Posts Tagged 'Rosh HaShana'



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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