Erev Rosh haShanah — 5775 — Oh, the Places You’ll Go: The Sacred and the Exile

08/10/2014 at 09:11 Leave a comment

“Oh, the Places You’ll Go: The Sacred and the Exile”


Erev Rosh haShanah

Neil F. Blumofe

24 September 2014

Shanah Tovah, everyone!

Oh, the thinks you can think! Oh, the thinks you can think, if you’re willing to try…


Think of an elephant up in a tree, think of a person too tiny to see! Think of a bird with a one-feather tail, going on adventure down a dangerous trail! Think of a bird who flies off on a spree, think of a kangaroo, sour as can be! … An unusual story will soon be unfurled, of an elephant trying to save a small world.

You know, I’ve thought a lot about integrating the theme of Dr. Seuss into these High Holy Days – and the closest I can get to his particular lilt and rhythm of language is Yiddish:

Az di vort iz in moil, iz men a har – az me lozt zi arois, iz men a nar

While the word is still in your mouth, you are a liege, you are something special — once you utter it, you are a fool.

So, here I go – uttering the words in my mouth.

Together we journey into these just-opened gates of the New Year and we stand on the threshold of renewing possibility, remaking meaning, and rediscovering wonder. I am amazed that we are all together and I do not take our convergence for granted. There are so many other things – so many moving parts that sometimes seem to conspire in our schedules and in our world that prevent or discourage us from making the effort to be here now.  I am grateful and motivated in your company this evening.

And even as we sit here, hearing the melodies unique to this season, holding these prayers and poems of inspiration and hope in our hands, are we convinced that this destination, this sacred space and experience brings us insight, gentleness, and confidence – can we be in this space without judging ourselves – without asserting our right to a premiere position, or some sort of exalted status – some sort of extra attention – rewarded because we choose to belong to this community? Can we put away our reliance on feeling like an insider, or relishing our self-proclaimed outlier-ness — our removed and removing status?

Saying at the outset, as we begin again together and each of us, to feel these Holy Days – I ask you to consider, for yourselves: what if these High Holy Day services do not meet my needs – what if I yet can’t get past my personal resentments and any discouragements that I feel when I look across this sanctuary and have my eyes fix on the unresolved other, who also inhabits this space? How can I move past any lip service – or sense of servitude or responsibility that I am here because it’s what my partner wants – or what my kids need to see? What if I like the rabbi, and yet, somehow he (or she) doesn’t inspire me – that I just want to be with my friends, doing something Jewish sometimes, that doesn’t ask too much of me and doesn’t take too much effort or time?

What if, in this space – as we are meant to be specifically laying the exquisite, secure groundwork for encountering this New Year, acknowledging the Divine Nature inherent in this world, wrapping the four corners of our memory together around our finger, like tsitsit, so we don’t forget, and participating in the power of summoning with our shofar, the opposite occurs, and we feel more isolated or estranged? Oh, the places that you’ll go – not intending to go farther away from what we are looking for and not beginning this year with a deficit of blessings, feelings of insecurity, or loneliness, even as now, we are surrounded by people. How can we allow ourselves to feel that this welcoming of the New Year is a positive and even nourishing experience – that it is a good choice in our lives? How can we cultivate powerful feelings of hope, belonging, and gratitude?

This day, this time beckons us, invites us to sit for a few moments and to unburden ourselves – to open ourselves to our colliding and competing inner truths, our complexity and to our vulnerability — this time asks us to take a deep breath, inhaling, and taking responsibility for what has been, and in the exhalation of that same breath, to let it all go. (Pause).

A traditional greeting of welcoming is shalom, shalom la’rachok v’lakarov shalom, shalom to all of those who are far off and to all of those who happen, at this moment, to be near. This is not just a greeting about our proximity – this speaks also about all of our various yearnings – those that clash with our circumstances, those that fill us with a sense of purpose, and those that send a shiver up and down our spine.   This is a time when we give permission perhaps, for all of our brokenness to be laid out – in order for us, like Humpty Dumpty, to be put back together again – to be in shalom.

Some parts of us are totally invested now – ready to be uplifted and swept up in something gloriously new – something that demands our sacrifice, our power, and even perhaps, a few tears, that are worth our effort. Other parts of us are a million miles away – listening with one ear perhaps, nodding absentmindedly, or dreaming about something else – not connected, floating free, and determined to just do what we need to do – minimally — to not be noticed and to be free to leave, as we wish. We live in this tension – both influenced by and weighed down by our choices, and by our abundance and our freedom to act, or not act, in so many ways.

And too, we know that this world is bone chilling, unrelenting, and ferocious, and if we open to it, too much, the gale force winds will overpower us and cause us to buckle under – personally, professionally, or otherwise. So, we have choices to make – for the world is too much with us. How do we receive these High Holy Days — this imperfect message, this incomplete experience of starting again – and be able to take what we need, and dedicate ourselves to living in the graciously cupped Divine hand of this subtle presence? How can it be enough for us to appreciate that which is now and will be no longer – to make peace with those mistakes which crowd our spirit, with the shame that bruises our character, and guides us to second guess the entire enterprise of our living?

How do we move on, knowing that the God in the world, and even the God in the Torah does not match our God – and that we might not have seen either God in years? We search for a solution that remains hidden – and we take solace in the prayer: mir Gott un mentsch – lamer teshuveh tun tsuzamen. A der einef der ardem tsveit. Un fargeb un zer zind. Azoy v’mir fergeben dine – we – God, and humans, let us return, all together – each of us for each other — and let us forgive each other our own sins, the way we God, forgive You, Yours.  


In our concerns, we can accuse, forget and distort – we can photo shop, dissemble and escape from what bothers us so much, and yet we are here – all of us, identified, as those who have the privilege and the responsibility of entering into the New Year.

We are looking – and we are poised. This synagogue is not just a gathering place, or a convenient point of meeting – or an insurance policy for our tougher times. This synagogue is a laboratory that promotes spiritual health – this is a place that asserts itself, against great odds sometimes, to become a precious sanctuary of welcoming and transformation. This is a place that offers meaning, and depth, and concept beyond headlines and talking points. I will not parrot a political position, or promote another’s agenda – I will offer inconclusiveness –- polysemy — as life does, and depend on you to help teach me – I ask you to be reasonable, and patient, and to fall in love with the power of standing and learning and achieving, a little at a time – all of us, as one.

What would it be like – whether in relationship or in exile – if we showed up together to accomplish our goals – if we showed up regularly — if we took our individual responsibility seriously and generously supported and gently yet firmly upbraided each other to be our best selves, as appropriate? Shalom, shalom la’rachok v’lakarov. You have brains in your head – you have feet in your shoes – you can steer yourself any direction you choose. (Pause).

What a year it’s been – and as we prepare to let go, and allow space for something different, something positive – I offer a prayer written by my friend, Rabbi Michael Adam Latz, which I have adapted, slightly:

For those who say “good riddance” to 5774

And those who weep because endings are too much to bear and beginnings too frightening to encounter,

For those ready to crack open their hearts to a more compassionate world,

And eager to roll up their sleeves to end needless suffering,

And for those exhausted because it seems we’re fighting the same battles over again;

For those eager to dip our apples into honey,

And hear the words of Torah inspire us into being our best, most holy selves,

And for those who pray the rabbi might say something inspiring and authentic and heartfelt and relevant;

For those dreading the sermon about Israel

And for those demanding the sermon about Israel,

And for those who find the music soaring

And those who experience the liturgy wanting,

For those who are certain why they show up

And love bending for the Great Aleinu

And tremble at the Binding of Isaac

And feel history in their guts at the close of Neilah,

And for those who aren’t at all certain why on earth they show up, but believe, somewhere in the veins where blood flows to their heart and head

That they need to show up

For some cosmological, theological, unexplainable reason,

And for those suffering in exile – not knowing quite how to get along,

Or disenchanted, or in pain – chronic, metaphysical pain

For those afflicted and unable to be here

For those whose lives we enfold into our own

For each of us – as we hold and recognize the space of each other

Time to listen to the shofar’s call.

Why will our presence matter in the year ahead?

Let’s get to work.


So, truly – from all of our places — shalom, shalom la’rachok v’lakarov – all young and old – all there or here – all big and small – all far or near. The shofar sounds and today, you are you. That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you. So let’s go forward without a delay, our hearts are alive, and today is the day.


May we have ample opportunity to dedicate ourselves to moments beyond what we need – may we have the gift of realizing how much we get to do, as opposed to what we think we have to do. And may we think what we do can make a difference – if not for us, then for someone we love – and if not for someone we love, then for a small investment in the future. It is delightful that we are here this evening. Thank you. May this evening be enough.

Oh, the thinks you can think – think and wonder and dream – far and wide as you dare.

Men ken machen dem cholem, grosser vi di nacht.

You can make a dream bigger than the night.

Tichleh shanah v’kil’loteha

Tacheil shanah u’virchote’ha

May the troubles of this year, end – and may a year of blessings, begin.


Shanah Tovah!

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5774 — Yom Kippur Yizkor — The Rainbow Shining Past Dreaming and Dying Rosh haShanah, Day 1 — Oh, the Places You’ll Go: Greenland

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