During Rosh Hashanah, we are asked to shed the hubris of our accomplishments in pursuit of an honest assessment of our course.
In Proceedings, a magazine of the Naval Institute, Frank Koch shares the following story.
Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities.
Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing of the bridge reported, “light, bearing on the starboard bow.”
“Is it steady or moving astern?” the captain called out. Lookout replied, “Steady, captain,” which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship.
The captain then called to the signalman, “Signal that ship: We are on a collision course, advise you to change course 20 degrees.”
Back came a signal, “Advisable for you to change your course 20 degrees.”
The captain said, “Send, I’m a captain, change course 20 degrees.”
“I’m a seaman second class,” came the reply. “You had better change course 20 degrees.”
By that time, the captain was furious. He spat out, “Send, I’m a battleship. Change course 20 degrees.”
Back came the flashing light, “I’m a lighthouse.”
We changed course.
Rosh Hashanah is the lighthouse offering insight as to where our direction can remain fixed and where we require our 20 degree change in course.
Change, no matter how small, is rarely easy. Our behaviors become entrenched and our attitude intractable.
Newton’s First Law of Motion explains that objects in motion will remain in motion at constant speed and in a straight line unless acted on by an unbalanced force. These laws of physics mirror our own ability to adjust.
To grow, we must seek out the external forces that offer us the perspective and impetus to change. As in Newtonian physics, this interaction is beautifully reciprocal, impacting both parties in the interaction.
In June of 2020, the Y launched the Norman E. Alexander Center for Jewish Life. Now, just over one year later, overlayed against the COVID-19 pandemic backdrop, our Center for Jewish Life remains an emergent institution, eagerly seeking the key interactions that will help set our course for the future.
It is our mission to help build and strengthen meaningful Jewish life in our community. As we welcome the new year, I invite you to enter into this relationship, using the Center for Jewish Life as your own illuminating tool towards learning, engagement, and self-assessment while also, through your involvement, helping to shape the course of our Center for Jewish Life and our community’s Jewish future.
Shanah tovah u’metukah. Wishing you a good and sweet new year.
By Rabbi Ari Perten, Norman E. Alexander Center for Jewish Life Director