In this village, our spirits really do become parts of each other: I can see the joy in your eyes, reflecting the joy in my own eyes. This mingling of joy amidst joy is what I hope for all of us each Shabbat. Thank you for helping make today’s Shabbat one I’ll remember for a lifetime.
My parents, may their memories be blessed, were kind, generous, and supportive. They sent me to the finest of colleges and graduate schools, and helped finance my children’s education as well. But they belonged to the generation whom the God they believed in had failed.
There is an old tradition of cleaning out our homes as well as ourselves before the High Holy Days.
This year our theme for the Holy Days is “Belonging.” So let me begin with a story about belongings.
For the first month studying in Jerusalem, I was in my bubble, streaming news feeds 24/7 for siren alerts while living a ‘kinda-normal’ life. Many weekday evenings, I forfeited cultural events to attend sessions with political analysts who bantered on their sociological and historical perspectives of the situation, followed by late night conversations of the future of Israel with international and Israeli friends in local cafes.
To this new year, each of us brings our own hopes, hurts to heal, and things for which we seek release and forgiveness. These are our own individual gateways into Rosh Hashanah. At the same time, the words we just sang evoke more the collective than the individual. We’re each unique, but together we share one Creator.
I am reminded of a story about Yankele, who was walking from Minsk to Pinsk, wearing a heavy backpack with all his clothes and goods. As he continued walking, the backpack seemed to grow heavier, and Yankele became more and more tired. Along came a wagon, and Yankele decided to see if he could hitch a ride.
We began on this Kol Nidre evening by declaring that we who have ourselves transgressed declare it lawful to pray with others who have wronged either God or other human beings. This is the evening that more than any other in the Jewish year, calls us forth to synagogue to pray — to pray with others, to pray with kol Yisrael, all of Israel.
Our history is very complex. “Good” and “bad” are intertwined, and as today’s Haftarah from the prophet Jeremiah reminds us, God loves us even in dark times and promises us that things can get better.
These words come to us from Nachman of Breslov, set to music by Shlomo Carlebach. Nachman and Shlomo taught that even when our world seems narrow and constricting – tzar, as in the Yiddish tsuris (trouble) – even then, aiming for joy isn’t optional. Joy isn’t an extra or a detour on the spiritual path: as they put it, joy is “the whole point.” But the joy they taught isn’t a naïve glee, or mere fun, or escape from daily life: their joy is freedom, feeling the fullness of reality, even the stress and strain of daily life.