Jews have a lot in common with the political process happening in this country right now. The country has lurched full-tilt into preparing the nation to elect new leaders, including a new president. Why all this preparation? Why not simply show up on Election Day and vote?
One answer has a negative connotation attached to it. We give the political parties time to convince us, the voters, to choose their candidates by giving us their spin on the nation’s woes and its hopes: "Vote for us because the other party has gotten us into this mess and we represent the hope that will get us to a better place."
The other answer has a more positive underpinning. We give ourselves time to understand what went wrong, what went right, and what kinds of efforts, personalities and party platforms will more likely get our country to a better place.
This affords us a time of collective evaluation. What have "we" done right and what have "we" done wrong? Where we have gone astray and how can we get back on a better track? It gives us time to evaluate the tack on which our country’s leaders have taken us.
We listen to the cacophony of political claims and try to decide for ourselves the issues most important to us and how to achieve them. Then we can choose the candidate and party most likely to work toward that America for which we hope.
Jews everywhere go through a similar process of evaluation every year at this season. For us the soul-searching has something to do with society’s failures and successes but more to do with our own part in what has happened or not happened.
What kind of a human being and Jew have I been this past year? Where have I gone astray in my relationships with my spouse, my children, my siblings, my parents, my colleagues, my neighbors, my friends, my enemies? Where have I failed to live up to the values of honesty in my business dealings? Have I conducted my business dealings by the strict moral standards that the Torah (Five Books of Moses) demands of me?
What kind of Jewish life have I led? Did I make time for regular prayer? Did I observe the Sabbath and holidays? Have I left the edges of my field (my time, energy and income) for the poor, the stranger and the helpless? Have I acted and spoken with sensitivity and compassion to others, both those with whom I feel close and those I encounter along the way?
Elections give Americans the opportunity to create government all over again by tossing out failed leaders and replacing them with new leaders. This season of the year gives Jews the opportunity to remake themselves in the image they have of themselves at their best.
Even when we decide not to change elected leaders, we can give those leaders the message that change needs to be made. This season for Jews, with its chilling sounding of the shofar, the ram’s horn, tells each of us that change needs to be made in how "I" lead my life.
This season compels us to remind ourselves, "I’d better wake up and make those changes I thought about last year and failed to make. After all, life will only give me so many chances to get it right."