Sunday, August 30, 2009

11 Elul. It doesn’t get easier - -and maybe that’s as it should be

About now the recurring dreams begin. I stand in front of the congregation and have nothing to say. I lose several pages in the midst of a sermon. I forget to call someone forward for a specific honor. I over sleep.

But here’s the biggest nightmare. I walk into the sanctuary on Rosh Hashanah and find no one there.

Thankfully that has not happened and I trust it will not happen this year. Something compels Jews to return to synagogues during the days of awe and that in and of itself is testimony to the season’s power and the miracle of Jewish continuity. We see the committed and peripheral, the seekers and the estranged, the young and not so young – all engaged in something very personal, but not something done in isolation. It is the individual quest in the midst of a large community that is so compelling.

Cynics give all sorts of explanations to why this happens: habit, to be seen, to honor parents living or dead. But I think it goes well beyond those types of things. Conformity and social pressures are not sufficiently strong in this day and age to warrant such expeditions to the synagogue.

What brings us together? There is a deep spiritual need to unite the fragments of our lives and there is great wisdom in Jewish tradition in providing the time and place for such self scrutiny. The past year has seen success and failure, missed opportunities, moments when we’ve let down ourselves and others. There is a gap between the reality that is us and the higher vision we hold out for ourselves. We seek wholeness in a holy setting.

Anticipation of these days helps raise the bar. The liturgy, the melodies and the images that have become familiar draws us in again and again.

5770 will mark my 20th High Holy Days at B’nai Israel and my 30th serving a congregation. You’d think I’d have it down by now. While certain things in my rabbinate have gotten easier over the years, preparing for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is not one of them.

But I suspect that’s as it should be.
Rabbi James Prosnit

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