Awe – a concept that is so hard to grasp. There are not many things that produce in us a pure sense of awe. If you are like me, you may use the word “Awesome” in your daily speech, but rarely with a true feeling of something being full of awe. Awe seems to contain within it something….majestic….holy….and even fearsome. I think the key to this season, and the place it holds in so many of our lives, lies in this word: Awe.
For the first half of her life, the woman born Adrienne Cecile Rich, in Baltimore, 1929, lived the life you would have expected. She was baptized and raised in the Episcopalian church; her father was a medical professor at Johns Hopkins; her mother a pianist and composer. Adrienne went to Radcliffe and wrote poetry. By 1950, the kingmaker of mid-century poets, W.H. Auden, helped her publish her first collection, “A Change of World,” which featured accomplished if rather dull formal English verse—punctual meters, rhymes, etc.
Over the years, I’ve had what must be tens of thousands of conversations with congregants, and strangers that I’ve met in the context of my work. I couldn’t begin to count the number of times those conversations began with the words “Rabbi, can I ask you a silly question?”
The good teacher — or should I say the wise teacher -— will tell you that there are no silly questions. There are silly answers, to be sure, but very few if any silly questions.
As the Yom Kippur approaches, rather than present a specific ethical quandary I present some reflections and tips on what this holy day can mean for us as we perform the sacred act of engaging with other human beings and with God:
I found myself consumed in the liturgy by the phrase “HaYom harat olam” (today the world is created) and with questions about the purpose of creation and of my personal existence. As we reflect on the direction of our lives between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we might ask ourselves why humans, generally as well as individually, were created.
What follows below is a very slightly edited version of the sermon I delivered on the first day of Rosh Hashanah in my own synagogue. It was as much a personal statement about my own quest to invest life with meaning as it was a conventional sermon, but upon reflection... if that isn't legitimate fodder for a sermon, I'm not sure what is.
I hope that you find it meaningful, and I wish you all a G'mar Hatima Tovah-
As free High Holiday services catch on, more and more mainstream congregations are rethinking the old pay-to-pray model.
Special To The Jewish Week
The Brooklyn Lyceum, a performance space on the outskirts of gentrified Park Slope, opened in 1910 as a public bathhouse. But this Friday night several hundred young Jews will file through the bar that leads to its 4,000-square-foot theater for Kol Nidre, the prelude service for Yom Kippur.
The quintessential Jewish joke takes place on the eve of Yom Kippur. The elderly rabbi arrives first at the small synagogue early in the morning, long before services, walks to dark corner of the sanctuary and begins to plead quietly with his Maker.
“Oh Lord, have pity on me, I am like the dust of the earth, a speck in the universe…”