Rosh Hashanah Reflection Helps Amid Trauma
Rabbi B. Elka Abrahamson and Rabbi Misha Zinkow
If the sky is clear tonight, look up and you will see the full moon.
In two weeks, as the moon wanes, it will signal that the Jewish New Year is about to begin.
On the evening of September 6, as we all mark what is widely known as “the official end of summer” on Labor Day, the Jewish community will come together to celebrate the summer holidays, which begin with Rosh Hashanah. The new year 5782 will begin in two weeks.
During this month – known as Elul (pronounced Eh-lool) – leading up to the New Year, we reflect on the ways in which we have failed to live up to what’s in us, when and how we missed the mark. The month of Elul is devoted to spiritual preparation for the sacred work of personal reparation.
The sight of a full moon can inspire awe, and we encourage you to take a long look at the soft and beautiful light of the moon. The cycles of the moon, sunrise and sunset, and the nightly appearance of stars in the sky all create a sense of predictability during what we can all agree are volatile times.
The world feels unstable, dangerously tense between the opposing poles of hopelessness and hope, leaving many of us breathless and even exhausted just trying to stay grounded.
Our physical and mental well-being is threatened and a healthy future for our planet is seriously threatened. Perhaps a long look at the full moon will remind us not to take the Earth itself for granted.
We are not the first to live in a fragile world, and all religious traditions give insight to anxious souls. We look to our own for guidance.
The Jews endured other dark chapters, and our sages provided us with the wisdom to move forward. At the end of the 18th century, a revered Hasidic master, Rabbi Nachman de Breslov, taught that the world is a narrow bridge and that we must not – we cannot – despair.
Troubled times and fear have clever ways of blinding us to the presence of God, but only if we allow it. We are, Nachman said, our worst adversaries when we allow the mess of our lives and the growing challenges of our world to obscure the saint who is right in front of us.
Even as we walk along this narrow bridge, we can overcome our fears by focusing on our faith instead. In each of us resides the spiritual capacity to be grateful to the souls who are in us and, more importantly, to recognize the divine who dwells in others.
Cultivate faith in yourself, Nachman might have told us today, and others. Cut through the encrusted layers that hide our authentic selves and stifle our relationships. Reach the light of a holier and more stable world in partnership with others.
The next new moon marks the arrival of the Hebrew month of Tishri, two weeks from tomorrow. (Rosh Hashanah begins on the evening of September 6.)
For 10 days, the Jewish community will enter a period of intense prayer and personal renewal known as Ten Days of Repentance. It will begin with the New Year – the “World Birthday” – and end with Yom Kippur on the 10th day of the month of Tishri. It is the Day of Atonement (September 16), a full day of community fasting and worship.
These days are devoted to seeking and granting forgiveness for sins committed against others and against God. Such a heavy agenda is approached with spiritual preparation which began two weeks ago and continues.
Elul this month is to the New Year what a foundation is to a house. In it, we dedicate ourselves to laying the groundwork for a spiritually stable door as we enter a new year. It is a 29-day “project” that relies on self-examination, an exploration of his conduct over the past year and intentionally looks outward to mend relationships with fellow human beings and with God.
As summer slowly gives way to fall, we admire the natural and exquisite changes in nature. Such effortless change is not so easy for humans. Can you forgive after being hurt? Can we regain strength after a defeat? Can we rebuild after destruction? Can we seek peace where there is conflict? Can we listen with empathy and not with judgment?
Tonight’s full moon may light the way forward as we continue to enjoy these shortening summer days. In its light, we can each venture out with good intentions: discovering our own store of goodness, kindness, and acceptance.
We have challenges to meet, personal and collective. But let us be blessed to meet them with the faith, the daring and the hope that we find in the wisdom of our traditions.
Rabbi B. Elka Abrahamson is President of the Wexner Foundation. She is married to Rabbi Misha Zinkow, retired senior rabbi of Temple Israel who is now Journey Builder for Makor Educational Journeys.
Keeping the Faith is a column presenting the perspectives of a variety of religious leaders in the Columbus area.