“A Message for the High Holy Days: ‘Export, Export!'”

by Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald

Beginning this Friday evening, September 6th, and continuing through Saturday and Sunday, September 7th and 8th, we will observe the holiday of Rosh Hashana 5763. Because it is Rosh Hashana, the normal weekly Torah parasha will not be read. Instead, on Shabbat, Genesis 21:1-34 will be read, in which G-d remembers the barren Sarah and Isaac is born. On Sunday, Genesis 22:1-24 will be read, a portion that is known as the Akeida or the binding of Isaac.

So here we are, Erev Rosh Hashana, and l’havdil (to make a distinction) the eve of 9/11, trying to compose an upbeat message. As the Hebrew poet, Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, wrote in the 12th century: “How can food and drink taste pleasant to me, when I witness the dogs dragging away our brave youth?” It’s been a bitter year for the Jewish people and a pretty miserable year for the world, as well. We really need a new start. Hopefully, this time of renewal in the Jewish calendar will prove to be a propitious time for optimism–and the “pick-us-up” that we collectively require.

Rosh Hashana marks the beginning of the period known as the “Ten Days of Penitence,” the ten days in which the Jewish people individually are judged, and their fate determined on Yom Kippur. It is a time when the Al-mighty calls His people to teshuva, to repent, so He can forgive our sins and inscribe us all in the “Book of Life.” It is a time for us to prove to the Al-mighty that we are really worthy of being inscribed for Life. We do this by making a special effort to perform meritorious acts, deeds of kindness and generosity, and avoid negative behaviors, like gossip, and hurting others.

The sainted Rabbi Israel Mayer HaCohen of Rodin (1838-1933), known as the Chofetz Chaim, offered the following parable regarding the proper way to conduct our lives.

A young man survived a terrible shipwreck. After drifting in the rough seas for several days, by hanging on to pieces of the shattered boat, he managed to paddle his way to an island. Arriving on the shore dazed, his clothing ripped to shreds, he suddenly heard the fierce cries of men running towards him. Certain that the savage natives of the island would rip him apart limb by limb, he began to pray. Instead, the natives gently lifted him, wrapped him in a beautiful long velvet robe, placed a crown on his head, and called out, “Long live the King.”

The islanders brought the survivor to a magnificent palace, and began to treat him as if he were truly the king of the island. To help him recover from his ordeal they bathed him in spices and oils, and fed him dainty foods. Once restored to health, the servants prepared sumptuous meals for him, and gave him a most beautiful wife.

Thus the survivor spent his days and nights, luxuriating, as is expected of true kings and regents.

After a month of living in this royal manner, the would-be king gathered enough courage to ask one of his trusted chamberlains to explain what was going on, and what would be his fate. The wise servant informed him that almost every year a shipwrecked survivor lands on the island. It was the islanders’ custom to appoint this unfortunate soul to be king of the island for exactly one year. After the year, the survivor is taken, stripped of everything in his possession, placed on a raft, and cast back into the sea, naked as the day he came.

The poor fellow began to cry, “What will become of me? How can I save myself?” The chamberlain told the young survivor to heed his advice well, and repeated the words: “Export, export.” The poor fellow could not understand, and the chamberlain explained. Over the period of the next year, you must prepare for the future. Every day, without the islanders’ knowledge, you must send a small vessel from the island containing some of your royal possessions. Not far from here is another island. There, your servants will set up an alternative home for you. As the year draws to a conclusion, send your wife, and any children that you may have, over to the island. And so, when the year is up, and the natives take you and cast you back into the ocean, you will be able to paddle over to the island and resume your life.

The Chofetz Chaim explains that the story of the shipwreck, the survivor, and the islanders, is really a metaphor for life. Every one of us arrives in this world, and is greeted at birth by a chorus of admirers, parents, and family members who shout: “Long live the King. Long live the Queen.” Every child is hailed as royalty. For much of our lives, we humans are treated to the luxuries of this world, often to excess. But after our lifetimes conclude, we leave this world naked as the day we came, except for those good deeds and acts of kindness that we have exported during our mortal years. Only they, accompany us during the next stage of our journey.

It is during this period of The Ten Days of Penitence, that we particularly need to make our lives more meaningful by “exporting.” We are fortunate, because there is really no better time to start exporting than the period of the High Holy Days, those days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. We need to export good deeds and acts of kindness. We need to perform mitzvot in excess. We need to pray for a year of peace and security, for us, for our families, for the Jewish people, and for the world.

And so, while we stand before the Al-mighty in judgment and passionately offer our prayers, remember the words of the wise chamberlain, “Export, export.” After all, these “exports” are the things that will prove meaningful to us on our ultimate journey.

Shanah tovah u’metukah. May we all be inscribed for a good, happy, sweet and peaceful year.

May you be blessed.