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.