Last Friday I found myself suffering from nausea and dizziness so severe I couldn't stand or walk without collapsing (or running to the porcelain gawd). It was, thankfully, a sinus/inner ear infection that was ruining my balance: it surely made me miserable but nothing antibiotics and a serious decongestant couldn't solve, given enough time. And blessedly I'm surrounded by incredibly supportive family and reliable colleagues, like Rabbi Brian Eng and Cantor Mark Stanton, who filled in for me Friday and Saturday morning last week, so I could let the drugs take hold before the bar mitzvah and Selichot services.
This was followed by the first day of religious school, which was AMAZING, with so many new and familiar faces and a real sense of community. In that same day, I had my first rehearsal for my Rosh Hashanah Torah readers (who are awesome), confirmation orientation, and a beautiful wedding in Philadelphia.
We also suffered a terrible loss in our congregation as a longtime member passed, and was memorialized yesterday.
And there was wonderful 'regular' work: meeting with colleagues (in both Jewish and interfaith settings), bar mitzvah meetings, easing the minds of new parents in the religious school, some Jewish Values Online work, and a few building issues ('cause you know, it's a synagogue, there are ALWAYS building issues).
And personally, this was the week that was most transitional for my son in Kindergarten, as the novelty wore off and he really began to adjust, with all the struggles that go with hat.
All this in the midst of the last pieces of High Holiday prep. To say that something had to give would be an understatement, so the blogging fell by the wayside.
I suppose I could have tweeted more little things here and there, but as much as I've learned to enjoy that venue, I still prefer the 'longform' approach of a blog. In the same way that it takes 15 minutes for a rabbi to clear his throat (was that an Arnold Jacob Wolf z'l joke?), it takes more than 140 characters for this rabbi to flesh out his thoughts, at least. Even if I may just be sharing a quote by Heschel or a Hasidic story.
So, as we enter the last Shabbat of 5772, allow me to offer my sermon for tonight as a way of anticipating the new year and to complete my Elul 'assignment', and as penance for my absence from the past week. Look to this space for my High Holiday sermons as they go 'live'.
May your new year be one full of blessing, of peace and of meaningful choices, of acceptance and justice, of engagement and love.
Rabbi Yair D. Robinson
It hovers in dark corners before the lights are turned on.
It is the mouth that inflates the lungs of the child that has just been born.
It is the singular gift we cannot destroy in ourselves, the argument that refutes death, the genius that invents the future, all we know of God.
It is the serum which makes us swear not to betray one another.
I am, of course, speaking of Hope, at least as the poet Lisel Mueller imagines it. It’s a word that has, of late, gotten ill use. And we know why: we look in our world, in our communities and wonder to ourselves how the barbarians are seemingly at the gates, how we live in a world that has gone topsy-turvy, that any thought of ‘hopey-changey’ stuff is at best irrational exuberance (as Alan Greenspan might say), and at worst, hokum.
This is especially true in this season, as we bid farewell to one year and welcome another, as we prepare ourselves for Cheshbon Nefesh, the accounting of the soul that comes with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is a time of introspection, and like students asked to grade their own work, we find ourselves lacking. Or, as a friend recently posted, Introspection... that's usually a word that means, "What did I do wrong?” But hope, as we just heard, is essential, and constant. As much as we dwell on our misdeeds and mistakes in the past year, there is also the possibility of turning, of teshuvah, of asking “how might I improve?”
This week, in Parashat Nitzavim, which is also our portion for Yom Kippur morning, after Moses reminds Israel of the choices before them, and fulminates against idol worship or self-congratulatory self-worship, he then says, “Surely, this mitzvah which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens…neither is it beyond the sea…no, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.”
It’s one of the most beautiful phrases in all of Torah, a reminder—no, a loving embrace—that reminds Israel and all of us that our goals—God’s goals—are not so daunting, that we are not so distant from the promised land, that we have not been set up to fail. Rather, our ‘is’ and our ‘ought to be’ are closer than we think, than we give ourselves credit. And as we move through the High Holidays, and do the real work of teshuvah, of repentance, we should remember that we are not defined by our mistakes, but rather how we choose to repair them.
Raba said: at the final judgment we are asked:
Were you honest in business?
Did you set aside time for learning?
Did you look beneath the surface?
Did you ponder the inner meaning of what you saw?
Did you live with hope?
We await judgment, we prepare for atonement. May we live with Hope. Amen.