Posts Tagged 'Rosh HaShana'

Room For Improvement

A couple of years ago I was walking to synagogue with my two boys on the morning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and I wanted to engage them in a discussion about the holiday. At the time Yadid was seven and Yishama was five. To get the ball rolling I simply said, “Another name for Rosh Hashanah is Yom HaDin. So besides celebrating a new year, it is also the time when we reflect on how we might want to improve ourselves in the coming year.” At this point I felt a huge urge to just tell the boys how I wanted them to improve. I know that I am not alone. I want my children to be the best they can be so if I love my children so much, how could I stay silent and not tell them how to improve? It seems so clear to me what they need to change to be the mensches I so desperately what them to become, so of course I should just give them a list, right? I decided that instead of going in that direction, I would shift the conversation and said, “So since today is the day we work on our improving ourselves, let’s start. Tell me what you think I need to be working on to be a better abba (father).”

Wow, what a difference! Not only did they give me amazing feedback that I use until this day, but without any additional prompting they started giving each other feedback. What a blessing to be part of this conversation. Holding back my own voice at this moment created room for us all to grow and improve. I know that this internal voice of the overbearing parent is coming from a good place, but I also know that it does not always get the desired results. So, where did I learn this?

Upon reflection, I realized that I learned this technique as a junior counselor at Jewish overnight camp. It was there in the context of managing a bunk of children that I learned how to create an ideal learning environment. It was there that I learned how I might get more bees with honey then vinegar (another important message for Rosh Hashanah). I also learned the important difference between being authoritarian and authoritative. Seeding power actually creates space for other voices. So years later as a father I knew that suspending my own need to share my love created space for us all to share our love with each other. I cannot say I got it right that year as a JC, but I deeply appreciate the space of camp and what it taught me. Someone else who was more experienced could have done it better, but in the spirit of Jewish camp, they got out of the way to make room for an 18-year-old to find his voice. I in turn learned how to make room for my campers and eventually my own children. Jewish camp is magical. Yesterday’s campers are today’s counselors and tomorrow’s parents. If it was not for camp I am not sure I would have been blessed with the loving, powerful, and thoughtful critique from a five-year old. Jewish camp has cultivated in me the desire, skills, and confidence to be a more accessible and loving parent.

Shanah Tova -May we all be blessed to make more space for more loving voices this year.

– Reposted from the Canteen

Visit Early

I have been hearing from a lot of people that they are surprised that the High Holidays are so early this year. While this is the earliest that the Jewish calendar comes in the Gregorian calendar year, Rosh HaShanah is always the first of Tishrei, the first month of the Hebrew calendar. While this creates a staffing issue for some camps, New Year “starting so early” has created a wonderful educational opportunity.  It is not every summer that we are able to herald the coming of Elul, the 12th month of the Hebrew calendar, while we are still up at camp. With the advent of Elul we start the daily blowing the shofar and reading of L’David Ori (Psalm 27).

According to Hasidic thinking the days of Elul are the time when “the King is in the field.”  The metaphor follows that gaining an audience with the King during Tishrei is a whole to-do. We must travel to the capital city, arrange an appointment, and then get permission to enter the palace. And even then it may be days or weeks before we are finally allowed to enter. When we do finally get to see the King, the audience is likely to be short and very formal. There seems to be a lot of pressure with of the people in line behind you. Since very few of us actually live in the capital city, these royal surroundings we experience during the High Holidays makes us feel out-of-place. By the time we get there we might have even forgotten why we came to seek the audience of the King in the first place.

Once a year, the King leaves the capital to visit the various constituents of the Kingdom. According to the Rabbi Schneur Zalman (the first Lubavicher Rebbe) during Elul “anyone who desires is granted permission and can approach the King and greet the King. The King received them all pleasantly, and shows a smiling countenance to all” (Likkutei Torah, Re’eh 32b) Now a King can’t just enter a city unannounced. This explains the Shofar. Here in the field the formality is transformed into familiarity. The common folk are allowed to come out to greet the King and receive blessings. During Elul, with limited effort the King is accessible. We just need to go out and greet the King.

Camp is an amazing place where many of us had our first experience of spirituality in nature. If there was only a way we could bring those experiences home with us. This resonates with a message from L’David Ori. There we read:

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the graciousness of the Lord, and to visit early in God’s temple.  (Psalms 27:4)

But how might we “dwell in the house of the Lord” all year long? How can we bring camp home with us?

In my five years working at the Foundation for Jewish Camp I have noticed a growing sense of camps working together. There is a reality that camp is camp. And Jewish camp is all about Joyous Judaism. They are not in competition, in reality as they continue to differentiate themselves we as a field are able to reach the broad and diverse needs of our community. Like every other summer, we at the FJC hit the road to see the camps that we work with year round. I have had the joy of experiencing the growth of this field. There is a sense of the significance and sense of common purpose which lends a certain valiance of spirituality to our work. Going from camp to camp we can share with the directors a grand vision of the varieties of expressions of robust Jewish life and how it animates the cultures created in each camp’s community. Each camp is creating an environment in which their campers and staff feel that they belong, make a difference, and are part of something bigger then themselves. In these moments we can experience the mystery, magic, and majesty of Jewish peoplehood.

With the advent of Elul we all have a chance to think about this upcoming year. If you love Jewish camp, want to learn from it, contribute to it, or find a way to connect to that sense of belonging like we did in that field at camp join us this March 23-25, 2014 Leaders Assembly 2014: One Field Moving Forward. Have a wonderful New Year.

– As seen on FJC Blog

A TED Prep for the High Holidays

Over Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur we will get to recite the Unetanneh Tokef, a medieval a piyyutThere we read:

On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by upheaval, who by plague, who by strangling, and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted. But Repentance, Prayer, and Charity avert the severe Decree!”

It always seems rather graphic to imagine the various ways that people might die, but perhaps that is what makes this piyyut so memorable. There seems to be some significance to thinking about death in order to get the high of the High Holidays.  I was thinking about this when I saw recent TED talk. It is totally worth watching.

I think that Candy Chang summarized her talk and the High Holidays well in saying, “Preparing for death is one of the most empowering things you can do. Thinking about death clarifies your life.” I know that I will be thinking about what I would write on a wall in the next 10 days.  We know that ” Repentance, Prayer, and Charity avert the severe Decree”, but it also seems that public art and sharing our inner most thoughts with others might also do the trick. Might we pursue ways of doing the same in our own communities( check out the website).

2nd Quadrant

As I prepare for Rosh HaShana I have been giving some thought to how I might better use my time this coming  year. I got to thinking about Stephen Covey ‘s Four Quadrants. I have found this concept of a time management matrix for prioritizing very helpful. The system asks you to use of four quadrants to determine the tasks you “need” to do and deciding what should be made a priority. For those who are not familiar with it, here’s a picture and a brief overview.

  • In Quadrant 1 (top left) we have important, urgent items – items that need to be dealt with immediately.
  • In Quadrant 2 (top right) we have important, but not urgent items – items that are important but do not require your immediate attention, and need to be planned for.  This quadrant is highlighted because this is the quadrant that we should focus on for long-term achievement of goals
  • In Quadrant 3 (bottom left) we have urgent, but unimportant items –  items which should be minimized or eliminated. These activities suck a lot of out time.
  • In Quadrant 4 (bottom right) we have unimportant and also not urgent items – items that don’t have to be done anytime soon, perhaps add little to no value and also should be minimized or eliminated.

In Covey’s words we should create habits that put “first things first to achieve effectiveness. Too often decisions are guided by the “clock” of scheduling and not by the “compass” of purpose and values. In Covey’s words, if people want “to live, to love, to learn, and to leave a legacy” they need to move beyond “urgency” . We need to strive to spend more of our time in the Quadrant 2.

So while preparing for the upcoming Jewish and academic years I get to reading the end of Nitzavim, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

15 See, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil, 16 in that I command you this day to love the Lord your God, to walk in God’s ways, and to keep God’s commandments and God’s statutes and God’s ordinances; then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God shall bless you in the land when you go in to possess it. 17 But if your heart turn away, and you will not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; 18 I declare to you this day, that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days upon the land, when you pass over the Jordan to go in to possess it. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that you may live, you and your seed. (Deuteronomy 30: 15-19)

It is interesting to realize that our lives are on a clock. We have no idea how long we have, but we do know that our time on earth is finite. It is also interesting to realize that the words “good and evil” are charged with meaning in the Bible. I am not sure that there is absolute good and evil after Eden. I would assume that good actually means that something is serving the expressed will of God. So instead of reading this as a simple choice of two paths, I prefer to see our Torah portion in the context of Covey’s Four Quadrants. While we hope to spend the most of our time doing things that are urgent and good, I have to realize that there are many things that take our time and are not mission aligned. I am not sure that they are false gods, but they are clearly a waste of the precious little time I have and de facto bringing me closer to death.

And more importantly, how much of this upcoming year am I going to commit to doing the things that are not urgent, but are good? Spending our time in the 2nd Quadrant  is clearly the divine way. There is much I hope to accomplished in my life, what am I doing to do this year to prioritize my time to achieve it?  May we all be blessed to have a year in the 2nd Quadrant.

Shanah Tova– Have a wonderfully sweet and mission aligned New Year.


The Subtle Sound of Purpose

With Rosh Hashanah behind us and Yom Kippur right around the corner I am sure that I am not alone in trying to start this year in a meaningful way. It is hard to escape the haunting language of the un’taneh tokef. There is one line from that prayer that I just could not get out of my head. We read time and again, “uvashofar gadol yitaka, v’kol d’mama daka yishama – The great shofar will be sounded, and the still small voice will be heard.” To quote P.D. Eastman “Big dogs need big beds and little dogs need little beds.” I would have assumed that a big shofar would be used to make a big noise. What are we to make of this little sound that is coming out of this big shofar?

According to Jewish Law, every fifty years we celebrate the Jubilee in which we release all slaves, land, and debts. The sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah last week announced the jubilee year, and the sound of the shofar on Yom Kippur will proclaim the actual release of financial encumbrances. It would not be so bold to claim that this great Shofar sound itself was the freedom we experience on this Jubilee year spiritually and physically.

And this “still small voice: is an allusion to the revelation Elijah experienced at Sinai. After traveling for forty days and forty nights, Elijah is the first person after Moses to return to Sinai. When he got there he took shelter in a cave and God asked him what he is doing there. Elijah evaded the question. God asked Elijah to go outside the cave and “stand before the Lord.” A terrible wind passed, but God was not in the wind. A great earthquake shook the mountain, but God was not in the earthquake. Then a fire passed the mountain, but God was not in the fire. Then a “still small voice” comes to Elijah and asks again, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (I Kings 19:13)

In many ways the essence of these High Holy Days is our being able to answer Elijah’s question. Why are we here? Whether that is in synagogue, at a family gathering, or on this planet, all of us need to think about why we are here. Even if you do not have an answer to this question, can we imagine what it might feel like to have one? How liberating would that be? Living a life with purpose might not be flashy or make a huge noise, but it will surely free us from a meaningless existence.

Seeing that this is the time of year that we are all doing our personal accounting, I have to ask myself why I work for the Foundation for Jewish Camp. This past summer I asked a camp director how we might measure success for his campers after spending the summer at his camp. He responded, “Well I am not sure this is what you are looking for, but many parents have reported that they are getting more hugs from their children.” As we get ready for Yom Kipper we are all thinking about being accountable. I think we should hear the sound of the great Shofar and listen up for the small stuff. For many campers, camp is the first time in their lives that they have the feeling of belonging. Camp is where they will discover their purpose. While it might seem subtle, as a parent I can tell you that knowing my children live with purpose is profound and resonating sound of freedom.

Gmar Chatima Tova – Have a good and significant ending.

-See Foundation for Jewish Camp Blog

By Any Other Name- Happy New Year

Tonight starts Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year. It is interesting in that there are many names for this holiday.  It is known as Yom Harat Olam – The Birthday of the World. Tonight we commemorate the day that the world was created. Rosh HaShanah is also known as Yom Teruah – the day of sounding the Shofar for obiovus reasons in that we are commanded to listen to the Shofar as the coronation of God as King. Rosh HaShanah is also known as Yom HaDin – the Day of Judgment. We can discuss if this is the end or the beginning of this process of Judgement. And of course we could not forget that tonight starts Yom HaZikaron– the Day of Remembrance. What else might we have to remember?

So we clearly have the creation of the world. We also have a personal accounting for the year our personal histories, and particularly our behaviour over the last year. Some claim that it is in memory of the Akedah. This binding of Isaac represents the first of a our long history of national existential crises. We read this portion on Rosh HaShanah and it is the tradition that the binding happened on this day, first of Tishrei. While Abraham was the first Jew by choice, Isaac was the first person born Jew. This not being sacrificed in some ways represents the recreation of the first Jew. This Shofar itself reminds of the Ram sacrificed in Isaac’s place on the altar. In an interesting way it also serves to announce Isaac. While God is the true King, we too connect to our royalty on this holiday.

So one question I have is if  tomorrow is really Yom Harat Olam? According to the Talmud Rosh Hashanah there are two opinions as to the date of God’s creation of the universe. According to Rabbi Eliezer, “The world was created in Tishrei,” that is the sixth day of creation, which is the day of which Adam and Eve were created, was the first of Tishrei, celebrated each year as Rosh Hashanah. According to Rabbi Joshua, “The world was created in Nisan.”(Rosh Hashanah 10b-11a) Which isYom Harat Olam, Rosh HaShanah or Rosh Hodesh Nissan? Some mystics resolved this question by claiming that the physical world was created in Tishrei, while the “supernal idea” of creation had emerged earlier, in the month of Nisan.

When the Torah is discussing Nissan is says:

1 Observe the month of Aviv, and keep the Passover for the Lord your God; for in the month of Aviv the Lord your God brought you out of Egypt by night. 2 And you shall sacrifice the Passover-offering for the Lord your God, of the flock and the herd, in the place which the Lord shall choose to cause God’s name to dwell there. 3 You shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt you eat unleavened bread with it, even the bread of affliction; for in haste did you come forth out of the land of Egypt; that you may remember the day when you came forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life. (Deuteronomy 16:1-3)

Which is Yom Harat Olam seems connected to knowing which is Yom HaZikaron? What are we trying to remember?  Tomorrow is the day we recall the sparing of the first Jew at the hands of his father. In Nissan we remember the sparing of the Israelites from the hands of the Egyptians. I might feel differently come Nissan,  but for now with so many looming existential crises right now in Israel and in the rest of world, it seems not to matter. We could use as many reminders in a year or in a day as we can.  Regardless if we experience issues as personal, familial, tribal, local,  regional, state, national, global, we all need fixing. In the immortal words of George Santayana , “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. I hope that when we hear the sound of the Shofar we  find a way to return to a better relationships in our lives and in our own way be “reborn” and recreated for the coming year. May we all be remembered well and  judged favorably.

Shanah Tova- Gmar Chatima Tova

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