains and the valleys, and along the way he saw breathtakingly beautiful scenery. The man felt relaxed and tranquil-that is until he arrived at a curve in the road. As he was rounding the corner he noticed an eighteen-wheeler headed toward him. “One of us has to stop,” the man thought. “There’s no way both of us will make it through.” As he got closer to the truck, the man became even more fearful because he realized that while he could see the truck, the truck’s driver gave no indication that he saw the man’s approaching car. To make matters worse, the man was approaching a hairpin turn, where the road was very narrow and there was no shoulder-off the side of the road lay only a very, very steep cliff. The man concluded that he had no choice, and so he swerved off the road.

When the car stopped, the man was immediately flooded with relief because he realized that he’d survived the crash. His happiness was short-lived, however, because his car was perched precariously above a cliff. He knew that in only a matter of minutes his car would tumble down the 5000 foot drop. He could hardly believe his misfortune: He’d survived the crash but was going to die nevertheless!

Sure enough, the man felt his car begin to lunge forward. He knew his time on earth had come to an end. Yet as the car plunged downward, the man felt a tug, and within second he saw that his car had reached the bottom of the cliff, where it exploded. “Wait,” the man thought. “If I’m seeing my car burning up, I must be alive.”

Once again the man had survived. But once more his relief was only temporary. The man looked around and figured out what had happened. Apparently, when the car began to plummet, the driver’s-side door had popped open, and when the man fell out, his clothing had gotten snagged on a large branch. “This is incredible,” he thought. “I was almost killed once because I was about to go into an eighteen-wheeler but I was temporarily saved. Then I thought I was going to hit the bottom of the cliff and die in a fiery crash, but miraculously the car door swung open. Now, after surviving twice, I’m going to die anyway because this branch can’t hold me for long. How could this be happening to me? There’s got to be a reason.”

The man had never been very religious. In fact, he didn’t even know if he believed in G-d. But he knew that if he didn’t do something in a matter of minutes, he was going to die. “G-d,” he cried out. “If you’re out there-if you’re real-can you please save me? I’ll do anything. I don’t want to die.”

Nothing happened. The man made another plea, even more vigorous than the first. “Please, G-d. I really don’t want to die. I will commit myself to learning more about Judaism. I’ll try to learn. Just please get me out of this predicament.”

Still the man heard nothing. Finally, with a vociferous cry, the man called out from the depths of his heart. “Please,” he said, “if you’re there G-d, know that I need your help. Please, please, just help me!”

The man heard a voice. “Yes, my son.” He gasped in surprise. “Oh my, Thank goodness!” he exclaimed. “There really is a G-d in the world. And right here! Please, G-d, just take me out of this mess and I’ll do anything you want.”

“You’ll do anything I want?” G-d asked. “Fine. Then I will help you.”

“Great. Just tell me what I should do,” the man asked. To which the Almighty replied, “Let go of the branch.”[1]

What are the branches that we are holding onto, the safety nets which while helping us feel secure, prevent us from the growth that we need? How can we have enough faith in ourselves and in our future to let go of these things?

Rabbi Jack Riemer spoke about the three things you need to bring with you when you come to services on the Days of Awe. He asks “Do you know what they are? Your Tallit, your Machzor? Your ticket? No. If you forget your Tallit, we will give you one. If you forget your Machzor we will give you one. If you forget your ticket…you can always come back next year (joke).”

Instead he asserts that “the three things you have to bring with you are three different kinds of faith. If you come without them, the service will mean very little to you.” The first type of faith he mentions is faith in G-d, that “unless you have some conviction that there is an order and a structure to the universe, that the world is not hefker (a free-for-all), that morality is not just a matter of opinion, in short, that there is a G-d; the service will be an empty show, a boring performance. Bring faith in G-d with you and Aleynu will be a majestic moment, the Amdiah will be an intimate conversation, and prostrating oneself on Korim will be a Declaration of Dependence.”

The second kind of faith Rabbi Riemer discusses is “faith in the people with whom you will pray.” He says, “Look at all we Jews have done in recent years and you will see that we are worth believing in, with all our faults.” Just look at what Israel has done in absorbing millions of refugees and what American Jewry has done to finance their Aliyah. Examine all of the technological advancements and developments made by Jews in Israel and abroad as well as the humanitarian aid given and you will see that Jews are a people worth believing in.

Lastly Rabbi Riemer discusses having “faith in yourself and in your own ability to grow and change.” He asserts that “if you don’t believe that, if you think that the way you are now is the way you will always be, then this service will be a torture.” Not only can we change but “we are capable of infinite change.” Rabbi Riemer implores us to bring with us our faith in G-d, our faith in one another and our faith in ourselves.[2]

These High Holy Days, how will you maintain faith in yourself and in your ability to make changes? What will you do to take the necessary leaps of faith to better yourself, even if it means letting go of that branch, of the safety nets you cling to? If we ask “Can you really re-create yourself?” I would respond “Yes, but it takes a lot of hard work.” As we are all works of progress, let us begin that work today (היום), moving forward with an unwavering spirit and unyielding motivation. Ken Yhi Ratzon, may it be our will to do so.

We continue with a responsive reading on Page 20 in the Mahzor, “How to Number Our Days.”

[1] Rabbi Yaakov Lablinsky, “Taking a Leap,” in Laney Katz Becker, ed. Three Times Chai: 54 Rabbis Tell Their Favorite Stories (Springfield, NJ: Behrman House, Inc. 2007), p. 44-45.

[2] Rabbi Jack Riemer, “Three Things to Bring With You When You Come for the Holidays. In The World of the High Holidays (Miami, FL: Bernie Books, ), pg. 29-30.

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