Introduction to the High Holy Days
September 13, 2015
Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon
Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, Arizona
A mother comes into her son’s bedroom to wake him up to come to temple.
“Oh, ma,” he says, “I don’t want to go to shul today. It’s boring and no one likes me there. Give me two good reasons to get up and go.”
“I’ll give you two good reasons,” his mother answers. “You’re 54 years old, and you are the rabbi!”
Read more: Rosh Hashanah 5776 - It’s a Small, Small Jewish World
September 4, 2015
Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon, Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, Arizona
We are celebrating Labor Day this weekend, which in many parts of the country means the last hurrah of the summer, barbecues and beach time and a final celebration of the season of relaxation and indolence. For us here in the Sonoran desert, Labor Day is just a brief interruption in a fully busy schedule. We started public school a month ago, after all, and Religious and Hebrew school are going full bore. Selichot is tomorrow night, and Rosh HaShanah is now just nine days away. Aside from Labor Day sales, there isn’t really much to recommend this as a relaxing three-day weekend. In fact, in Tucson, Labor Day is more like a quick breath before plunging into the deeper end of the swimming pool of hectic fall activity...
But long before this holiday became another American excuse for a three-day weekend, a last flutter of vacation before putting our noses to the post-summer grindstone, Labor Day was a significant statement about the value of a human being’s hard work. When it started, the very concept that labor had value, morally and economically, was controversial—as it remains in some quarters today.
Originally, Labor Day was created in the 1880’s as a way to celebrate and support the workingman and woman, and as an expression of the increasing importance of organized labor as a political force in America. It was a way of saying that labor mattered, that capital wasn’t the only positive value in the economy and society.
We Jews have always believed labor has moral quality. One of the great sentences in Pirkei Avot, completed in the year 225, the Ethics of our Ancestors, says “Al shlosha devarim ha’olam omeid: al hatorah, v’al ha’avodah, v’al gemilut chasadim: the world is based on three things: on Torah, on work, and on acts of selfless kindness. Some people take the Hebrew word Avodah, labor, to mean religious service—but it is just as appropriate when applied to more practical and prosaic work, and it is likely that the connection of labor to Divine service is intentional. In other words, honest work is a form of prayer. This exaltation of basic labor as a foundation of society—and a way to serve God—is consistent throughout Jewish tradition.
Read more: Ki Tavo 5775: Hard Work Serves God? A Jewish Understanding of Labor, and Labor Day