Teshuva…. There is no app for that!

I know that in this precious time that brings the promise of peace to Israel it is most tempting to write about the events of the day and to speculate n what will be.  I have chosen to not do that and instead focus on the core values that make us who we are, hoping to keep us centered and to help us make our collective choices as a people even more powerful and everlasting.  Every time I write during Elul and right before Rosh Hashannah I am tempted to begin by writing about how time seems to just slip away from our hands and we have to make the best with the precious moments of permanence in this world that God has granted us.  Since I know I will end up doing just that, I would like to try and take an unusual turn in trying to explain it this time around, so please indulge me in taking you on a quick stroll down memory lane in the world of technology, specifically a gadget that has really changed the way in which we interact with each other and with the world around us:  The Smartphone!

I know it seems like it happened decades ago, but if I remember it correctly it hasn’t really been that long since the first iPhone came out.  I know what many of you are thinking… It seems a bit odd for a Rabbi to start a brief Rosh Hashannah thought by pondering on the length of the existence of the apple iPhone.  I am actually doing it for a very good reason.  First off, while I was in Israel this summer, a tiny Israeli company sold an amazing Israeli app called Waze to Google for over one billion dollars.  The young man who invented Waze did not have to invest a tremendous amount of money to develop the hardware, he used good old startup nation Israeli know how and ingenuity!

In fact the business of inventing and selling apps is quite profitable these days.  Think about it in very simple terms.  If an app that is worth one dollar is sold to one billion people in China alone, the company that owns the rights becomes an over night success story.  It turns out that after all these years it hasn’t really been the iPhone but the app store that has given apple a tremendous business edge over its competitors.  There isn’t a single one of us that does not know what an app is or does not know how to use an app.   Just in case; for the few amongst us that have never held a smart phone in their hands, an app is a self contained computer program that with one click is capable of solving a complicated and sometimes a not so complicated query.  For example, there are apps that can tell you what the weather is here or in any other place in the world in just one second.  There are apps that can advise you on the travel time and distance between cities and the most appropriate route to take without ever laying eyes on a map or even using a computer.  In short, apps are what make smartphones smart.  Earlier this year, and not as a surprise may I add, we found out that the apple app store had sold over one billion apps!

What does this has to do with Rosh Hashannah?  We live in a technology driven world, our lives have not only been affected but to a certain extent altered by the way in which we interact with technology.  I am sure you probably already know there is an app that emulates the sound of the shofar and there is another app that tells you how many days are left until Rosh Hashannah.  There is even an app that will find the nearest Synagogue for you in case you find yourself traveling.  I remember when the iPhone was first launched, the first commercial that came out, was produced with the slogan… “There is an app for that!”  In case you never watched or if you want to stroll down memory lane, here is the link to the original commercial. If you want a little chuckle take a look at this parody too.

As much as we have an app for everything, there is one thing that we don’t have an app for: TESHUVA.  Returning towards God and towards oneself in the ultimate act of introspection is not something that is instantaneous or automatic.  It is not something that is accomplished with one click or in one second.  It requires a profound process that is sometimes accompanied by the not easy task of examining our lives and being honest with ourselves and asking the ultimate questions that give our life meaning and are so very rarely asked: What can I do to be better?  What can I do to turn my life around?  What can I do to stop failing? How can I stop living a lie?  This is what Rosh Hashannah is about.  So many times instead of facing these questions we pass on our shortcomings, our problems and our burdens to others by blaming them for things gone wrong in our own lives!

We, unlike our non-Jewish neighbors do not throw or should not throw elaborate and seemingly superficial New Year Parties!  We are not about fire works, loud music, martinis and dances.  It is about our souls, about life in the balance, our future, our past, our present, our being!  There is simply NO APP FOR THAT!  There is no magic button to help us confront ourselves and coming to this realization is one of the most difficult things to understand in life.  For the over one billion apps that have been sold, there is not one single app that can help us speak words of comfort or healing.  There is not one single magic button that when pressed will reveal to us the secret of finding ourselves when we have lost ourselves in a jungle of fear and lack of fulfillment.  No app will actually tell us that happiness comes from being and feeling fulfilled and not the other way around.  There is no single smartphone that can stop us from abusing those around us who are less fortunate or perceived as less powerful.

So how do we do it?  No smartphone in hand.  Without the help of technology, just us, no one else to advise us.  It is the outmost act of wanting to turn our own existence into something more meaningful and lasting, something that means something and stands for something.  There is no app, and because there is no app, the most important piece of advice I can give you is not to start the process one day before Rosh Hashannah.  Some of us did things or acted in a certain way months ago and only now, only now when we begin to remember the still small voice of the shofar do we understand what we really did.  Life is never about the last minute; life is never about one day.  Nor is Teshuva!   Start early, look in the inner mirror now!

Imagine if you were to be selected to run the marathon in the Olympic Games.  What would you do?  When would you begin training?  Certainly not a day before, not a week before not even a month before.  This is not a race to win a medal, The High Holy Days, The Yamim Ha Noraim represent a race where you run for your life… so how early will your training begin?  Don’t delay.  We can’t run a marathon if we only train for a week before!  We can’t change our life if we only confront ourselves three days a year.  Start now, start early.  Tomorrow maybe already to late.  Start today and set yourself on the journey of a lifetime.  You are the app for that!

May this be a year of sweetness, of health; of life… above all may this be a year when we all find ourselves and the inner meaning of our lives.  May this be the year when we finally reach the ever so distant dream of Peace for Israel.

About the Author
Felipe Goodman lives in Las Vegas where he has been the rabbi of Temple Beth Sholom, a Conservative Congregation for the last 15 years. A native of Mexico City, Felipe grew up as an ardent Zionist and an active Jewish student leader. He is currently a member of The Executive Council of The Rabbinical Assembly and is working on the completion of his book: Torah From Sin City!