Bringing Blessing into the New Year by Gevura Davis
It’s that time of year again. Spiritually and psychologically, we turn inwards and take a good hard look in the mirror at who we are, and what we are doing with our lives. While sitting in services all day, if we are brave and honest enough, we often find a moment to reflect on the past year and pray for the coming year. Sometimes, this can be overwhelming. While contemplating G-d, the universe, its vastness and the fragility of life, we can easily feel overcome by emotion. Am I achieving my purpose? Am I living a life I am proud of? If I am not, do I have the courage to change?
For myself, when faced with brutal and sometimes painful honesty, I often feel that I want to hide. Perhaps, G-d can’t see me or doesn’t know or care. Perhaps, if I continue distracting myself with the facts of life, I won’t have to look at myself too closely. But, in services on the High Holidays, it feels as if there is nowhere to hide, no escape route provided by the details of life.
Centrally placed in the high holiday prayers is a repeated phrase: Teshuva, tefilla, tzedakah.
In our moment of complete vulnerability – awe and fear and desire for change – the sages tell us to invoke these three powerful things to bring blessing into our lives in our hour of need. Teshuva, a sincere desire to change our ways. Tefilla or prayer, a heartfelt plea to the Almighty. Those two make perfect and logical sense. But tzedakah, charity, how can that help me bring blessings? Are we bargaining with G-d? If we give to others, G-d will give to us? In that case, I can go on behaving however I want, as long as I have enough money to “pay” my way.
I believe the answer is much deeper. What really is tzedakah? It’s an awareness that there really is a G-d who runs the world and cares about our daily actions. A friend recently asked me if I really believe in G-d and that there's more to this world than just the 'here and now'. My answer, of course, was a resounding yes. But, it’s an important question and one that I do sometimes struggle with. What area of our lives do we really demonstrate this? With our money. It’s hard for almost any person to give money away. We know that the Torah obligates us to donate 10% of all income to charity. And yet…and yet. It’s so hard! We worked so hard for our money! What if I need that money? Can’t someone else with more money than me foot the bills for the institutions and people that need tzedakah? When we are able to quiet the doubts and remind ourselves that G-d truly runs the world, that G-d is watching and G-d cares about us fulfilling this mitzvah, we are affirming that we believe in G-d. Tzedekah, therefore, becomes a great act of emunah, of faith, of belief that there is a Creator of the Universe and that G-d cares what we do.
With this in mind, we can understand why, when we stand before G-d, there is a constant theme: teshuva: try sincerely to be self-aware and to grow and change, tefillah: reach out to G-d for help and share your struggles and desires, and tzedakah: the physical act that is hard for us and shows G-d that we believe, and are willing to act on our beliefs.
May we each be blessed to live these three pillars as an act of our faith and commitment to the ideals we believe in. May you and all of your loved ones be sealed into the Book of Life for the good.
Gevura Davis is a City Leader with Etz Chaim in Philadelphia, PA.