Such is the emotional process of the High Holy Days: For three weeks we grieve
over the destroyed Temple. It is a hope that has vanished, a dream of harmony
that once existed but now gone. As we recite the ancient lamentations we look
for the things that are broken within us. If one doesn’t bring himself, as a
real person, to his prayers, then they are inauthentic.
Then, from the
ashes, comes a celebration of life. This is the 15th of Av. In ancient days it
was a time to go dancing in the vineyards in white dresses, for the purpose of
finding a husband or wife. A young generation will be born, as the year is about
to be over, transformed into the following year.
From that point we are
ready to start the month of Elul. This is the time for introspection. We are on
a journey of purification, in the simplest manner: a human being is preparing
himself to stand before its Creator. The piyutim, sacred poetry of this time of
the year, bring forth this notion: Human being, why are you falling asleep? Wake
up, cry out in supplications.
It is known that the letters of the word
Elul in Hebrew form an acronym for the phrase from Song of Songs 6:3 – “I am to
my beloved, and my beloved is to me” (ani ledodi vedodi li). The acronym reminds
us to look for God as an intimate lover, rather than as a patriarch, lord,
father and king. During this month of Slihot (Forgiveness) we have an
opportunity to reflect on areas that we usually choose to ignore and meditate on
them. Have we been attentive to what is truly important? Have we squandered the
gift of precious time which we were granted?
This is our mind-set, therefore, on
Rosh Hashana. The concept of time is being reestablished. “Hayom harat olam,”
sings the ancient poet. “Today had I conceived the world,” says
God. Thus, today is the Day of Judgment. This is symbolized by the
shofar and the mitzva of trua, the ceremonial blast.
Now a quiet tension
can be felt. It is nearly the Day of Atonement. Rabbi Akiva says, closing the
Mishna tractate of Yoma, “Fortunate are you, O Israel! Before whom do you purify
yourselves? And who purifies you? Your Father in Heaven!”
Now, we are almost
ready to stand before God. What is still missing? The practice of joy and
humbleness. This is why the Israelites came up with the idea of Succot. No
matter if you are rich or poor, during this week you will sleep and eat in
temporary housing. It will help you internalize the idea that we are all
wandering strangers in this land, sojourning from one point to another, thinking
we have an impact on our lives.
To our succot, temporary huts, we invite
the heroes of the past: patriarchs, matriarchs, prophets and kings. The memories
of the nation are woven into the story of every single family. Seven days of joy
are ahead of us. Succot is the last chance to bring an offering from our field
and farm, before the new year starts its own swift journey to its end, as they
all do. But before it happens, there is special treat, just for you. It’s
The ritual of reading the Torah scroll is an old one among
our people. Older than the recited prayer, for example. Nothing
symbolizes the everlasting repetition of Jewish time, the circle of life or the
circle of time like Torah reading. Both of them are not cyclical, but
linear, in the experience of the individual. But for the culture they are
truly a cycle. We were graced by the Eternal to end another cycle of the Torah
reading. We embody the continuity of our culture.
If you travel
among many synagogues, as I did, you will easily notice that Simhat Torah is a
joyous celebration. In my years as a congregational rabbi I always
reminded myself to dance with the scroll completely. To dance until I am
forgotten in ecstasy.
Tomorrow starts the post-High-Holy- Day season.
Plenty of work is waiting to be done. But now, it is time for
dancing. Rejoice, you are alive. The year is waiting for you. The scroll
is yet unfurled. The story is yet to be told.
The writer is a Reform
rabbi and educator in Netanya.