Thursday, 28 August 2014

On Teshuvah and Love

Elul is here – Rosh Hashanah cannot be far behind.


With the New Moon of Tuesday night we entered the Hebrew month of Elul.

With the next New Moon we will enter a New Year.

May it come to us, and all, for good and in peace.


We are counting down to Rosh Hashanah.

The evening of the first day is 24th September. This is month when we begin to assess the work of the coming days. Perhaps we could all benefit from starting with this idea.


In a process known as Notarikon, the Rabbis play with the Hebrew word, Elul – Aleph Lamed Vav Lamed, taking the letters of the word and matching them up against a verse from the Song of Songs – Ani LeDodi V’Dodi Li – I am my beloved and my beloved is mine. The point is this – Teshuvah is built from a foundation of love and reciprocrity. True Teshuvah can only happen gracefully and in relationship with our Creator and our fellow human beings.


A graceful relationship with our Creator involves accepting we are created in God’s image. We are invested with a spirit and – should we be so fortunate – the possibility to breathe, see, smell, think, and change. How extraordinary, how beyond any machine-created possibility! And if our relationship with our Creator has gone a little rusty, if we have taken our creation, or our inheritance as Jews too much for granted, the possibility for renewal and transformation exists. The Rabbis teach that when sacrifices were offered in the Temple the flame from the altar would rise and it would meet a flame descending from the heavens. We are met in commitment to live next year differently from the year past.


A graceful relationship with our fellow human beings involves opening our heart to the notion that we are not perfect. It’s always easy to ascribe blame or see fault in others. But in this month of Elul we should treat others with the sort of grace we usually reserve for considering our own failures, and put in our own mouths – and hearts – the graceful words we would wish to hear from others ‘sorry,’ ‘no, it was my fault,’ ‘let me do that.’


By treating the world and its inhabitants more gracefully, more lovingly we increase the amount of decency in this poor battered world. We might even find more grace and love coming our way in return.


Early wishes for a sweet and healthy year to all,


Shabbat shalom,


Rabbi Jeremy


Thursday, 21 August 2014

512 Hours & 25 Hours


In the fancy setting of a prestigious art gallery with blank walls we are invited to do nothing. Marina Abramovic’s ‘durational performance,’ entitled ‘512 Hours’ is drawing rave reviews from critics and long queues from punters for whom standing still in a bare and quiet room is an exciting counter-cultural experience.


Actually I loved my time at the Serpentine. Phones, headphones, wallets and keys are left in a locker and you instantly realise how these tools we rely on so eagerly draw us away from intimacy, replacing genuine connection with swipes, taps and clicks. We wore noise insulation headphones which cut out all external noise, but allowed me to hear the sound of my own heart, gently doing its miraculous, life-giving and so-easily-overlooked thing. The sense of sight seemed sharper – a fellow visitor was brought to stand directly infront of me and we gazed at each other for far longer than would have been the case had we scuttled by on the street. And in the face of this slightly pudgy man with burst blood vessels around his nose and tufts of hair emerging from his ears, I witnessed the humanity of a stranger and it was utterly beautiful – far more beautiful than even the most delicate oil painting. Abramovic’s coup is to package the experience of carrying, hearing and seeing ‘nothing’ as something more rich and inspiring than the regular day-to-day experiences of carrying this and that and being bombarded by ceaseless sights and sounds. The exhibition at the Serpentine has a week to run and I do recommend it – but compared to Shabbat ....


Imagine a weekly installation with wallets, phones and the like put away. Imagine a time where focus was brought to the faces of our nearest and dearest, freed of the weekday habits of scuttling past as if we were strangers to one another. Imagine a time when our whole relationship to the material world had a reset – where we reconfigure our sense of gratitude for what we have and to whom we should be grateful. Imagine coming together to eat, to pray, to sing. What a work of art that would be. As Abraham Joshua Heschel taught in the last significant interview he gave at the end of his life, ‘Above all remember that the meaning of life it to build a life as if it were a work of art. You are not a machine. And you are young. Start working on this great work of art called your own existence.’ There is no way to self-curate this work of art as perfectly – not even a visit to the Serpentine Gallery – that can touch the power of Shabbat. Best start practicing soon,


Shabbat shalom,


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