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August 23, 2013  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Just Another Day in Paradise

Rabbi Ed Rosenthal
Rabbi Ed Rosenthal

I will admit it. I never imagined, in my wildest dreams that I would ever live in Florida.

As a Midwesterner, born and raised, who has lived a significant part of my life in the north, I always thought Florida was where old people went to retire and get away from the cold. Before moving here, every time I found myself in the Sunshine State it seemed that all anyone spoke about was the weather, the weather and the weather. Living in less hospitable climes, I was always frustrated by such “conversations.” Whether it was “sour grapes” or envy I can’t say, but my attitude changed when a wise person said to me: “It’s not about the weather in Florida, it’s about… time. You see,” she said, “up north the seasons come and go, and you feel the passage of time. Spring and summer lead to autumn and winter, and with each passing year you feel older. In Florida it’s different. People don’t age here the same as they do elsewhere. They feel younger not because of the weather, but because of the time.”

With these words, my entire outlook on Florida changed. Sure the weather’s nice, but that’s just a perk. The Fountain of Youth is the unique passage of time that exists in our fair state.

The challenge of living in such a place however, is that it can lead to complacency. In more northern latitudes, not only do the years pass, but they seem to move faster as they accumulate. Time creates a sense of urgency; a feeling that if I don’t do something now, if I don’t make changes immediately, if I don’t get involved, I may not have another opportunity to do so, and who knows what tomorrow may bring.

Here in Florida, time flies but I don’t know where it goes. Today is just another day in paradise, and tomorrow ... is going to be pretty much the same.

Complacency is like sleep. A lot is going on in our bodies and minds but no action can take place until we wake up. It takes an alarm clock to wake us so we can start our day. In our complacency we live our lives and go about our routines, but we need an alarm clock to wake us up to see that the world around us in a desperate state. We need an alarm to raise our awareness and move us to action, not just to live our lives (that is little more than surviving) but to make a difference. That is what it means to be a Jew.

And thus enters Rosh HaShana. It’s a new year: 5774. The date alone should show us that Jews view time differently from others. Yet a new year doesn’t seem quite right in this land where time passes unlike anywhere else. There must be something else to the day, something beyond the measurement of years on a calendar. In the Torah, Rosh HaShanah is referred to as Yom Teruah, the Day of the Sounding of the Shofar. It is the Shofar which is the focal point of the day. In fact, Rosh HaShana is just one of four days throughout the year that are called New Years. The Shofar is what sets it apart from the others and which adds the deep significance. How sad then that for so many of us the best part of the Shofar service is seeing how purple the Shofar blower’s face becomes, or in the Shofar “competition” to see who can hold the Tekiah Gedolah the longest. The depth of the Shofar is mostly lost in the drama of the synagogue.

To see the profound nature of the Shofar and its relevance to Florida we need look no further than the Rambam. Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, one of our greatest sages who lived in the 12th century said, “the sounding of the Shofar on Rosh HaShana is a scriptural decree which implies the following, “arise, arise, you who are asleep, and awaken you who slumber. Search your deeds and return in sincerity to your Creator. Those of you who have lost sight of the truth, who are distracted from it by transitory vanities, look well into yourselves and improve your behavior.” (Hilchot Teshuvah 3:4). What a beautiful image for we who live in this land of endless sun and blurry time.

As we go to the synagogue this year, forget about the calendar, forget about the purple face or how long the Tekiah Gedolah will last, and let the sound of the Shofar rouse us from any complacency into which we might have fallen. May the sound of the Shofar help each of us to recognize that while time feels different for us in Florida, our purpose as Jews has not changed: to make ourselves better people, and to make the world a better place.

Rabbinically Speaking is published as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Tampa Rabbinical Association which assigns the column on a rotating basis.

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