Thoughts after the first evening of Rosh Hashanah (when I really should be asleep):
We're studying Abraham Joshua Heschel throughout the Yamim Nora'im, a little bit each day. Tonight we read about about Heschel's two main influences as a child and spiritual prodigy, the Baal Shem Tov and the Kotzker Rebbe. From the former he learned how to live a life of passion; from the latter, to rein in that passion with discipline and self-criticism. Both shaped his philosophy and made him understand the need to act and not just feel. Taught my rabbis: we also must allow ourselves to be filled these holy days with passion and emotion, but our responsibility as Jews is to translate and discipline those feelings into action.
At dinner we touched on a more abstract idea: time. A friend brought a teaching about the word "Shanah," which can be interpreted to mean not only "year" but also "change" (as in the "Mah nishatanah?" we ask on Pesah: why is this different?). At the beginning of every new year, we need to ask ourselves this same question: how have our lives changed this past year, and how do we want them to do so in the future? (Does God change, too? I wondered.) I remembered asking myself a few days ago if I would be able to bring something new to singing Shaharit, since I now know the liturgy so well. My friend suggested I think about how I am different--and also that there will be people listening for whom the service is as new as the year itself.
Can we experience time without labeling it as such? Would the Jewish concept of sacred time still exist if we didn't name it? I had to leave before we solved this existential angst.
On the way to services tonight I thought about Rosh Hashanah as days when God opens God's self, God's own arms. God welcomes us into this new year. On Yom Kippur it's our turn--we return the embrace, we open ourselves to God. We have no secrets.
(Written 9/13 early AM.)
Thoughts upon awakening, right before helping to lead services:
I had a strange and disturbing dream last night (I think I ate way too much before going to bed). I dreamt that I went back to college and was moving into my dorm room. Although I was 25+years older than everyone, my fellow students were nice and welcoming, which surprised me. But the room was a mess; the previous tenant had left lots of stuff. No one seemed to care, but I was very uncomfortable. In my dream I was desperately trying to clean up.
I was beginning again (= Rosh Hashanah). And trying to do it right. But is that ever really possible? It's uncomfortable, that's for sure.