A colleague of mine, Rabbi David Goldfarb, in Israel met his new neighbor on the stairs of his apartment building, a fellow rabbi, and asked him during this month of internal accounting before the Days of Awe, how is your teshuvah going?
The neighbor responded that he had heard a lesson by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook that relates to the word teshuvah, which means not only return and repentance but also answer. If teshuvah is the answer then what is the question? The question is what God asks Adam after he and Eve eat of the forbidden fruit : Ayeka – Where are you? Not in the geographical sense, but existentially, where are you? Where are any of us at this point in our lives? Now is the time to take stock, do the heshbon hanefesh, the inspection of our souls, of where we have been and who we want to be going forward.
That’s nice, said Rabbi Goldfarb, but I can think of another pressing question also in the early chapters of Genesis – Ai Hevel akhicha? Where is Abel your brother?
While I like Rabbi Kook’s question, I think I like Rabbi Goldfarb’s better. We are inundated any time we walk into a bookstore or we open up Amazon with one self-help book after another. There are lots of resources out there to teach you how to care for yourself and change yourself into a healthier, more satisfied person. We don’t think as much about other-help, thinking about the needs of others in our community and even more so outside of our immediate networks.
As we enter 5783 let us certainly focus on the question Ayeka? – where are you? – and seek an answer. But let us not forget the question Ai Hevel akhicha? – where is your brother and sister- for in seeking the answer to that question we might just find the answer to the first.
Lizzie joins me in wishing everyone in our Jewish community a Shanah Tovah Tikateyvu u’tichateymu
Rabbi Michael Friedland
Sinai Synagogue, South Bend