If you’re like me, you go into this period looking for some real insight… something to move you forward and into the New Year with renewed energy and faith.
For those hours we sit in Shul, they can either be lost and wasted, or filled with meaning. When I was a kid I would always flip through the pages of the Siddur, trying to see how much of the service was left… and when the Rabbi would go backwards, I would get a bit cranky. Okay, totally cranky.
There was not a lot of connection back then for me. Services were an obligation.
Cut to 2014 and a trip to Israel. My first and only so far… a JMI Men’s Trip through AISH. Judaism became a choice… a desire. I wanted to learn all that I could. I study every week, either in a formal setting or on my own. I regularly wrap Tefillin. While I can’t say that I do it daily, though there have been month-long stretches when I have, I now do it almost daily… Either way, it is all so much more than I ever did before. But is it enough?
For even given this new fervor and understanding and appreciation, I still have days when things are rote… done because I have to, not necessarily because I want to. Ben wrote about this as well… those days when you connect and prayers move you to tears… and days when your mind wanders, and nothing seems to stick. So it happens to all of us. Even the Rabbis I study with discuss their struggles.
This literal “wrestling” is what Judaism is and how Judaism started. The key is to not give up… to fight your way through… and to know it is ALL part of the journey. We will ALL be moving up and down the ladder… we must realize this. HOWEVER, the most essential and imperative lesson is that we do NOT EVER LET GO. Clinging to that ladder, even if it is with our little pinky, is what it is about. Some days we will be flying up, wrung by wrung… other days we will be inching forward, slowly, methodically… and yes, other days still, we will be nervously moving backwards, looking over our shoulders for safety and perhaps even a bit of paranoia.
But for me, the battle is also about the world, spinning all around me. Not in the literal sense of Houston and Florida and Puerto Rico, which is devastating and almost unbelievable… But in the sense of feeling overwhelmed and constantly in a state of being tested. I am desperately searching for SOLID GROUND… and am hoping and praying that Judaism is my anchor… that faith is my base.
Watching the daily news cycle puts so much of this in my brain. There are so many things I want to discuss… need to discuss… but I want this to be a place of the spiritual and not the political. The irony of this statement, of course, is that many Rabbis bring politics to the pulpit in their High Holiday sermons. Some are blatant and uncomfortable and some are subtle.
I actually liked the way Rabbi Paul Kipnes did it this year. He discussed politics by saying how he was not going to do it, because it is dangerous for a Rabbi to discuss politics. His wink and nod allowed him talk about things that might normally make people cringe. But his bottom line was also quite logical, and sadly something that has been way lost.
The gist was that we need to get back to the middle… to that clear and rational place where we actually LISTEN to others we do not agree with… to UNDERSTAND where they are coming from… to SIT DOWN WITH and come TOGETHER, which usually cannot happen when we live on the edges… on the extremes… or on the far side of anything. The world has never been BLACK AND WHITE… There are not only shades of grey… yes, way more than 50… but shades of every color in the spectrum.
To quote Rabbi Noah Weinberg (OBM) as I often do, “WE MUST LISTEN WITH OUR EARS.” This means not with your bias and position and already pre-established notions… but with open mind and literal ears… to hear what someone else is actually saying.
This will put us on COMMON GROUND.
I wrote about my class with Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld, and how it gave me a much deeper understanding of Rosh Hashanah. The most important take away from that night, might just be why we wish people a Good AND Sweet New Year. It is because LIFE is ALWAYS GOOD… but it NOT ALWAYS SWEET.
That is a tough pill to swallow… and something that comes into full focus with age. As we move beyond the wonders and magic of childhood, we come to learn that life is a daily struggle…a. battle. The good times seem to be the shortest part.
But you know what? We are ALL going through this… Life is tough for ALL OF US.
There is a reason that on Yom Kippur we not only repent and ask for FORGIVENESS, but.. and this is a big one… that we FORGIVE OTHERS. The same goes for the nightly Bedtime Shema. It is us wiping the slate clean, and realizing that not only each year, but also each and every day, is a chance for us to start over, to reconnect, to live and love and dream… and to find that SOLID AND COMMON GROUND we all seek… those things that BRING US TOGETHER, NOT PUSH AND PULL US APART. Shana Tovah. A Happy, Healthy, Good and Sweet Year for all of us!