Aug 17, 2021
by Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith
No matter how much money, power and resources are poured in, freedom and peace cannot be imposed by outside forces. It must come from within.
After 20 years of US military engagement and over a trillion dollars in training and equipping the Afghan army, the Taliban forces conquered the country in less than a week after America pulled out. It’s a shocking, appalling mess and there is plenty of blame to go around, but that’s above my pay grade. It’s not my place to discuss politics and foreign policy.
I want to focus on an important insight about liberty and freedom, and how it connects to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
One of the glaring lessons in the collapse of Afghanistan is that no matter how much money, power and resources were poured in, freedom and peace cannot be imposed by outside forces. You can’t force someone to will something. It must come from within.
Some 640 passengers crammed into a US Air Force C-17 that flew from Kabul Airport to Qatar on August 15
Without the internal will to fight for independence and freedom, it’s no wonder the army folded and the president fled in the face of Taliban’s advance into Kabul. For 20 years, the enterprise in nation-building was being propped up by external forces. Once this ended, reality kicked in and it all came crashing down.
The same is true for our individual, personal freedom.
Who is the essential you?
Strip away all the external forces and elements that impact us, for good and bad, and what is left?
You are not your upbringing, your circle of friends, your title or position. You are not your wealth (or lack thereof), your looks, your hair, your intelligence, your fantasies, the color of your skin.
All of that forms the endless, complex strands that comprise the playing field of your life, but it’s not you. You are the chooser who determines how to respond to the moral challenge which is being presented to you at this instant. That choice is yours, and yours alone. You are personally responsible for your decision, whether it was wise or immoral, or not a decision at all. Because that’s you. You are that internal will.
Instead of blaming your parents, your spouse, the government, God or any other external force, switch gears and look inward. Focus on the only thing over which you do have control: your choice.
Everything else that exists outside of you is not you. You are not responsible for so much of the formative circumstances of your life. You are responsible for how you choose to respond to it. So instead of blaming your parents, your spouse, the government, God or any other external force, switch gears and look inward. Focus on the only thing over which you do have control: your choice.
You are not the baggage that was bequeathed to you by your upbringing, nor are you the brilliant IQ you happened to be born with. Those are some of the cards that the Almighty dealt you. Now it’s up to you to determine how you are going to play your hand. You are the sum total of your choices.
Abraham, the first forefather of the Jewish people, wasn’t blamed for worshipping idols as a child. He didn’t choose to be born at a time the entire world was seeped in idolatry. Nor was there any attempt to cover up his less-than-stellar upbringing. Submerged in darkness, he used his unique circumstances to find truth and chose greatness.
Rosh Hashanah Reality Check
Rosh Hashanah celebrates the birthday of humanity; it’s a celebration of free will. The Talmud teaches that in the moment of judgment, we stand before God utterly alone and come face to face with the reality of who we really are. All externals are stripped away. There are no friends to hide behind, no society to get lost in, no excuses to rely on, nor others to blame. It’s only the real you, all your heroic and selfish decisions, the dreams that were in reach but you left unfulfilled and the accomplishments you chose to attain.
The external forces we use to prop ourselves up or hide behind are pulled out and we are left with our true inner self that we are fully responsible for. That is who God is examining on Rosh Hashanah.
That reality check can be terrifying. It allows us to see what we are really made of.
But it’s also liberating and deeply meaningful. Recognizing that I am the only person responsible for attaining my personal greatness is like a blast of the shofar that pierces our soul, beckoning us to wake up and choose life.
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