Wednesday, October 1. 2014
"Adoshem pakad et Sarah" - God remembered Sarah. We read this phrase, from Parashat Vayera, on Rosh HaShanah. We include it in the Amidah. It is a phrase to which we give little thought, but it is the essence of the High Holy Days and, one could say, the motivation for Judaism. It convolves two fundamental ideas: to be known by God and to be granted fertility. We yearn for both, as individuals and as a community.
Everything in Judaism is designed to enable us to draw closer to God. Why? What does it mean to be close to God? It means that we see God, and God sees us. God recognizes us. God hears us. We need that connection, for in that connection is granted pardon. God in Judaism is both communal and personal. We have a relationship with God, and that relationship is the focus of most of the psalms and most of the High Holy Day liturgy.
Our relationship with God is both intellectual and emotional. We study to engage that intellectual relationship and we discuss and argue and analyze to meet God on the conscious level. But we sing to reach God on the emotional level. We sing to reveal to God our power and our yearning. We sing to let God know that these words are not graffiti on a wall, scribbled in haste: they are special. Our relationship with God requires that we sing. Our relationship requires that we sing as individuals and as a community so that we may be known by God.
God remembered Sarah by enabling her to conceive Isaac. While Abraham might have been the first Jewish man, Isaac was the first to be born Jewish. He represents the survival, the flowering of the community. He represents a personal fulfillment for Sarah and a communal fulfillment for Judaism. And he represents proof of the connection between God and people: God heard Sarah, acknowledged her, and did something about it. God was present.
Throughout Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Sh'mini Atzeret and Simchat Torah our task is to ensure that God is present. Think about what it will take for God to remember you, personally, and remember our community collectively, and consider what it means for us to be fruitful. Sing to God. Engage your mind, and pour out your soul, and refuse to leave until God remembers us.
Friday, September 19. 2014
Tuesday, September 16. 2014
I am a fan of football in the US. Perhaps because, as a young boy, I always wanted to be that guy who eluded all of those tacklers and scored the touchdown. Or dove for that 50 yard pass, snatching it out of the air before it hit the ground (or the rusty fence which served as one of the boundaries). Sometimes, playing football in the neighborhood, I got hurt; I sprained every finger in my hand, got bloody noses, scraped knees. However, it wasn't about violence or aggression. It wasn't about hurting the other team. It was about executing plays and running fast, and catching balls.
Professional football goes beyond the skills of the game and includes a layer of violence. Violence is not incidental. Rather, it has become part of the game. It is no surprise that there are numerous injuries in every game and tempers flare. It is no surprise that many players reveal some of that violence off the field. Does professional football reflect trends in our society, or is it just an aberration, a unique activity that attracts a fringe element of men?
This week, the NFL has had to deal with some high-profile players exhibiting their violence off the field. Men abusing women and children by hitting them. I don't know if this is symptomatic of our society, but the response of the NFL is: first, do nothing, then, minimize it, and finally, when you have no choice, say how horrible it is - but marginalize it. It's only a few people, right? Doesn't happen that much, right? What's troubling is that this sport, and others like it, make a huge issue out of the use of drugs, whether recreational or performance-enhancing. Maybe the use of the drugs is bad for the sport, but the issue pales in comparison with domestic violence. Should I care if a player smokes pot? I don't know, but I certainly do care if a player beats his wife or children. The NFL as an institution does reflect the behavior of other institutions in America: it promotes values that weaken our society and fails to demonstrate care for those who need it.
Getting ready for Rosh HaShanah: Unetaneh Tokef
Thursday, September 11. 2014
Selichot, the beginning of the penitential prayers, begins on the evening of the 20th, in a little over a week. Some congregations make this into a concert, an almost festive time. I prefer a low key service and an acknowledgement that we're getting deeper into the cheshbon hanefesh, the accounting of our soul.
Reminding us of selichot: V'al Kulam
Wednesday, September 10. 2014
With Rosh HaShanah just two weeks away, I start thinking about the core ideas of life and death. Hearing the shofar every day in Elul is not a joyful sound, for it recalls the other reasons for blowing the shofar in ancient times: to gather the community together, and to go to war. And to wake up and recognize the gravity of the judgement. Beyond the apples and honey, beyond the challah with raisins, is the question: who will live and who will die?
Getting ready for Rosh HaShanah: B'Rosh HaShanah