Three Quick Thoughts (And One a Little Longer)
Rosh Hashanah is nearly upon us.
This Shabbat, at the end of the service Stephen and I will be looking at some of the tunes and meanings behind the Rosh Hashanah Musaf service (in lieu of a sermon). It will be a good chance for a singalong and a great chance to feel more prepared for the services on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Also, this Shabbat, at 4pm at my home, I will be teaching the second part of ‘This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared.’ Do please join me for a bite to eat and plenty to think about.
Thirdly – I’ve been thinking about Second Day Rosh Hashanah. It’s one of my favourite services of the year. The tension and unfamiliarity of our First Day are behind us and there is more space for reflection and being present in the moment. I’ve never really understood the claims of those who feel, ‘it’s just the same.’ It’s a point Heraclitus made some 2500 years ago, ‘You could not step twice into the same river, for other waters are ever flowing on to you.’ Please do plan on joining us on Wednesday also.
I’ve been preparing to teach from Alan Lew’s work on this time and he shares this thought; things that cannot be seen are more important than things which can be seen. While, Lew argues, other peoples pitted the sea against the earth or one god against another, Judaism came to say that ‘beneath the appearance of conflict and caprice there was a singularity,’ worthy and deserving our attention and praise, but nonetheless invisible. Lew goes on to say that the tension between the seen and the unseen should also guide how we should approach this season. ‘In the visible world, we live out our routine and sometimes messy lives. We have jobs, families and house… Beneath the surface of this world the real and unseen drama of our lives is unfolding.’ What lies beneath, what cannot be seen, is the more important than our surface display of normality. Rosh Hashanah works on what lies beneath. It is ‘only there that the horn sounds, that the gate between heaven and earth opens and there that the court is convened, that we rehearse our own death.’ Lew’s point is that we can fool most of the people most of the time, hiding what is going on beneath the front we present to the world with our business and outward competence while our soul lies underneath devoid of attention, withering slowly. ‘Every soul needs to express itself. Every heart needs to crack itself open. These needs did not arise yesterday. They are among the most ancient of ancient human yearnings and they are fully expressed in the pageantry and ritual of the great journey we make between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.’
I’m excited to be celebrating these special days with this special community. I urge us to treasure the tremendous heritage which carries us through these special days and prepare ourselves to make the most of this opportunity for our ‘soul to express itself.’ In doing so may we all be blessed with a year of health, sweetness and joy.
Shabbat Shalom and L’Shannah Tovah,
Rabbi Jeremy Gordon
New London Synagogue
0207 328 1026