A Good Year, A Good Life

In a few short hours, Jews all over the world will be celebrating Rosh Hashana – the Jewish New Year.  Besides being a time for introspection and prayer, it is also a time when families get together for the festive meal which traditionally includes apples and honey, to symbolise our hope that the New Year will be a sweet one.

Alas, not everyone is financially able to afford a festive meal. As we are constantly being reminded, many families – single-parent families, families where the main breadwinner is ill, or unemployed or simply badly paid – often find it a struggle to put a decent Shabbat meal on the table each week. This time of year is a busy one for the many non-profit organisations who make it their year-round business to provide food parcels and other financial support for those whose lifestyle is very, very different from the tycoons who live in villas in Kfar Shmaryahu, Savyon and North Tel Aviv.  The “social protests” that took place last summer (2011) seem to have achieved very little and the gap between rich and poor seems to be growing.

This morning, on the popular news programme “Order of the Day” (or, if you will: “Agenda of the Day”), broadcaster Keren Neubach told of how she was contacted by one of the non-profit agencies to which she has donated money in the past, and informed of the good her money had done, in helping a handicapped child in need of aqua-therapy. Ms. Neubach hadn’t planned on contributing this year, the economic crunch has hit her too – but on learning that her contribution this year would help this particular child to stand on his own two feet for as much as half an hour, she felt she couldn’t stand by and do nothing. She couldn’t refuse. She gave.

After she made her donation, Ms. Neubach found herself looking at the huge tower block of luxury apartments being built across the street and she asked herself – as her listeners did – how is it that there are people who have so much money, they can’t think of anything to do with it other than buy yet another fancy apartment, whereas others can’t even feed their families. And her prayer for the coming year was for more equality.  But I also heard in her words condemnation of the rich owners of these expensive apartments – and I ask myself: is it justified? For all we know, they may be pious and generous people, who give as much – or more – to charity as they spend on buying expensive apartments.

As a criminal prosecutor, I am very familiar with the way the Court, when considering what punishment to impose on a criminal, weighs the accused’s criminal past and all the other bad points the prosecutor can come up with, against all the good points presented by counsel for the defence. For example, the accused’s lawyer will produce his client’s impeccable army service record, the fact that he or she is a long-standing volunteer working with the handicapped, or teaching children with learning disabilities. In the same way, God weighs our good deeds against the bad ones. Should we be sterner judges than the Almighty? Should we condemn a person simply because they are rich and there is a general perception that anyone who is rich must have somehow been dishonest or oppressed others in order to become wealthy? If we were to publicly say , without proof,  that So-and-So is dishonest because he is rich, we would be guilty of slander. Human beings are very quick to judge others, and quick to condemn. I know I am – although my years of experience as a prosecutor have also taught me that there is often another side to the story and that even the most hardened criminal has at least one point that can be made in his defence.

The great Jewish sage Hillel , who lived in the first-century BCE, was accustomed to say: “Judge not thy neighbour until thou art come into his place” (Pirkei Avot 2:5). I think being overly judgemental is one of my major faults and one I should work to correct during the coming year.

Shana Tova to you all – may you be inscribed for a Good Year – a year in which we may all live a Good Life.

About Shimona from the Palace

Born in London, the UK, I came on Aliyah in my teens and now live in Jerusalem, where I practice law. I am a firm believer in the words of Albert Schweitzer: "There are two means of refuge from the sorrows of this world - Music and Cats." To that, you can add Literature. To curl up on the sofa with a good book, a cat at one's feet and another one on one's lap, with a classical symphony or concerto in the background - what more can a person ask for?
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17 Responses to A Good Year, A Good Life

  1. Pati says:

    Shana tova ou métouka, Shimona pour toi et pour tous ceux que tu aimes.. pour tous les tiens..
    que cette année te soit douce comme le miel…….
    je t’embrasse très très fort.

  2. photographe says:

    Its such as you learn my mind! You seem to grasp so much about this, such as you wrote the guide in it or something. I think that you can do with some percent to pressure the message home a little bit, however other than that, that is magnificent blog. A great read. I will definitely be back.

  3. Katie Isabella says:

    I enjoyed each word and of course the thought expressed matches mine.

  4. CATachresis says:

    Great post! I understand that Hillel was the grandfather of Gamaliel who is mentioned in the New Testament as the teacher of the apostle Paul!

    • I believe that is correct. Rabban Gamaliel the Elder, was, indeed, the grandson of Hillel the Elder. One has to be careful not to get confused as there was more than one Hillel and more than one Gamaliel. Hillel the Elder is traditionally considered to have been descended from the House of David on his mother’s side. One of the most famous stories told about him is that of a Gentile who came to him, to test him, and asked him impudently to teach him all of the Torah while he (the Gentile) stood on one leg. The provocateur had previously put the same demand to Hillel’s colleague, Shammai, a man of far less patience and Shammai had summarily dismissed him. But Hillel replied: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn”.

    • Pati says:

      Il existe certaines personnes qui pensent même qu’Hillel a été le maître de Jésus..
      Pour appuyer cette thèse, on peut par exemple reprendre les paroles de Hillel que Shimona a eu la gentillesse de citer ici,et qui ont donné bien plus tard la règle d’or ou éthique de réciprocité : la morale fondamentale de la vie en société : “ne fais pas aux autres ce que tu ne voudrais pas qu’il te fasse” (et Hillel rajoute : “à présent, va étudier”.. cela prouve sa grande sagesse…) Jésus, bien plus tard aurait dit selon les évangiles : “fais aux autres ce que tu voudrais qu’on te fasse”.. l’inspiration semble évidente..

      • Ellen May says:

        I was struck by another one of Shimona’s quotations from Hillel. “Judge not thy neighbour until thou art come into his place” is very likely the inspiration for another famous saying of Jesus – “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

      • Pati says:

        Absolument, Ellen, Jésus s’est inspiré de ses maîtres durant toute sa vie..

  5. Pati says:

    Ce n’est pas une faute, Shimona….. Le grand Hillel dit qu’il ne faut pas juger avant d’avoir été mis dans les mêmes conditions que l’accusé..et c’est d’une immense sagesse, mais ici, Shimona, c’est dans le cadre de ton travail que tu juges.. que tu accuses…dans la loi, il est dit qu’il doit y avoir une accusation et une défense.. et enfin et surtout, il y a un dayan, sans quoi la justice n’est pas observée……
    Qui aime bien châtie bien.. cela signifie que juger quelqu’un et le punir ne veut pas dire que l’on hait la personne en question.. bien au contraire, cela veut dire qu’on remet ses comptes terrestres à 0 et cela signifie aussi que peut être la justice divine pourra être plus clémente au dernier moment, puisqu’il aura payé sa dette ici sur terre…. c’est donc un bien que de punir quelqu’un qui a fauté..
    la justice des hommes est toujours plus clémente que celle de Dieu……

    • @Pati, I understand your reply perfectly, but I don’t think my French is good enough to reply in that language. I understand/read French much better than I speak/write it – and Google Translate is no good at all, it comes out really garbled! 😉
      Of course you are right, to accuse is part of my job. All I meant was, that I let it carry over into other areas of my life. If I see questionable behaviour, which can be interpreted in different ways, I have a tendency to assume the worst. For example, if I see someone speeding by and overtaking me on the wrong side, I will immediately think: “Goodness! What a selfish road-hog!”. Someone less judgemental than I might first think: “Heavens! Maybe his wife is in the car, about to give birth and he’s in a hurry to get her to hospital!”

      • Pati says:

        Nos vies professionnelles débordent toujours un peu sur nos vies personnelles.. si je vois quelqu’un de mon entourage qui a un peu la tête, je lui conseille aussitôt de passer un scaner et une irm…..
        il y a toujours, qu’on le veuille ou non une suspicion.. et c’est tellement logique..
        j’ai envie de dire, Shimona, qu’au final, il vaut mieux prévenir que guérir.. autant pour ton travail que pour le mien.. en fait, on ne sait jamais !!!!

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