Tuesday, September 4, 2007
An early High Holiday message
How tempting it is to feel comfortable at this time, with the year drawing to a close and familiar rituals inching forward—the buying of new notebooks for school, the rushing to get one more day in at a windy beach, the negotiations of where to spend the holidays this year. Even the echo of the shofar from last year reminds us of what is familiar, what brings comfort and order.
But it ought not be entirely that way. Of course, if you do find coming back to shul and hearing Avinu Malkeinu enriching, you have cultivated a religious sensibility that awakens your spiritual self and you should dwell in what you have achieved at this time; but the holidays and these rituals are supposed to also jar you into a kind of self reflection that should be a little uncomfortable—a cheshbon nefesh, a taking account of who you are.
The melody of Avinu Malkeinu is lulling and uplifting, but the words are difficult—Our father our king, have mercy on us and answer us, for we have little merit. In order to be honest about all this and to deserve that tzedakah v’chesed (justice and mercy) you have to take account of what you did this year and realize that as much as you may have improved this year, there is still room for more. Doing so will make singing the words in shul that much more meaningful—like singing God bless America after undergoing a national crisis, or a love song to a new spouse, or a lullaby to a newborn child.
The context and work that needs to be done to understand and feel the tefillot in the holidays is: Were you kind? Were you consistent, or at least coherently inconsistent? Did you keep your word? Did you go out of your way? Were you part of the community? Were you honest? Did you risk?
So this High Holiday season, I wish you a warm, pleasant and productive time with your discomfort and jarring. I hope that it proves invigorating not as a day at a windy beach, but as climbing a mountain and seeing the place from which you came.
Image of mountain taken from: http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://muertoderisa.typepad.com/muerto_de_risa/images/mountain_top_2.jpg&imgrefurl=http://muertoderisa.typepad.com/muerto_de_risa/travel/index.html&h=384&w=512&sz=112&hl=en&start=202&um=1&tbnid=NOssPFN003yb3M:&tbnh=98&tbnw=131&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dmountain%2Btop%26start%3D200%26ndsp%3D20%26svnum%3D10%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26client%3Dfirefox-a%26channel%3Ds%26rls%3Dorg.mozilla:en-US:official%26sa%3DN