Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, starts at sundown tonight. It begins the Ten Days of Penitence, when God and each of us Jews evaluate our deeds of the past year. One measure of our goodness is our ability to balance the principles in the first two of Rabbi Hillel's three famous questions: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?" and "If I am only for myself, what am I?"
A few years ago, a rabbi spoke with passion to me on behalf of Palestinians, the group who, along with other Arabs, in essence wants no Israel. Unfortunately, this rabbi is not alone among American Jews and rabbis. Perhaps to his credit, however, when I asked, "What about Rabbi Hillel's, 'If I am not for myself, who will be for me?'," he became silent.
If we Jews think that the side that wants to replace Israel with itself is morally equivalent to an Israel that seeks peaceful coexistence and cooperation, to put it mildly, we are not being for ourselves. Also, our list of "who will be for me" in this world is dangerously short.
Through self-reflecting in these "Days of Awe," we identify often painful truths about ourselves so we can improve our ability to do good deeds over bad. Repairing ourselves morally puts us in better shape to fulfill our Jewish task of repairing the world.
Obviously, so does staying alive. Not only do "Dead men tell no tales," but dead men do no good deeds. If we are to do good deeds (including for those Palestinians who want to live in peace with us), we must not allow our enemies to eliminate us. If Israel had been re-established in, say, 1920 instead of 1948, how many of our 6 million would have been saved? Instead, with no Jewish country to defend and receive us and speak to the world in our name and on our behalf, we were almost entirely without refuge and protection.
It is a huge mistake for us Jews to equivocate about being for ourselves. At this time of year, we strive to clearly identify our enemies within and to not yield to them. We must be at least as savvy and honest in recognizing our enemies from without and at least as determined to acknowledge and deal effectively with the reality of what they intend for us.
Why? So we can be for ourselves - and so we can be for others.
Despite our flaws, as individuals, as a people, and as a nation of Israel, we have brought abundant goodness to the world. One of myriad examples: The Middle East country where Arabs have the most freedom and material well-being is Israel.
To paraphrase Rabbi Hillel: To continue being good, we must continue to be. The rabbi's third question is, "If not now, when?" Given the probability of devastating effects from the Iran nuclear deal, which was approved by almost all of the Jewish members of Congress, and given that the United States did not veto the December, 2016 U.N. Resolution declaring our Temple's Western Wall occupied Palestinian territory, I ask myself, "If we Jews are not for ourselves now, when will we be?"
Lastly, as an American focusing on my beloved America, doesn't much of the above apply to us? Today our country's classic liberals and our conservatives have largely similar values, e.g., regarding free speech and other freedoms. Today's left, however, as led by the mainstream media, universities, and Hollywood and as appeased by judges and politicians, provides a persistent, aggressive, coordinated drumbeat of each day's latest manufactured anti-American, anti-Judeo-Christian falsehoods and distortions. It is an enemy to our belief in our goodness and thus, if we allow it, to our likelihood of doing good.
Perhaps the most prominent falsehood pushed on us is that the bulk of us, from our Founding Fathers to this day, are not only racist to the core but bad people in general. Without our Founders and the rest of us, despite our flaws, the world would be unspeakably worse. We have, at great sacrifice and with great generosity, spread freedom, spiritual well-being, and material prosperity. For us and the rest of the world to prosper, we must not forget who we are. If we are to be for ourselves and also be for others, we must remember our goodness.
May we all have a good New Year.
Deane Shore Berson has lived in the Pikes Peak area since 1974. Berson's email: email@example.com.