Archive | September, 2013

Okay. So, what now?

29 Sep

Whether you are in the diaspora or Israel, all of the holidays in this season have come to a close. Although we may joke about them finally being over and the relief therein, every year at this point, I experience a quasi-withdrawl syndrome. The following is an attempt to put some of those thoughts into writing.

Since the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul, we have had a very close relationship with God. Adding an extra Psalm morning and evening, daily blasts of the shofar, and month-long selichot for Sepharadim. Rosh Hashanah inaugurated the new year replete with blessings of happiness and health, the official blowing of the shofar and proclamation of God’s sovereignty over the world. Of course, underlying the celebrations is the thread of personal introspection and tshuva. I’d like to suggest that the entire season reaches its climax on Yom Kippur when we act out the service of the High Priest in the Temple chambers, God is nearly tangible, and yet the day slowly slips away as the gates close. But we are not done yet, the unbridled happiness, and possibly relief, of Sukkot follows immediately. We have more festive meals, wave the four species, rejoice with the Torah itself, celebrating both its completion and renewal. Having hopefully assured our spiritual wellbeing, we approach God one more time on Shemini Atzeret to ask to be physically sustained by the waters of the heavens. And then it’s over. So, what now?

As a means of resolving this withdrawl syndrome, I considered other times in Judaism where an intensive cycle concludes, leaving the participants to return to a more normal slate of activities. Two examples came to mind almost immediately. Shiva, the intense week of mourning that is observed after the death of an immediate family member, eventually gives way to the less intensive periods of mourning. As the mourner is “stepped-down” he or she must return to life and adjust to the terrible new reality, a much more mundane task then being constantly surrounded by friends and family. Similarly, although significantly happier, the newly married couple must, at the conclusion of their wedding week, set in motion the tasks associated with building a life together. Gone are the massive meals, although there is certainly residual excitement (well, hopefully), as the couple adjusts to the job at hand.

I definitely do not want to presume that others are necessarily experiencing the same feelings, nor do I want my attempted solution to be viewed as prescriptive. I would like to suggest that we attempt to draw slivers of the intensive periods into the long stretches of mundane. Whether it is the recitation of a Psalm or poem, a regular phone call to a loved one, or anything in between that captures the feelings of the days of greatest intensity and disperses them among the rest.

Entering the Embrace

18 Sep
View of different types of sechach (sukkah roofs).

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur, the Ten Days of Repentance, and really even since the beginning of the Jewish month of Elul in early August, we have been concerning ourselves with t’shuva. Traditionally, God is thought to be closer during this six week period on the calendar, and therefore more open to our personal introspection and desires to change. On Rosh Hashana we reach the first of two high points, taking two days of prayer and shofar blasts to proclaim God as the King of Kings. Even with these festive declarations and the meals that accompany, Yom Kippur looms. As I mentioned in my most recent post, the intensity and urgency of our cheshbon nefesh (introspection) is accelerated as Yom Kippur approaches. The marathon of Yom Kippur begins with a sense of awe and trepidation, both because of the fast, and the personal theological implications. The lengthy prayers of Yom Kippur day eventually conclude as the sun melts into the horizon. We are hopeful that forgiveness has been earned, that we have been sealed for good, and in the closing moments once again proclaim that God is ubiquitous, but do we really know?

Five days stand between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, as dictated by the Torah.  In Israel, this is enough time for parking lots, sidewalks, and balconies, to be transformed into small villages of the temporary dwellings. The four species are purchased, with an eye towards finding the most beautiful specimen. Although the preparations for the holiday are in full swing, I can’t help but wonder, did I do enough? how was I sealed? what will be of this year? The sukkah and the four species, I want to suggest, are a representation of the preferred answers to all of those questions. We enter the sukkah and are surrounded, one of only three mitzvot for which that can be said. The four species are waved in all directions, an indication and proclamation of Gods presence in the world. The residual nervousness from Yom Kippur fades as the sukkah embraces us, protecting us from what’s outside. Thus the sukkah demonstrates an intimate relationship with God that we hope is indicative of God’s omnipotence in the coming year.

Wishing everybody a chag sameach.