Responding to Anti-Semitism
By Rabbi David Zaslow

Anti-Semitism, like all prejudices, is an equal opportunity yetzer ha-ra, “ evil inclination.” Today it afflicts people on the far left as well as the far right. This has, in fact, been the historical pattern of prejudice against Jews. Before World War II Stalin and the Communists claimed that the Jews were capitalists trying to take over the world. Hitler and the Nazis claimed that the Jews were communists trying to take over the world. The language is a little different today but the beliefs coming from both extremes of the political spectrum are the same.

Two years ago our synagogue put in an alarm system and cameras surrounding the building because of threats we perceived to be coming from anti-Israel activists in our town. For the past 15+ years I have seen an uptick in anti-Semitic attitudes arising from the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanction) movement that we’ve heard so much about especially on college campuses throughout the country.  Threats from the radical left really doubled in 2015, mostly as threats to the safety of Jewish students on college campuses. According to AMCHA, nationally there were 467 anti-semitic incidents in 2015, and 618 in the election year of 2016. In 2017 so far 97 incidents have been reported. From news reports in recent days it seems that another 200+ threats and incidents have yet to be recorded for this new year. There has been a clear increase in the number of incidents of threats, grafitti and cemetery desecrations in the last few months. And there was a clear underreporting of incidents in recent years because the incidents were focused on Israel rather than directly on Jews and Judaism, as we are witnessing today.

As a rabbi I don’t care where the prejudices are coming from –  hatred is hatred, and hatred breeds more hatred. Yet it’s important to understand the roots of anti-Semitism. As Easter is approaching many of us recognize that the Passion story told on Good Friday in almost all churches squarely puts the blame for the crucifixion of Jesus on the Jewish people – the New Testament clearly says of the Jewish people that Jesus’s “…blood is upon us and our children.” The scapegoating of Jews can be traced farther back to the story of Esther that we’ll read about on Purim. Haman was upset by immigrant Jews who were living in the Persian Empire.

In the book of Exodus Moses was being trained by God to realize that the emancipation of the slaves from oppression was not enough. More than seven times God expresses concern to Moses about the liberation of the Egyptians from their oppressiveness. The liberation of the oppressor and the liberation of the oppressed go hand-in-hand. This is the very same teaching that Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. adopted in the civil rights movement. He taught that it wasn’t enough for African-Americans to be freed from oppression, but that white Americans needed to be also freed from being oppressive.

On May 17, 1956 in NYC at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City Rev. King declared:

“Let us not despair. Let us not lose faith in man and certainly not in God. We must believe that a prejudiced mind can be changed, and that man, by the grace of God, can be lifted from the valley of hate to the high mountain of love. Let us remember that as we struggle against Egypt, we must have love, compassion and understanding goodwill for those against whom we struggle, helping them to realize that as we seek to defeat the evils of Egypt we are not seeking to defeat them but to help them, as well as ourselves.”

In a wonderful book written for Christians called Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, the authors offer these wise words:

“Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice. It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free.”

I can’t begin to tell you how inspiring these words are to me. We must act on behalf of of the immigrant who wants to come to the United States to be part of a democratic society. We must act on behalf of minorities who are mistreated; on behalf of the LGBT community; on behalf of transgender youth; on behalf of our police who risk their lives to serve us; on behalf of African-American young men; on behalf of women’s safety and rights; on behalf of our environment; and on behalf of our own Jewish community that is now being threatened much more than in the recent past. But let’s not settle for easy scapegoats. Let us analyze the situation today with nuanced analysis rather than simplistic, easy answers that we get from the internet.

In the past three months I’ve been chanting the words from King David to a melody by Rabbi Menachem Creditor – olam hesed yibaneh, “the world is built from love.” Olam hesed yibaneh does not mean that we are not to be activists, but it means that our activism must be informed by prayer; must be informed by kindness; must be informed by compassion and love. This is what Moses taught. This is what Martin Luther King taught. This is what the Dalai Lama teaches. And this is what I am trying to practice myself.

Oct 8 2014

Peak Experiences

Peak Experiences
by Rabbi David Zaslow

Just as there are certain times in our lives when we have peak experiences, so there are certain times of the year when nature affords us the opportunity to have exalted spiritual experiences. In Judaism, we think of lifecycle events as turning points that represent a pinnacle in our lives. Brit milah, naming ceremonies, bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings, and memorial services all represent times when our physical existence reaches to the heights of our souls. In our communal history we can think of Mount Sinai as the “peak” experience (pun intended) of the Jewish people.

A few years ago Debra and I were performing a wedding in Vermont. When we checked into the hotel in Burlington the concierge pointed out that we just missed the peak of the autumn leaves by two days. In New England the change of leaves from the green of summer to the yellows, oranges, and reds of autumn is measured and marked with precision. Autumn foliage, in that region, is a tourist attraction. Scientists can tell you the exact day that the trees in a particular town or forest are at their peak. From Canada to New England, and south into New York and Pennsylvania, the changing of the leaves makes a descending wave, leaving in its wake some of the most gorgeous colors exhibited by nature anywhere in the world.

Although we missed the peak in Burlington by two days, the autumnal scenery was spectacular anyway. The next morning as we drove south to the wedding  on Highway 100 we passed through the very woods where Robert Frost wrote some of his most famous poetry. Later that day as we checked into our hotel in Pittsfield the desk clerk informed us that the peak colors would be arriving on Wednesday. We told her that sadly we were only staying through Monday.

So there we were in Vermont – two days late for the peak in Burlington, and leaving two days early for the peak in Pittsfield. So, I figure that somewhere on the drive from the north to the south we must have driven past the elusive “peak.” Of course we were so busy enjoying the beauty of the ride that we never said “oh, look, this must be the peak.”  No road signs announced, “You are now having a peak experience, don’t take this moment for granted. Soak in the colors in front of you, behind you, to your left, and to your right. You won’t see colors like this again until next year.” No, Debra and I were so busy enjoying the experience that we never knew it was happening.

What a metaphor for life! While traveling from north to south each of us is certain to pass the peak. The concierge in the north might tell us we missed it, and the desk clerk in the south might warn us that if we check out too early we’ll miss it there as well. Yet if we’re living life fully, in joy, with gratitude to God and each other, does it really matter if we’ve marked the peak?

Certainly, rituals are markers help us recall our communal peak experiences, which is part of the beauty and power of our Jewish tradition. But what matters most is our ability to simply be in the moment when the experience is happening, whether we know the exact moment of the peak or not.  Maybe now, as you are reading these words you are at a peak in your life because of the deep inner work you did during Yom Kippur last week. There is no need to capture it or even note it – just enjoy it and give thanks! May the Holy One bless you to enjoy the colors of autumn, and the opportunity to dwell in the Sukkah in the days ahead.

Israel: Hatikvah – Singin’ the Hope
by Rabbi David Zaslow

Dedicated to the holy work of Evan J. Krame

At the Reb Zalman Shabbaton on May 4, 2014 I spoke of the PTSD that impacts most of the Jewish community around the world. From the pogroms in Eastern Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries, to the Holocaust that took one third of the Jewish population, to the ethnic cleansing of Jews from their ancient homes in places like Iraq, Iran, Syria, and throughout North Africa which occurred after World War II. These massive population movements and traumas cannot have anything but a negative impact on the soul of the second, third, and fourth generations born after these events.

This trauma impacts the way we see ourselves. Two thirds or more of the Jewish population really want very little to do with “organized” Judaism, and I have great empathy and compassion for this segment of our population. In my early 20s I was part of the post Holocaust generation that rejected the stiffness, formality, and lack of spirituality in the synagogues we grew up in. I ran as far away from Judaism is possible. I was fortunate to have found a way to back to my faith and heritage when my daughter was born in 1981. But many of my friends remained, and remain, alienated from the rich heritage of our spiritual practices and culture.

In fact, it is so sad to see a small segment of this population not just passively alienated from the traditions of their birth, but actually antagonistic to it. This, many of us believe, is a direct result of the PTSD suffered from the traumas of the twentieth-century – and this PTSD plays itself out in a number of ways. Right now I just want to deal with the issue of Israel. The United States, European nations, and Israel share a common heritage that can be called “Western democracy.” I like to call it “the best of the West.” Naturally, there are flaws, and terrible errors  made through bigotry and corruption in all Western democracies. America, for all its greatness, was born out of the yearning for religious freedom for Anglo-Europeans, but was built upon the genocide of many Native American tribes and the enslavement of millions of Africans. Yet as we reach “toward a more perfect union” we acknowledge that our “union” is not perfect. We’ve come a long way in dealing with civil rights, but as recent news events have shown we have a long way to go. And, we will go “toward” that “more perfect union.” From women suffrage, to the union movement, to the civil rights movement, to the environmental movement, to the gay-rights movement it clearly is two steps forward even when there is one step back.

Israel is no different. Would you like a laundry list of all the errors that this nation has made in its 66 years? Just ask any Israeli of any religion and they’ll gladly fill you in.  But right now let’s just say that Israel, too, struggles to better itself every day. People protest, people go to court, people form activist political groups of every sort, and have the right to redress their grievances to the government. That’s all Israel promises. Not perfection. But a process of elections and judicial access. Who are the people who are most critical of Israel? It’s Israelis themselves! That’s their civic duty. But their criticism comes as insiders; as citizens who love the nation and simply want to see it get better and better.

A word of caution to outsiders who criticize Israel. Don’t be an outsider! Love Israel first, come inside, and then your comments and critiques, lawsuits, civic activism will have an impact. And another word of caution: before your criticize, express your gratitude. Say what you like about Israel first. Sing Hatikvah with the rest of us, not because Israel is perfect, but because Israel needs your voice of hope in song, anthem, prayer, and protest alike. Now, I realize that this is challenging for those of us who are struggling with the real effects of PTSD. And I’m telling you from my own experience the best way to begin healing PTSD is to breathe, pray, sing, and express gratitude. Be part of the community you disagree with. Debate, yes, but stand up for all that is good in Israel. Be grateful for its diversity, its environmental movement, its gay-rights movement, its unbelievable religious tolerance and diversity, and its unbelievable technological genius that is helping change the world. Don’t let Israel’s flaws steal from you your sense of gratitude and love.

So long as still within our hearts the Jewish soul is true,
So long as still towards the East to Zion looks the Jew,
Two thousand years of hope not lost to be free in our land –
To be a free people in our land. The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

Apr 27 2014

Max and Mutte: A Poem

 

Max and Mutte
by Rabbi David Zaslow

In 1958 I was about to meet Max and Mutte.
My mother told me,
“If you see numbers on their arms,
don’t look. Don’t ask. Don’t say a word.”
I was twelve but I understood.
There was something sacred there.
A sacred object carved on flesh
that I dare not look upon.
Enter with humility.
Like Moses, go barefoot – avert the eyes.
But Mutte knew that it was time
for her to talk.
It was thirteen years after that Event.

They were released, stateless,
and lived in camps for the stateless
another five years.
Five more years
until, in 1950,
they came to America.
Mutte,
everyone calls her Mutte, mother.
Even my mother calls her Mutte –
rasied Christian, married Max
and converted to Judaism.
They kept her in a special camp
because her eyes were blue.

Today her deep blue eyes
draw from Miriam’s well
and from the flames
of that unspeakable Place,
Today, in remembering,
Mutte speaks easily.
Max, God rest his soul,
never uttered the Amidah
without remembering,
but not so easily.
Mutte speaks easily though.
She knows the inner meaning of memory.
It is not something from the past,
it is her air.
The air of a German blue sky
and the rising smoke filled with ashes.
She permits us to to breathe
this air today,
so that we might remember,
and know it when we see it
in Rochester, or Brooklyn, or Ashland.
To know it when we see it
and not deny it, or run from it.
To know it when we see it,
and to never permit it to be forgotten.
To know it when we see it,
and never let it lose its sacred meaning.
To know it when we see it,
and never let it happen again.
Never again. Never again.
With God’s help,
through our eyes;
with God’s help through our voices,
never the silence again.

Mutte says, “The question
is not ‘Where was God?’
The question is ‘Where were our friends?’”
Never again?
Mutte says, “Don’t say
‘God willing.’
Ask, ‘Am I willing?’”

Passover: Our Festival of Leaping

by Rabbi David Zaslow

The Jewish Exodus story was used as a template for the first Europeans who came to America in search of religious freedom. Subsequently it was used by the first Mormons who fled Illinois in search of their religious freedom and the promised land for their people. In our time it was the freedom story used by Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement. The Passover story teaches that there are many levels of freedom. One person is free on the outside and bound on the inside. Another is bound in chains yet free in her soul. Passover in Hebrew is “pesach” and the word has its etymology in the leaping or skipping movement of lambs. The translation “Passover” is the simple definition but “The Festival of Leaping Over” might be a more accurate translation for our springtime liberation festival.

Leaping implies that the obstacle is still there. The journey from here to there, from slavery to freedom is one that we all make, and sometimes we don’t eliminate our obstacles, we simply leap over them. Maybe the term “a leap of faith” comes from this notion. How do I get out of my chains, habits, negative attitudes? How to I remove myself from the forces of the Pharaoh that are within me?

In Hebrew Egypt is “mitzrayim” which means “tight, narrow places.” So, the spiritual question that we ask ourselves during this season is “how do I get out of my private Mitzrayim?” The answer may be in our biologies. Birth requires the infant to make his first major journey. From the womb into the world of gravity the infant must travel through her first narrow place. From birth on, movements and changes will not be so easy. Yet the remembrance of our birth will shape our destiny; will be a determinant factor in the way we handle problems and challenges throughout our lives.
Pesach, the season of our liberation. All the stories in the book of Exodus come into play during the springtime. We want to get outside. We want to be free. We yearn to fall in love. The festival of Passover is a marker for what is already happening biologically and in nature. The seder dinner is not just a reenactment of a historical event, but a dress rehearsal for what we are each going to do in our lives the morning after the celebration.

During Yom Kippur we dwell on our sins. We chant “ahl chayt – I have sinned.” We take inventory of all that is inside. We mark each internal item with a label, “keep,” “discard,” “change.” We make new vows, dissolve the old ones, and methodically make a file of all transactions. Not so during Passover. Pesach requires action NOW. The angel of death will ride over our homes at midnight. Quick. Clean the house. Quick. Take the lamb of our innocence and streak its blood (our own anguish) on the doorposts. Quick. The dawn is coming. We leave in a hurry. No time for inventory and careful filing or analysis. Now is the time to make the leap, to make the skip.

Have a problem? Skip it! Have a old habit that you want to change? Skip it! Have a negative behavioral pattern? Skip it! The concept of the “Almighty with an out sretched arm and a Mighty hand took us out of Egypt” is an extraordinary template for new possibilities. So, when the moment comes at midnight of the next full moon when our people collectively hear G-d’s voice say “make the change,” there is only one response – LEAP! Blessings to each of you for a kosher and transformative Passover.

Apr 4 2014

Pentecost: A Poem

Pentecost: A Poem
by Rabbi David Zaslow

Passover and Easter: two moon linked sisters
who long ago stopped speaking to one another:
linked to the fullness in our hearts
and the fullness of God’s grace.
The moon of Sister Miriam desires freedom –
to rescue her people from the cruelty of Pharaoh,
by the outstretched, mighty hand of Adonai:
a hand of salvation reaching down from heaven,
and passing through my nation,
and down through yours,
and then to each and every one of us – so may it be!
The moon of Mother Mary desires to give her light
so that each man and woman might know
the power of the resurrection,
and the soil of death that holds the seeds of rebirth within:
a resurrection reaching upward,
passing through all nations and up to God Almighty!
Two celebrations: two women: Miriam and Mary,
who don’t even know they have the same name –
one in Hebrew and one in Greek –
yet inexorably linked to a single full moon.
And then we each begin to count:
we both count to fifty –
beyond the forty days of Moses on Mt. Sinai
and Jesus in the wilderness.
We go beyond, one cycle further:
to fifty, Shavuot, the Pentecost.
Ours to the revelation of Torah at Sinai.
Yours to the revelation of the Holy Spirit.
Freedom and resurrection. Revelation and revelation.
Twelve tribes and twelve disciples.
One moon, two traditions.
Two covenants, One God.
Shavuot and Pentecost: two cousins
who have just begun to speak.
And King David is singing to us
from his tomb today:
“Teach us to count our days
that we may open our hearts to Your Wisdom.”
Some of us, thank God, are listening

Feb 11 2014

In the Groove

In the Groove
by Rabbi David Zaslow

To be in the groove
means that the needle
rests in total stillness
while the record around it spins.
The turntable turns,
the record revolves,
but the point of contact
requires total stillness.

To be in the groove
requires a complete balance
between stillness and movement,
between diamond and vinyl.
For the needle to do its work
of reading the engraved cuts
within the grooves, it must be still.
Just like us – to hear
what the Holy One has engraved
in the groove of nature,
in the groove of our lives,
we can’t be turning.
We can’t be moving
to get out of the way,
or to get somewhere else.
We have to remain in place.
Totally in place.
Perfectly in place.

It is difficult to be still
when I want to weep
for those whose lives are lost.
It is difficult to be still
when I want to pray
for a future free of fear.
So I say my prayers,
chant the Amidah,
say Kaddish,
and then enter the stillness
like a needle in the groove.

by Rabbi David Zaslow

adapted from the book “Jesus: First-Century Rabbi”

 

Hanukkah and Christmas are two wondrous winter holidays that celebrate the light of God. The spiritual power of these festivals comes from the fact that they celebrate light at the darkest time of the year. For Jews the candles on the menorah represent freedom. After all, the success of the Maccabees in the second century BCE, Hanukkah represented one of the first successful recorded struggles for religious freedom. Today our menorahs are lit as a symbol for all people who struggle to overcome prejudice. Parallel to Hanukkah Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus as representing the birth of a new light that came into the world. Christianity and Judaism, represent two paths celebrating the same light through two uniquely different stories.

The time has arrived when Christians and Jews are beginning to have a new understanding of each other – the darkness of old prejudices is rapidly making way for the light of truth. Do we need to criticize each other’s faith in order to explain our own faith? I hope not. Do we need to “spin” descriptions of our own beliefs when comparing them to each other’s beliefs? I hope not. The word of God in each of our great religions needs no interpretative spin. What we need are more passionate, joy-filled discussions and dialogues with an underlying celebration of what we have in common.

To a Jew, Jesus can at most be a brother; a fellow Jew at the highest spiritual level who was martyred like millions of other Jews; a teacher of a group of devotees who wanted to see the prophetic dream of peace and justice fulfilled in this world. He was a healer in the lineage of Elijah and Elisha before him; a mystic like the Baal Shem Tov after him; an incredible storyteller in the tradition of the Pharisees. He was a good son, a good Jew, and what in Judaism we call a mensch, someone who lived up to his potential.

Yet to a Christian this can never, and should never be enough. To a follower of Jesus he is much more. He is one with his Father. He is the anointed one, the messiah who was spoken of in the Jewish prophetic writings, and he is the incarnation of the God  – both Savior and Comforter. Without him salvation had not been accessible to the Greek and Roman gentiles. With him comes a covenant with the Living God. Through him there is hope for the coming of the Kingdom of God both in this world and in the world to come.

Herein lies the mystery: one Jesus, two understandings. The Jesus believed in and worshipped by the Church is the province of the Church. To a Christian he is seen as both messiah and Savior. To a Jew the messiah is an anointed person and God is the Savior. On these points we will probably always differ. But the historical Jesus, Jesus the man, the Jewish man, the rabbi – he belongs to both of us. Once free of missionary pressure the Jew may learn to see historical Jesus as he was – a Torah observant Jew and a martyr who died because of his fidelity to God and Judaism. But the Christian’s relationship is not based on the historical Jesus. It is primarily with the theological Jesus – the Christ who is mysteriously one with the Father and the the Holy Spirit. How can these two positions be reconciled?

Do they even need to be reconciled? I do not think they can be, nor do I think they should be. The contemporary mindset does not hold onto contradictions very well. We don’t have much room in our minds for mystery and paradox as we once did. We want answers. We pose our questions in black and white, either/or. A pastor once said to me, “Either Jesus is the Savior or he is a fraud.” I asked, “Why? Where did you come up with such a clear either/or choice? Maybe he is Savior to you and ancestor to me, and we’re both right.”

I don’t propose to minimize Jewish and Christian differences. On the contrary, I think it’s time to celebrate our differences. A healthy ecosystem is one where there is eco-diversity. Many of us sense that the same principle holds true between our faiths as well. In a most profound and mysterious way, we need each other. Certainly our theologies differ when it comes to describing Jesus. But this holiday season in particular, the light that seems to be entering the hearts of the faithful is one in the same – the light of tolerance, respect, and celebration of each other’s paths.

Jews and Christians celebrate the same moral light as well. We have a passion for justice and equality based on the prophets that is identical. We have parallel problems and challenges that face us both. We love and serve the same God.  As the prophet Isaiah called out to us, come let us reason together! Though our sins be as scarlet the Holy One of Israel will make them white as snow! May our menorahs and the lights upon our trees shine forth in two directions –  into the world to be a model for others, and into each of ourselves as well.

by Rabbi David Zaslow

In poetry, when an innovation in the use of metaphor or rhythm is first discovered, it is called the breakthrough. After a breakthrough there will others who will do the work of interiorization. For instance, in the late nineteenth-century, the British Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins made a breakthrough in the use of alliteration and rhythm. Yet it wasn’t until the mid-twentieth century that Dylan Thomas was able to interiorize the breakthrough made a century before. Until Dylan Thomas, Hopkins was treated as a kind of novelty poet since his brand of alliteration uses consonance and assonance in an aggressive manner – it and takes some getting used to. Here’s how the process of breakthrough and interiorization works.

In the poem called Inversnaid Hopkins wrote: “This darksome burn/ horseback brown/ His rollrock highroad roaring down/ In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam/ Flutes and low to the lake falls home.” Put the poem’s meaning aside for a moment – what a stunning and original use of sound! In Hopkins’ famous The Windhover he wrote “I caught this morning morning’s minion/ kingdom of daylight’s dauphindapple-dawn-drawn Falcon/ in his riding/ of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding ….” Along comes Welch poet Dylan Thomas who imitates and develops the novel style that Hopkins created. In his classic A Child’s Christmas in Wales Dylan Thomas writes: “All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen.” Beautiful, yes? Can you hear the alliterative connection between these poets? One built upon the work of the other!

The same principle of innovation and emulation is true in religion. In the eighteenth century the Baal Shem Tov made a breakthrough in the Jewish approach to prayer that is still being interiorized today. In the 1960’s Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi made two breakthroughs that continue to transform the Jewish world. The first had to do with the full empowerment of women. The second had to do with an innovative approach to the relationship between Judaism and other religions. Reb Zalman’s breakthroughs are being interiorized, imitated, and developed in Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, and Orthodox synagogues throughout the world. Sadly, Reb Zalman and the Jewish Renewal sometimes don’t not get proper attribution, credit, or financial support for the courageous work that is being done on behalf of Judaism. Our shuls tend to be financially poorer because we have chosen the path of creativity, experimentation, and innovation.

Reb Zalman calls Renewal “the research and development department of Judaism.” From explorations in prayer, chanting, drumming, and liturgy you can see the impact of Reb Zalman’s lifetime work in synagogues everywhere. The Havurah is honored to carry on the breakthrough work of Reb Zalman, especially in the areas of joyful services, education, egalitarianism, and ecumenism. In one of his most popular song lyrics, Steve Allen wrote, “This could be the start of something big.” When it comes to Judaism, you really are part of something big!

By Rabbi David Zaslow

Each of the four holy days in our High Holiday season goes deeper and deeper, higher and higher into the hidden realms of the psyche. We begin with Rosh Hashanah, the new moon, and a new year. It is a day of awe as we envision ourselves as being written, God willing, into the Book of Life for a good year ahead. Ten days later it’s Yom Kippur, also a day of awe but on this day the awe is mixed with wonder – we wonder if we will be sealed in the Book of Life for year of health, prosperity, and joy. If we are honest with ourselves we will recognize how fragile our existence on this plane really is, and we simply have to admit that we just don’t know what the year will bring.

The third holy day is really a holy time, seven days of Sukkot, the week of Thanksgiving and the joy of being able to be in community together in our beautiful sukkah. Finally, on Monday evening October 8th. we’ll come together to celebrate Simchat Torah when we’ll read the last words from the book of Deuteronomy and the first words of Genesis and the single breath – all endings and beginnings are connected. The end of one year is the beginning of the next year, the end of one cycle in our lives is the beginning of the next.

Just as Rosh Hashanah marks the time of return, return to ourselves to God, so Yom Kippur marks the time of wonder through an honest assessment of our personal live. We ask ourselves, “have I lived up to my potential this past year?” By the time we get to Sukkot time of return is over, and now it’s the time of being – simply and profoundly accepting ourselves for who we are, knowing that the year ahead is filled with possibility. And when we get to Simchat Torah we hopefully will have arrived at the end of an amazing, awesome inner journey. And what is the end? Joy, simple and magnificent joy. Joy that foretells the good year that lies ahead of us.

The deepest secret is that four  holy days are really one. Awe, wonder, thanksgiving, and joy are all aspects of the singularity, of the One God. On the surface they seem so different like ripples on the sea, but beneath the waves the singularity of the ocean becomes apparent. The season is a movement of return to simple being, and even this movement is part of the greater singularity. There is no being unless there is leaving and returning. There is no joy without the deep, inner work of Yom Kippur which sometimes elicits our deepest and holiest fears and tears.

Judaism is a nature-based faith. Just go outside. There you’ll find the true synagogue. There you will be able to read the true Torah. There you’ll be able to hear the voice of God in every fallen leaf, in every seed ready to crack open to the promise of the spring. As outside, so inside. As above, so below. As you, so me. As us, so God. As nature, so emotion. As spirit, so body. As we chant in the Adon Olam hymn:

וְעִם רוּחִי גְּוִיָּתִי, יהוה לִי וְלֹא אִירָא
As with my spirit my body too. Adonai is with me, I shall not fear.

Each of these four holy days are steps that we take individually and as a community. May we all reached the level of pure and magnificent joy, and come together on Simchat Torah night to dance and chant with the Torah in our arms, saying “L’chaim! To Life.”

Coming soon– Reimagining Exodus: A Story of Freedom

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