Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
As a rabbi who is blessed with the humbling privilege of leading her congregation, after the High Holy Days have passed, I wonder: Were the souls in attendance inspired by the services, or inhibited by them… or both? Did they discover what they sought? What prayer or message resonated with their heartfelt emotions, and which flowed over and past them like water? Did I choose the best readings? Was the service traditional enough? Innovative enough? Was it sufficiently uplifting while still grounding?
I am confident that every soul who attends does so with great sincerity — and a unique, personal motivation. I also believe that they are motivated by the human spirit’s essential quest for introspection, a commitment to our faith and people, and a desire to request and offer forgiveness, and thereby lay the foundation for a fresh start. Yet the most essential question, on the day after Yom Kippur, is: Now what?
There is so much riding on these three days of highly anticipated and intense synagogue experiences. I can’t say they have the power to fully make or break the year, but in some ways, they can set the stage. Clergy and Jewish tradition set the mood and create the space for this most intimate, yet public, time for self-care. Yet, so much depends on personal variables: What happened in the last year, or last week, or even on the way to services? What blessings and losses were experienced? What aspirations and expectations, and what faith and fears accompany us? How does each individual affect the next?
All in all, we bring ourselves, our baggage and our dreams, and hope that we will emerge renewed, or at least reconnected. Then there are the long and demanding services, the sermons… If the entire experience has seemed overwhelming, well… it was meant to be. It’s a form of tough love that creates sacred time in which we can liberate ourselves from our public personae and be engaged and inspired.
And then we go back to our “normal” lives with barely a moment to breathe, never mind process our emotions and consider, in earnest, how to avoid falling into the same ruts we have regretted. And that can seem overwhelming, too, because we are changed, more aware of our sincere desire to grow and improve our relationships with one another and with God — and even with ourselves.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov asks: “If you are not a better person than you are today, what need have you for a tomorrow?”
How can we move forward in the midst of “real life?” What is the essential message that we can call on each day, whenever faced with a personal challenge, an old habit, a new emotional injury? I feel that that message is, simply, to engage all others with the loving kindness due to a whole and striving soul, while remembering that we, too, are whole and striving — always bringing ourselves, our baggage and our dreams into every exchange in which we engage. In other words, we can learn to be softer and more gentle, less judgmental, and more supportive to others and ourselves. It requires heartfelt desire and mindful practice, but as long as we are moving forward, gaining strength and forging better relationships and bringing more love into the world – and expressing gratitude for all of our blessings — we are on our way, and will have fewer regrets to ponder next year and be closer to attaining the contentment that we seek. Can we do it? Of course we can. One step at a time.
“All the world is a narrow bridge. The essential thing is not to be afraid.”
– Rebbe Nachman
(Photo credit: Walt Stoneburner/Wikimedia Commons)