Tishrei, 1 marks Rosh Hashana, the year 5779 on the Jewish calendar.
Shana Tova. Happy New Year brings with it a blessing for a sweet, healthy, happy, harmonious New Year. This is a time of great introspection, leading up to Yom Kippur on Tishrei, 10, September 19, 2018 on the English calendar. The Rabbis and Sages call this time of year The Days of Awe.
On Rosh Hashana we sound the great Shofar, heralding the redemption of our people and a call to prayer, a commitment to self-improvement and a dedication to repairing the world. All of these are lofty goals accompanied by the Ashkenazi tradition of apples with honey.
It seems that we enter every New Year with great promise, high hopes, and significant trepidation. The world is filled with pain, suffering and disappointment. At the same time, acts of kindness and goodwill abound everywhere. Our Chassidic brothers and sisters preach the importance of free will and the G-d given mission to make this world a place where the messiah would want to be. Works of charity, kindness and forgiveness are simply high-minded principles unless we do something every day to achieve those goals. There is an old adage that behind every blade of grass is an angel that shouts “grow.” It is the smallest details that make a difference. A smile in the morning, “thank you” and “please” go a long way towards making the world a better place.
It is difficult to turn a blind eye to the political events of the day. Our Western religious traditions counsel both improving the world as Isaiah demanded and, at the same time, keeping a distance from authorities as advised in a later era of religious development. This ambivalence towards the political structure has been built into Western civilization. We feel a responsibility to call out bad actors, oppose intolerance, and at times even to foment revolutionary change. Who the revolutionaries are and what they want is a seemingly fluid enterprise. Sometimes the revolutionaries represent a conservative strain, and at other times a liberal upheaval. Walking the Derech Eretz, the straight or middle path, can be much more difficult. Modern communication, utilized by despotes of all stripes, works hard to drag us to the left or the right. Boring moderation is out of style.
Perhaps Ben Zoma, one of the great Sages of the Talmud, said it best when he asked, “Who is wise? “One who learns from all people.” “Who is strong? He who controls himself.” “Who is rich? One who is satisfied with his lot.” And, “Who is honored? He who honors others.” This is not a far cry from the Golden Rule, which teaches simply to treat others as we would want to be treated and to love others as we want to be loved. The difficulty with the great guidance we receive from our religious leaders is that the words come easier than the actions. In the Pirkei Avot, it is written that one whose learning is greater than his deeds is like a tree with many branches and few roots. Better to perform good deeds than to claim the religious higher ground. It seems to me that the great thinkers were correct on that score.
As a lawyer, I witness plenty of greed, anger, and inappropriate conduct. However, I also see lawyers who unselfishly give of their time, whether to Wise Options or to many other community and private activities. The public has very little knowledge of all the pro bono work that lawyers do for their communities and for the good of the legal system in general. Not every lawyer is riding in a limousine to his or her Wall Street address.
Recently, I had the opportunity of talking with a neurosurgeon who spent 10 years at Geisinger Medical Center. He is now a neurosurgeon at the Schneider Children’s Hospital in Tel Aviv, Israel. I asked him what the differences were in practice. The first word out of his mouth was “money.” Doctors in Israel make what teachers and many other civil servants earn. Yet, what impressed this young doctor was the commitment in Israel of the physicians to their patients. He said the bond was remarkable; something he had never before witnessed to the same degree. He mentioned that it was funny to him that in Israel patients were not afraid to ask for multiple opinions, and sometimes even to bring their Rabbi into the question as to what the right course of treatment was. The young doctor said at first this was difficult for him, but he has now come to appreciate the intersection of medicine and religion. The doctor has taken upon himself the project of bringing poor children from around the world to Israel for specialized brain surgery who could not get that treatment in their home countries. He said that because the cost is so much lower in Israel than the United States, many young people receive crucial brain surgery who would otherwise go untreated or die. He is now working with a foundation, at no profit to himself, to raise money to bring these children to Israel for surgery. This young doctor has given up a seven-figure salary in the U.S. to live a more modest life and cure the sick children of the world.
Stories of unselfish actions on the part of all kinds of people can be documented in this country and everywhere in the world. It is our job each day to try to do one small act of goodness or kindness for another, even if it may seem trivial at the time.
All the best to friends, family, colleagues, and everyone out there for a healthy, happy, peaceful and sweet New Year.
Cliff Rieders is a Board-Certified Trial Advocate in Williamsport, is Past President of the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association and a past member of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority. None of the opinions expressed necessarily represent the views of these organizations.