My husband and I took a weekend getaway to Toronto. Crossing the Peace Bridge into Canada, it struck me how only one lane was allowing entry into the United States, while several lanes were entering Canada. I wondered, “How welcoming does it feel to those who wish to enter the United States?” I realize there are practical and security issues that went into the design of the border crossing, but I saw it as a metaphor. How often do people enter our synagogues or temples and feel truly welcomed?
When we open our eyes in the morning, when we are confronted with challenges, when we seek to create beauty, when we seek understanding and insight, encouragement and wholeness and some reasonable assurance that we need to accomplish our goals – we also seek inspiration.
1. Am I living the life I want? Yup, that’s a big one to contemplate. Even a bit scary. But now is the time to pay attention to it.
One of the things I most love about the High Holidays is their focus on universality. During the rest of the year, Jewish consciousness and Jewish prayer concentrate primarily on the concerns of the Jewish People, while the season of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur turns our attention to the entirety of the human race and to the world as a whole. Although it is certainly understandable that throughout most of the calendar our emphasis is on our Jewish family and our Jewish needs, for me it is a bit myopic and constricting. The High Holidays come like a breath of fresh air that helps me to expand my consciousness and reconnect my Judaism to the larger tapestry of God’s creation.
If you had walked into Washington D.C.’s L’Enfant Plaza on the morning of January 12, 2007, you would have been in for quite a treat – and you probably never would have even realized it.
My favorite Hasidic teaching is a teaching about prayer couched in a homily on Noah’s Ark. God tells Noah to make a window in his ark. Teyva, the word for ark, means container. Teyva is also Hebrew for letter, or word, containers of meaning. Thus, the teaching on prayer is: make a window in the word. This means that our prayers should not be confined by the “box” of conventional liturgy. Rather, our words should be openings through which what is in us can flow out the window of the word, reverberating through our bodies and our imaginations as it expands into the universe, free in expression, free to rise up to the God on High, or sink deep into the God within us.
The month of Elul – and thus the season of repentance and forgiveness that culminates with Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot – began just this week.
This weekend is Rosh Chodesh Elul. For rabbis serving communities across the world, this means one important thing – it is time to buckle down and decide what we want to say in our High Holy Day sermons. Somehow, the High Holy Day sermon has become the World Series for rabbis. It doesn’t seem to matter what you say during the rest of the year – all is forgiven and forgotten except the High Holy Day sermon.
Six weeks from now when the world and the Jewish People experience another Rosh Hashanah, we will stand before God and celebrate the creation and continued existence of the world. Again and again we will address the Creator as Avinu Malkeinu – Our Father Our King. But why do we need to reference God in this repetitive fashion? What is the difference between God as father and God as king? – For one, a king maintains a static relationship to his subjects, whereas a father’s children are always growing and maturing, thus the nature of the relationship develops dynamically over time. The import of that dynamic is strikingly set forth in this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Ekev.