Erev Rosh haShanah — 5771

21/09/2010 at 20:37 Leave a comment

“Shalom haBibi”

Erev Rosh haShanah – 1

8 September 2010

Neil F. Blumofe

As the rains subside and the sun sets, we welcome each other to this sanctuary this evening, giving each other encouragement and good wishes for a year of plenty and good health.  We may look around this beautiful room which is dedicated to prayer and study and notice many new and unfamiliar faces, and too, some of us may perceive and absence near us  — in a once taken seat or in our life.  We may have a complex of emotions as we realize that we have gathered here again to usher in a New Year and to stand up for hope and something different.  Let us wish each other a sweet year – shanah tovah u’metukah – or in the vernacular, let us engage each other with familiarity and say to each other, shalom, habibi. – hello, friend. Take this moment…

Yet, as we greet each other, some of us may be gripped by a weariness of the world, or an unsettled unease – we may be unsure of where we are heading – individually, as a family, as a people, or a country or in the world.  We may be anxious or afraid of vague consequences if we speak out firmly from the gut of our convictions – the world may be moving too fast or currently unsteady, perilously animated with hatred, disregard and cruelty.

Nevertheless, we come here – perhaps looking for something.  We inaugurate the New Year, hearing even faintly, a voice call out to us, “ayeka,” “where are you?”  And something, even a gesture rises up from within us, to plant our feet here, to connect us to this moment, when past our doubts and reservations, we don’t rationalize, we don’t conceal – rather, in this moment we are present and expectant – looking for joy and looking for justice and giving our traditions and ourselves, a fresh chance.

Why do we come?  What do we want?  Throughout the year, I speak regularly about the power of joining in community – I devote my life’s work to bringing our Agudas Achim Family together, accepting without judgment and look too, to explore ways to connect folks of varied background, belief and opinion.  I do this out of a felt necessity to demonstrate engagement, consistently choosing life – especially in an ambiguous world that radiates insecurity, choosing to move past insensitivity or hidebound behavior into something more luminous, lasting and meaningful.

For all of us, I emphasis something different this evening — tonight, I ask us for just a moment to abandon our reason and our intellect.  I ask that we suspend our critiques that keep us sharp and our commentary that keeps us clever.  I ask that we walk together into a place that knows no doubts – let us sit together at a set table that has been lovingly prepared with delicacies for us long ago and feast luxuriously.  Let us rediscover time well shared and freely given, when committing ourselves sincerely is not a chore and our mind is not racing to the next task or new bit of information – when we are not counting the minutes until we can check this off our list, awkwardly comparing what we hold to be true to the limiting language found in these seasonal books in our hand.  Let us neither distance ourselves from nor minimize the challenge that we have before us.

I am asking us to let go of our own assurances beginning for these few precious moments that we have together, and to ponder not being right and not knowing.  This is what Rosh haShanah compels us to do.  We are called to set an intention to get out of our own way and to set up something else as ultimately in charge – our tradition calls it God – however, I am committed to walking with you at this moment and I don’t want you to stumble.  Allow God to be your mystery – an image that has nothing to do with an old man in a chair with a flowing white beard, giving direction.  Rather than this, I want you to move past that into what is profound in your life – into incredible places that you have been – moments that define your life – silences that you have cherished.  I ask that you think of touches that have nourished you, smiles that have kept you and a time or two that have changed you.  Who are the faces that keep you whole?  Past your hard drive, look into the iPhoto of your soul.  I know this is not how we are accustomed to being – however, as the great sage Hillel said, if not now, when?

Too often, I sit with people who are facing the end of their life and we both can see that past material possessions or worldly ambitions, it is this journey that sustains.  This is called a spiritual path and it mandates a shift of our perspective and a change of how we identity and belong.  I ask that we hear the questioning voice a bit louder and that we begin to listen – I pray that we are effected by these High Holydays – that we are changed somehow as we go on this journey.  Our tradition teaches that these moments of truth are closest to us now, more than any other time of the year.  How are we going to respond – where are you?

As we draw closer, pursued by these essential questions are we merely living through the motions – a kind of spiritual texting while driving or may we commit to our own transformation, laying out a welcome mat for God and these eternal questions.  I know that many of us doubt.  Why do we doubt?  Is it because of crisis or lack of inspiration?  Can we not find a doorway that can bring us inside?

One day the Greek philosopher Plato was walking with one of his students and they saw a horse in the street.  Plato turned to his student and asked him, “What do you see?”  The learner replied, “I see a horse.”  Plato gently answered him, “I see the horse-ness of the horse – I see its essence and so beginning from there, truth may be found.”

Do we get nervous when we start speaking about matters of faith?  Who or what do we trust?  Can we trust our uncertainty and in this New Year can we install God as keeper of the things that are unrevealed, or things that are not obviously fair to us?  Are we willing to walk, differently and accept that while we work for a more robust and confident future, what we have for certain are just these moments?

Listen to Abraham Joshua Heschel, at the time a young theologian, living in Berlin in the 1930’s:

God pursues me everywhere,

Enmeshes me in glances,

And blinds my sightless back like flaming sun.

God, like a forest dense, pursues me.

My lips are ever tender, mute, so amazed,

So like a child lost in an ancient sacred grove.

God pursues me like a silent shudder.

I wish for tranquility and rest – God urges – Come!

And see – how visions walk like the homeless on the streets.

My thoughts walk about like a vagrant mystery –

Walk through the world’s long corridor.

At times I see God’s featureless face hovering over me.

God pursues me in the streetcars and café

Every shining apple is my crystal sphere to see

How mysteries are born and vision came to be.

Unlike God, let us not define ourselves as the absence of something or in the context of someone else’s narrative.  Let us move in this world, not pursued by guilt or liability – let us not allow another to define for us our parameters of living so we must react and justify ourselves, always off-kilter.  Let us allow ourselves to be pursued by God as Heschel describes – seeing past the thing itself like Plato does, into the heart of the matter.

And what is the heart of the matter, right now, for us?  Some current event that even in its present gravity will ebb and flow – or is it something more grave like the issues of life and death?  Can we open ourselves up to this almost overwhelming vulnerability without hurting ourselves?  This too, is what Rosh haShanah demands of us – as we hear the shofar, we hear the wailing in the world and at the same time we hear our voice answering, the call to be present and accountable.

Let us not tune this out – let’s dial back the volume of what we consume and let us partner with a living God to cast ourselves out of exile.  That voice that asks “where are you,” is asked not in a location of expulsion rather, it is the voice of God, asking us in paradise.  We must not despair for if we hear this voice calling out to us, we can find our way back to this original place of mercy and lovingkindness. We can move past the physical and spiritual wreckage that we see, everywhere around us.

As we see each other this evening, let us greet each other and call each other habibi, a word used in Hebrew that means “my beloved” or “my friend – habibi is an informal word that shows intimacy and closeness – and it can mean something more – it can mean to trust, as we do when we fly or travel in hazardous driving conditions – or as our tradition teaches – how the Israelites developed this practice in the wilderness – relying only on the manna that was miraculously found that day – the manna would not stay until the next day – it would rot overnight, so it could not be accumulated or horded.  Our ancestors learned to eat, on the day itself, knowing that there was no security or control about tomorrow.  A 19th century leader, Rabbi Yosef Yozel Hurwitz, who was known as the Alter Rebbe of Novarodok taught that in times of danger, one who is dedicated to the practice of trust, walks securely and does not tremble – he used to sign his letters, not with his name, rather he used the initials B.B.  We are called now in this new Book of Life, to develop principles and activism – also to live with the initials of “B.B.” after our name – which stands for the title, “Ba’al Bitachon” – a person of trust.  So, let us call each other habibi – one who is a Master of Trust – and let us again wish each other shalom habibi – offering not a mere hello, rather offering each other a wholeness to be gained by living with trust.

May we have a shanah tovah – a good turning into this time.  Let us set out into these days possessed by self-awareness and with a commitment to establishing or deepening our spiritual practice.  May we gather often to see the rewards of being pursued by God as we grow, learn, pray, receive and love.

Shalom, habibi

Shanah Tovah u’metukah

Ketivah va’hatimah tovah

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Ha’azinu – 5771 Rosh haShanah – Day 1 — 5771

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