A recent survey by the National Centre for Social Research found that for the first time, more than half of people in the UK (53%) described themselves as having “no religion”.
Among those aged between 18 and 25, the proportion was higher at 71%.
This greatly contrasted with 75% of people aged 75 and over who said they were religious.
Wow, the trend is harsh…the youth seem to be offloading religion whilst the elders are hanging on.
Is that really the case?
Rosh Hashanah (the new Jewish Year) is upon us. A time for change, awakening, inspiration and rebuilding our relationship with G-d.
What’s interesting to note is the way we relate to this day. Rosh Hashanah is literally translated as the head of the year. Why do we not call this exceptional day Shana Chadasha (New Year)? What’s special about the head?
The Shulchan Aruch (583:2) writes that on Rosh Hashanah we eat the head of a lamb to symbolise that “we should be as a head and not as a tail, and to remember the ram at the Akedat (binding of) Yitzchak.”
The Chayei Adam mentions the custom to use fish in its stead and to say that “we should multiply like fish and that no evil eye be upon us”.
What is interesting is the double language used. Wouldn’t it have been enough to say we wish to be at the head? Why do we need to add the words and not the tail?
Furthermore in Parshat Ki Tavo (28:13) the Torah relates that G-d will place us at the head, and not at the tail.
Rabbi Yonatan Eibeshitz Ztz”l explains with the famous words in Pirkei Avot 4:15 which state that we should strive to be the tail of a lion and not the head of a fox.
R Eibeshitz explains that here too we are asking G-d that He make us the head. But not the head of foxes or even lions, the head of heads!
What do I mean by the head of heads?
Let me explain with a fascinating story.
As a young man Rabbi Yaakov Galinsky Ztz”l found himself in an ever changing world through the rise in power of communism and the Nazis, leading to the Second World War. Times were tough and many of the Yeshivot escaped Poland and headed for Vilna, Lithuania. They thought they could seek refuge there, but were soon traumatised as the Russian tanks rolled through the towns. They were chased and eventually “caught” (for no reason) and sent off to Siberia to a harsh labour camp.
As they arrived they were greeted by one of the commanders who stood them up in the freezing cold and informed them that they were there to stay. In fact he told them they would be there for 25 years!
Amongst the group of Jews, Poles and Lithuanians was the previous Minister of Education of Lithuania- an elderly eighty year old man who had been through much to get to where he was; now broke down crying.
Understanding their situation Rabbi Galinsky made a quick calculation as to how old he would be when they left twenty five years later. But alas his calculation soon broke down as he was shouted at by the commander. “You see those gates, no one leaves there alive!” said the commander.
I once heard Rabbi Galinsky personally relate his predicament.
“What could I do? How should I pray to G-d to save me?
Almighty G-d, I implore you to let me have the strength to survive and if that’s too much, please at least let me have a Jewish burial.
If someone would have approached me and told me at that time not to worry, calming my fears by saying
“One day you will leave this place and go to Israel where you will set up a Torah Academy, including a Yeshiva and range of Kolelim.
You will be blessed with a large family and merit to see your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren in health, living a rich Jewish life.
And that when you will be invited to travel outside of Israel it would be hard for your to arrange as you will be attending so many family engagements, weddings, Bar Mitzvah’s” I would have said Rachok Miyeshuati Divrei Shaagati – literally meaning man asks for a lot and receives a little.
I learned with my own flesh that the explanation is the exact opposite.
All I asked for was the simple strength to survive and if that was too much then at least a Jewish burial. And G-d in turn blessed me with the abundance that I have experienced!”
Therefore my friends when it comes to Rosh Hashanah we ask G-d please let us be the head.
But the head of what?
Not the peak of what our understanding is. What we think is the head, is really just the tail. Therefore we beseech the Almighty to bless us to be the head in His understanding, rather than what we perceive to be the head, yet is really the tail.
A message to generation Z.
It’s not all as it seems. There is much more depth to what you think is the peak.
This is the easy come easy go generation where what are thought of as Super Computers – the heads of the computer world – are a few years later already considered obsolete. Where fun and action are quick to arrive, yet don’t seem to leave a lasting impression.
What are your desires for the next year? Rosh Hashanah is the first page in a blank book of hundreds of pages. Write a good one!
What shall we ask for? Better gaming powers, technological advances that will enable us to text, video call, drive unmanned vehicles, get to the moon and back?
What we think is the head – the top of our list of asks, could actually be the tail.
So we ask G-d – You realise what is at the top – please put us there!
Judaism has so much to offer, boasting a rich legacy of dialogue and thought provoking debate to cultivate both wisdom and compassion. There is a reason why so many people in the previous generations died for their belief!
Religion is dying? Not with us. We have been crushed in the past, yet we have now risen and cultivated barren land, returning to the promised land of our forefathers – Israel. We have rebuilt the Torah learning centres that were destroyed by the evil Nazis. And we will continue to learn from the book of a Living G-d that Was, Is and always Will Be.
Judaism is alive and well, thriving, offering life, teaching love, kindness, free will and true happiness. Judaism has an enormous wealth of wisdom and experience to offer this troubled world, and we as Jews ought to be proud to speak about it with enthusiasm and dignity.
As the New Year arrives remember the book is called opportunity and Rosh Hashanah is the first chapter in the book. Grab it, embrace it and create your Jewish future.