The other day, there was an ad in the New York times for an investment firm which read “You can transfer wealth across generations. But how do you transfer values?” A day later, an op-ed appeared in the Times by immediate past V.P Joe Biden. His opening lines were about the United States and he wrote that our ability “to lead the world depends not just on the example of our power but on the power of our example.” What an interesting linkage, the idea of how we transfer values “la dor va’dor” and the implication that we do so by living by example.
Selichot brings the month of Elul to a closing crescendo in a muted and solemn ambiance. In many congregations the Torah covers are changed to white, study sessions around the themes of repentance and forgiveness are held and there is a solemnity that surrounds the brief prayer service. We are getting ready, finally, for the Days of Awe! What shall we be in this coming year? How shall we continue to make sure that the fundamental values of our Jewish faith and community are continued. With so many challenges confronting community and congregations, how do we begin to focus?
Well, I think that this ad and the sentence from Biden’s piece really can form a point of view. We do a lot of talking about the importance of our traditional values. The thought is that we need a year that we emphasize living these values. Indeed, there may not be a better time. Studying these values has great merit. Doing them is even greater! Kindness, justice, family and faith are imbedded within our prayers and texts. We are called every day to model the concept of being “in God’s image”:”b’tzelem elohim”.
The word “tzelem” can even give us a pathway to these values. The word is made up of a “tzadi”, a “Lamed” and a “mem”. Let these letters stand for three basic values that we can model int his coming year. The “tzadi” for “tzedek” or justice, the “lamed” for “lev” or heart which teaches us love, and the “men” for “mitzvoth”, the call to actualize the values of justice and love into the world. The power of these values, the need for living these values every day, in small ways that are reflected in how we act and what we do, all can provide a foundation for a year of living values.
Rabbi Richard F. Address