Strengthening Our Moral Compass In 5784 - Septermber 15, 2023

Tonight, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins. Click here for a High Holiday calendar. We have many wonderful and welcoming synagogues and other groups holding High Holiday programs and activities. You can also click here for additional High Holiday resources to enhance your observance and celebration.


Pidyon shvuyim (Redemption of Captives) is a religious duty in Judaism to bring about the release of a fellow Jew imprisoned unjustly by authorities. It has been over five months since Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was wrongfully detained by Russian authorities. As we gather with loved ones this Rosh Hashanah, Jewish communities across the country are being asked to think of Evan and write him a letter, sending him your wishes for the Jewish New Year. These will be sent directly to Evan through his lawyers, so that he can hear from us. Additionally, the letters will be delivered to Evan’s family in New Jersey with the hopes of providing comfort. We hope and pray that Evan will soon taste the sweetness of freedom. Please click here to submit your letter before 3:00 p.m. today.



I feel like this is always the most challenging “Marc’s Remarks” of the year to write.


I once worked with a volunteer leader whose favorite expression was, “You can never do wrong by doing right.” He was from Atlanta, and it sounded even better when he said it with his southern drawl.


To me, his comment was all about one’s moral compass. A moral compass is an internal guide for making decisions and living a life of integrity. It can help us determine right from wrong in any given situation. A strong moral compass helps people make better choices, build stronger relationships, and lead more meaningful lives. In fact, the choices we make today shape who we are in the future more than anything else.


Psychologists say the components of a strong moral compass include: self-awareness, integrity, respect for others, empathy towards those who are different from us, responsibility for our actions and words; humility; kindness; courage; honesty; fairness; justice; loyalty to family and friends; generosity with time and resources; and compassion for the suffering around us.


These values build our character -- the person we want to be each day --  and help us live according to our conscience rather than just following society’s norms without question.


Here are several things to think about as we work to strengthen our moral compass:


  • Consistently reflect on our beliefs, principles, and values. We can do this by reflecting on day-to-day situations in our lives or current events in the news.


  • Relying only on what we already know to guide us is limiting. Never stop learning. It is important to broaden our horizons by considering different cultures, religions, social practices, and economic backgrounds.


  • While we always consider how our actions will affect us, it is equally important to consider how they affect others.


  • Our moral compass is our guiding light. At the same time, it is important for us to follow through and act upon our intentions. The satisfaction we get by acting upon our values is motivating and rewarding.


  • Our moral compass evolves over time as we encounter new information and experiences. If something we believed was mistaken or misguided, let us admit our mistakes, apologize to people we have hurt, and learn from the situation.


  • Perhaps most important of all, when we are guided by our moral compass, we follow the path of righteousness and justice even if it is counterintuitive, frightening, or countercultural.


As the old saying goes, "In the end, it is not the years in your life that count. It is the life in your years." Entering the New Year, may we all be our real selves and consistently make decisions that reflect and support that reality. That is what I aspire to do at home and at the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland.


Here is a wonderful video with New York Times columnist David Brooks interviewing Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (z”l) at the 92nd Street Y from March 2017. The topic is “Finding a Moral Compass in Challenging Times.” I hope you will watch.


During this period of reflection, we are reminded that one of the goals of Rosh Hashanah is to move from a place of strict judgment (din) to kindness (rachamim). We cannot forgive each other and mend the world without kindness. It lifts us out of our own self-interest, builds us up from the inside, and leads us to help those in need. Kindness truly is a powerful force.


This ties into a beautiful poem about the New Year by Aharon Bass titled, "Come":


When you come

Do not come empty handed

Bring joy and honey with you

And also pleasure, health, livelihood, and happiness

Love to all and a complete relationship

And a roof for those who need it

And don’t forget food

To fill hungry refrigerators

And hope! Bring a lot of hope

And above all, unity and peace between us

Ok, year? be good

And don’t disappoint, you sweet thing

We are all here waiting for you to come

With blessings.


Shana tova u’metuka. Wishing you and your family a sweet 5784 filled with happiness, great health, fulfillment, togetherness, hope, joy, peace, and lots of love.


Finally, enjoy this cute Rosh Hashanah parody from a capella group Six13.


Shabbat shalom.


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