Holidays

High Holidays, 5777

BS”D

“Yamim Noraim: Exiling the Exile”

Welcome Rabbi Schwarzman to Beth-El. Your gentle demeanor and gracious lovingkindness is kadosh. May the Source of Light guide you to shine a Sanctified joy upon our kehilla.

Year after year on Rosh Hashanah, G-d ousts us from the Garden of Eden just as Adam and Eve were expelled some 5,777 years ago. Then and there, they separate from G-d and seemingly from each other (“The woman You gave to stand with me gave me to eat from the Tree” [Genesis 3:12].) Dispirited, the first earthbound man and woman reject the infinite Image of G-d between them. Evil’s mayhem introduces intrigue. Inferno. Cain kills. Time is introduced. There is a Beginning. From Rosh HaShanah through Yom Kippur our mortal coil quivers. Righteous or not, our lives are atremble. The days of slack fear, unshakeable, certain. Miniature deaths accrue on Yom Kippur, phrase upon phrase. Trepidation in the sigh of our days. Even our whispers are frayed. The knot of our naught is in evidence.

Humanity remains estranged from HaShem. Can’t sense G-d’s airing in our nose. Still, Eden tasks us all to seek the Face of G-d, those first heavenly breaths into our family. This is G-d’s birth kiss into us, that we may partner in the Creator’s Creation. Eden waits in innocence. How do we end our exile? By preserving the gasp of the Eibishter’s Eternity in our children.

We, Jews, live a double exile: out of Eden and out of Tzion ever since the destruction of the second Temple in 70 CE. How can we be homeward bound to two places? Our sages teach that when the Jewish diaspora ends, then paradise will also restore. There will be an in-gathering of all of Israel. Every mitzvah we enact fortifies our partnership with G-d toward perfecting this world and bringing Eden near again.

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According to Judaism, we have two approaches toward the Al-Mighty: G-d–fearing (yirat haShamayim) and/or G-d–loving (ahavat HaShem.) Fear encases the vulnerability of love, restraining our basest impulses along with our highest potential. Fear of G-d is the beginning of wisdom, as it is written: Reshit chochma yirat HaShem (Psalms 111:10). And yet, to interact with G-d through fear alone is cowardice. Love posits bravery as love entails risk. In love we blaze beyond the easy meekness of fear, blunder through thick fogs of doubt, and crawl out onto the precipices of chance. This demands a purposed will. It says in the Shema: strive to love G-d with all your heart, soul, and effort. We reflect on this as we transition through these “terrible days.”

Rosh HaShanah is our birthstool, and with Yom Kippur—eight days later, as the bris follows birth by eight days—comes our last newborn gasp. We are exiled from Eden and witness our own wilderness where shortfalls and obstacles collide with us. Put plainly, Yom Kippur is the day we face our own death, the day our neshama (our breathing soul) confronts us—nay, prosecutes us in her Heavenly tribunal. The incorruptible soul exposes all our cheats, lies, and coverups. Self-deceit does not fly on Yom Kippur. Being on the defensive vis-à-vis G-d is petrifying. To anticipate the parries and ripostes of the Eibishter is pure shadowboxing. Such a stance may be nightmarish, but it is not true yirat HaShem; this is not the naked humility of atonement, where we are open to being sacrificed. We have to Yitzhak-kneel before the knife on the altar. Our Sturm und Drang is also the beginning of prayer.

But our Judge employs gentle lovingkindness, g’milut chasadim, just as readily as strict justice. We are judged by the rubric of our own private drive to closeness with G-d. Genuine prayer expresses a bottomless gratitude for the life we are living, and a willingness to boldly honour this gift. Chazan Guber opens the gates of Heaven for us at Beth-El every Shabbat. Some of us dare enter.

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Yom Kippur, the Day of Judgment, flickers in the background of each holiday, probing our spiritual authenticity. Each holiday contains its own reckoning. We just commemorated Tisha b’Av. The Yom Kippur of Tisha b’Av is an accusatory demand from G-d: Why, O Israel, have you not, in your generation, restored the Temple? Why are My people still scattered in galut and Eretz Yisrael still unredeemed? According to the Talmud, we justify and accrue to the Temple’s destruction with each passing year we fail to restore it, and the exile smarts from jaundiced prayers. Tisha b’Av is a witness to all our weaknesses. We no longer know how to cry through our dried-in tears. Starving for twenty-five hours may be a worthy exercise in discipline, but it is a hollow hallow we live now, and spiritual words dissipate in the face of its fossilized falsehood. Are we Jews not beautiful enough to cry for Zion these days? Or does Yerushalayim—a city whose name means “the visible peace”—weep for us?

Malcontent was how I felt, when I stumbled upon an article from Rabbi Cardozo in Jerusalem. That patronym, Cardozo, represents one of the most prominent families in all of Judaism. The rabbi asked: How can I cry when I look out my window and watch the beauty of flourishing Jewish life? Our people sing their song from Tzion once again. Jeremiah’s generation has at long last dissipated. Eicha’s gasp is now grasped into Shir HaShirim. A new niggun wafts through the old air. And I realize, too, that our people cannot diminish the joy now permitted to us in the Holy Land. My grandfather, a Hasidic Jew, had already stopped fasting the full day of Tisha b’Av even before 1967, so strong was the effect of the atzmaut. My father traveled around the world to proclaim to Jewish leadership the miracle of Yom Yerushalayim, the 28th of Iyar, which he avers to be the greatest holiday in our calendar. The thunder of Meshiach is rolling and advancing, and the spirit of our people has resurrected. Meshiach will bring the Third Temple if and when G-d wills it, but we are already beginning to envision the Temple in a canopy over the world. There is no longer only a Yom Kippur backdrop of yirat HaShem to each holiday, but also a Yom Yerushalayim in the foreground, posing its questions of ahavat HaShem and challenging our fear to fall away. Rejoice. The Yom Kippur of Yom Yerushalayim demands a reckoning with the realities of exile, but the Yom Yerushalayim of Yom Kippur already eagerly anticipates and participates in the messianic age.

G-d-fearing means the fear of losing the Face of G-d within yourself.  Love is cleaving to the Face of G-d beyond yourself.  And perhaps G-d’s fear for us is that we remain unaware of the vastness of His love for us. In G-d’s world, everything reduces to variations of ahavat HaShem, brilliant rays of light we cannot fully perceive until we pass through the birth canal of haOlam haBah. Gan Eden is enterable. May we all continue to sublimate our fear into ever-daring love, and may we continue to rebuild the lost world so that joy increases its gleam upon G-d’s earth. G-d will lead us out of galut. Ki m’Tzion tetze Torah u’devar haShem m’Yerushalayim. L’shanah tovah tikatevu. Amen — R,K,K,T,B,D,S. (Cahana family)

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