As often happens, I find myself writing to help process new knowledge or insights. And if this sometimes coincides with Rosh Hashanah reflections, maybe that’s no accident.
As yom tov approaches each year, I find myself searching for a new, meaningful way to approach it. This year, I have hit upon a few devices that are helping to broaden my horizons, and hopefully bring me closer to the wellspring of the universe.
First, I have opted to received short inspirational writings each day during Elul, provided by Rabbi Amy Levin, who is the founder of Tzibur Strategies: For Thriving Sacred Communities and Their Leaders and the president of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel. Some readings are old and some are new, but they always are inspirational, even when the messages are solemn. For me, I guess, this is a variation of the tradition of hearing the shofar blown each morning during Elul. Not as loud, but every bit as resonant. (And if I read them after my daily Wordle, I hope God will understand.)
Second, I have begun to ask friends and family members more questions, in order to know them better. And I listen more closely to their answers. I’ve often been intrigued by the idea that people can hear, but not listen. And what I’m hearing, and listening to, is fascinating.
For example, I recently learned that two – two! – of my close friends are addicted to reading and watching anything that concerns the Tudors. So knowledgeable is one friend that I spent a delightful afternoon hearing how and why Henry VIII changed during his various marriages. Not only have I now been exposed to a fascinating chapter of British history, but I have come to appreciate the depth of my friends’ knowledge and commitment to their areas of interest. So what if I prefer murder mysteries! The world is vast, and we are all different.
I have also started to tap into the vast body of Jewish teachings that reside on the internet. While, for example, we all know that the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was a brilliant writer and speaker, I had never actually listened to one of his lectures.
Wow. Is it sacrilegious to say that I was blown away by his talk suggesting that we blow shofar twice during Rosh Hashanah services in order to deceive Satan? What an “aha” moment when he pointed out that in our tradition, Satan is not a devil but a “prosecuting attorney,” trying to convince God that the creation of man was a mistake. (Not surprising, he brought in the Book of Job.)
I’m looking forward to seeking out more of his lectures. But in addition to his brilliance, what struck me was the passion with which he delivered his talk, and his willingness – and ability – to drop in examples from modern culture to illustrate his points. So another lesson for me is that the message may be terrific, but a lot depends on the delivery. Just ask Billy Crystal.
Circling back, I think that’s why the reflections that Rabbi Levin sends are so effective. They are heartfelt, or philosophical, or flowery. But they are all accessible. We can understand them, digest them, and relate to them — all in a single sitting. In this fast-moving universe, that matters.
What also matters is passion and commitment, as evidenced by Rabbi Sacks. Do we get passionate when discussing politics? Or when discussing our hobbies or favorite books? Combining accessible Jewish teachings with this kind of passion is a great way to reach the hearts and minds of those of us eager to move forward in our search for spirituality.
This year, having done a little advance groundwork, I hope to reap the spiritual rewards, helped along, of course, by the beautiful music of the service.
May we all enjoy a happy, healthy,
and sweet New Year.
Lois Goldrich of Fair Lawn is, among other things, an editor emerita of the Jewish Standard.