“Actions and their Implications”
(updated and revised from Rosh Hashana 5766-2005)

by, Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

The celebration of the Jewish New Year is entirely unlike the secular New Year festivities. No parties, no bands, no champagne, no glowing balls descending from towering skyscrapers. There is little similarity between the two, except for both being marked on the first day of the calendar year!

The Jewish New Year, as opposed to the secular new year, is a pensive and reflective time. It is a unique opportunity for Jews to reflect on the direction of their lives, to conduct a self-evaluation of what they have done and where they are going. For those who question the efficacy of self-evaluation, no less authorities than both the legendary Dale Carnegie and the contemporary self-help guru, Stephen R. Covey, have written extensively about how highly effective people conduct self-appraisals on a regular basis.

The old adage: “To err is human, to forgive is divine,” boldly underscores just how fallible humans are. It is so easy, almost natural, to mess up, but, unfortunately, never very easy to repair.

There are a number of reasons why doing bad is usually easier than doing good. Harmful things can result from simply doing nothing. Good can only occur as a result of affirmative action. Standing by, passively watching a person drown is evil, even though the spectator has done absolutely nothing, especially if there may be a life buoy readily available. Only by throwing the life buoy to the drowning person, or by physically jumping into the water to rescue the drowning person, can good result. That is why the Bible states, in Genesis 8:21: כִּי יֵצֶר לֵב הָאָדָם רַע מִנְּעֻרָיו, that the natural inclination of the human being is evil from his youth, because evil happens automatically.

Another reason why evil occurs so frequently is because most people rarely see the long-term implications of their actions. Most people have only a short-term, immediate view of what really are the consequences of their deeds. Too often they focus only on the goal at hand rather than the ultimate implications. The electric company seeks to generate electricity. Their workers drill and dump the contaminated water into the local river, totally oblivious to the long-term implications. The original French settlers of New Orleans were warned not to settle in the Mississippi Delta area because of frequent flooding. But one strong-minded leader decided to disregard the warnings and established a settlement there anyway. In its first four years of habitation, New Orleans was flooded and destroyed several times.

Years ago, I attended a selichot (penitential prayers prior to Rosh Hashana) concert featuring the wonderful cantor/singer Dr. Elli Kranzler. He told the following story that is attributed to the Rizhiner Rebbe. A king had built a new palace and decided to illuminate the biggest and most beautiful room in the palace with an extraordinary chandelier. The most magnificent crystal chandelier took years to make. When it was finally installed, people came from near and far to see its beauty.

One day, a low-level palace worker, (an assistant to an assistant electrician!) was told to fetch some electrical wire to be used to repair a frayed electrical cord in one of the fixtures in a minor basement passageway. As he walked through the elegant hall with the magnificent chandelier, he noticed the long wire that was used to support the hanging chandelier. All he did was snip off a small piece of the wire for his use. He had no idea that he had weakened the installation of the chandelier, and shortly after he left the room, the entire chandelier came crashing down.

“So,” said the Rebbe, “Sometimes we think that our actions are small and insignificant, but we fail to recognize the immense implications of these so-called ‘insignificant’ deeds.” Destroyed friendships, unraveled marriages, scarred children and alienated students can result, without intending at all to be hurtful or evil.

Avtalyon, the teacher of the famous sage Hillel, states emphatically in Ethics of our Fathers (1:11): חֲכָמִים, הִזָּהֲרוּ בְדִבְרֵיכֶם, “Wise people, be careful with what you say.” Each word, each action, has unfathomable power, to give life but also to destroy.

Let us use the new year 5784, and the G-d-given opportunity of Rosh Hashana, to improve ourselves, improve our lives, improve our environment, and improve the world.

May you be blessed.

Please note: Rosh Hashana 5784 is observed this year on Friday evening, September 15th, and all-day Saturday and Sunday, September 16 and 17, 2023.

Rosh Hashana is followed immediately by The Fast of Gedaliah, that will be will be observed on Monday, September 18, 2023, from dawn until nightfall.

The Shabbat between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Friday night and Saturday, September 22nd and 23rd, is known as “Shabbat Shuva,” the Shabbat of repentance.

Wishing you all a שָׁנָה טוֹבָהShana Tova, a very happy and healthy New Year.