Hope the week was good. My thoughts this week moved between the Torah portion and the upcoming High Holidays. Then, I realized how much they speak to each other. This week’s parshah is Nitzavim and it starts with Moses as he declares to Israel: ‘Here you all stand’ – all of Israel standing before God, and I can’t help but think of the High Holidays.
Nitzavim – here we all stand. We bring with us the truth of who we are, in all our strengths and our weaknesses.
Moses stands facing his imminent death and Israel stands looking at an unknown future – here we all stand.
Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of our Jewish new year, is not always remembered as our Day of Judgment. However, another name for the holiday is: Yom Hadin, the Day of Judgment. God makes decisions about humanity that will then be sealed on Yom Kippur. I find myself caught between the daunting aspects of the holiday and the celebration of sitting with my family.
We stand together under the umbrella of Rosh Hashanah, with its major Divine decisions that sit above us, while we celebrate with each other down below. I cannot tell you the number of times I have dipped a piece of apple in honey, only to have the apple slip from my fingers into the honey bowl. It’s not like I could ignore that I just dropped my apple into the communal honey, but digging my fingers into the honey to retrieve my apple will only make it worse. The truth is, I actually don’t like honey. I love the concept of honey, the sweetness that comes as a result of the collective hive; the purity of it, the solid/liquid hybrid of it; the fact that it will inevitably end up in some little person’s hair… I love it all. The only thing I don’t like is the taste.
So I celebrate that the holiday revolves around honey, because for me it represents the wonderful, funny, and symbolic things that are less than perfect.
I remember, as a little girl, anticipating hearing the shofar. My teachers emphasized how important it is and my parents always made sure I came into the sanctuary especially to hear it. I also remember hearing it and thinking a cow was baying at the moon. I didn’t find it a strange sound, strange would be an understatement. I found it weird and jarring. The sound of a shofar is an acquired taste. But the more I acquire it, the more I love it.
The midrash tells us that the sound of the shofar is the matriarch, Sarah, crying and sobbing before God. She believes her son has been killed and so she cries, and then she sobs and then she hyperventilates and then she screams the most gut wrenching and soul wringing scream imaginable and those are the sounds of the shofar. They are strange, they are soulful and jarring and I love them.
The Rabbis also tell us that the physical sight of the shofar is our remembrance of the patriarch, Abraham. He brought the vision of a partnership between God and humanity to the world. He contracted his relationship with God to create an eternal inheritance for the Jewish people – and it cost him everything. He lost his wife, Sarah, and the relationship with his son, Isaac. His communication with God, toward the end of his life, is all but non-existent. What he gave the world is priceless, while the price he paid is unimaginable. The bent and curved appearance of the shofar is the bent and curved back of Abraham as he bears the price he paid.
I celebrate that the shofar brings me to my ancestors, Abraham and Sarah, in their glory and their humanity. I celebrate that they continue to lead us, through the shofar. It is magnificently strange and its sound is beautifully imperfect, as are we all.
Whether it is spelunking for my apple in the caverns of the honey bowl, or surrounding myself with everyone who makes the decision to go to shul, Rosh Hashanah will bring me to a moment of celebration. Yet, with all that, the most powerful spiritual moment will lead me back to this week’s parshah, as I remember Moses’ declaration:
Here we stand.
May we all be inscribed for a year of life, health, peace and sweetness.