By Rabbi Dr. Naphtali Hoff
This past Sunday I traveled to Phoenix in order to present at a national conference for school business officials. When my teenagers found out where I was going, my trip quickly took on new meaning. To them, the conference was really only a means to a loftier purpose, which was to shop at a local clearance store called Last Chance.
For the uninitiated (which included this author until very recently), Last Chance is Nordstrom’s only true clearance store in the country (as opposed to Nordstrom Rack, which offers savings when compared to Nordstrom stores but not to this degree). Clothes, shoes and accessories that end up here are sometimes new, sometimes used, and often damaged. This merchandise comes to Phoenix because it was accepted as a return somewhere along the way and could not be sold in any other Nordstrom store. Last Chance sells it at steep discount, and offers shoppers hope that they might to get their hands on high-end Italian and other products that would otherwise be cost prohibitive for them. As you might imagine, shopping at this store has the feeling of being part Marshall’s, part Grand Central Station, and part Black Friday.
For me, it was quite the experience. Shopping for my children with my outdated sense of style is hard enough (especially as one is a girl, for whom I was told that I have no sense of fashion). To do so while navigating through the bustling store made matters all the more interesting. Suffice it to say that any return trip to Phoenix will go unmentioned to my kids.
But the fact that I wound up at Last Chance on the same day that we (Ashkenazim at least) began to recite selichos was not lost on me. There was something about having this “last chance” to jostle with complete strangers over possible merchandise deals just hours after going to shul late at night to pour out my heart to my Maker. But instead of pursuing merchandise deals, we crammed together in hope for a different kind of deal, one that would get us through this judgment period despite our imperfections.
Rosh Hashana presents an unusual paradox. On the one hand, focus is placed on the past. All of our deeds and thoughts from the outgoing year are assessed by our Maker as part of our judgment. In that respect, the Jewish New Year serves as a culmination for the year gone by. On the other hand, we call the day “Rosh” Hashana, which focuses us on the future, and the year that is now beginning.
Our rabbis explain that this first of our High Holidays is both the end and the beginning. Hashem, as it were, uses our behaviors of the past as a way of determining how to empower us moving forward. The more that we have shown ourselves as deserving His blessing, the likelier He is to bestow it once again. This is the meaning of the phrase that we add in the shemona esrei during the aseres ymei teshuva: “zachreinu l’chaim… l’maancha Elokim chayim”- remember us for life… for Your sake, Living G-d. Our lives take on meaning only when they contribute to the goals of our Creator.
These last days leading up to Rosh Hashana represent a final opportunity to end our year on a positive note and demonstrate a real commitment to change. Like the merchandise on Last Chance’s shelves, we may be in good condition or we may be, so to speak, damaged goods. But we gain comfort and confidence in knowing that regardless of our condition, there is a “Buyer” who willingly and devotionally invests in us and sees our inner beauty. The potential that lies within us holds us in good stead, despite the fact that it may remain largely untapped.
May we merit on this coming Rosh Hashana to reconnect with our vast potential and find ways to better harness it for its true purpose, to advance Hashem’s will in this world.
Rabbi Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, is an executive coach, organizational consultant and President of Impactful Coaching & Consulting. He can be reached at 212.470.6139 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.