Friday, February 20, 2015

Doing something By Heart - Reflections on Parsha Terumah

I was sent a lovely Shabbat greeting earlier today by Jewish poet Stacey Zisook Robinson that she had read somewhere else. It was the words of a 5th grade child who had said: ‘God made me by heart.’  It was a beautiful sentiment and one that could take us to very deep places if we sat and contemplated it a while.  But I was struck at the timing of the message, coinciding with this particular Shabbat – Shabbat Terumah – which begins with the words, ‘Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him.’

What does it mean to do something by heart?  In colloquial terms, it often means to know something by memory. But even in the everyday contexts to which we might apply the phrase, that definition doesn’t really do it justice. I know that even when there were times in my youth when I tried to commit a piece of music or a poem to memory, if I truly had something down ‘by heart’ it was much deeper than that. Relying on my memory I’d often get mixed up, or second-guess myself and make mistakes. But truly knowing something ‘by heart’ meant that I had deeply integrated it within myself – it had become a part of me, and sharing it was a way of now expressing a part of me.
There are countless idiomatic expressions in the English language that rely on the heart.  Just a few examples: (found at Idiom Connection)
at heart
- basically, essentially, what one really is rather than what one appears to be
The man seems to be angry all the time but actually he is a very gentle person at heart.
close to (someone's) heart
- an idea or something that is important to you and that you care about
The plan to improve the downtown area is very close to the mayor's heart.
find it in one's heart to (do something)
- to have the courage or compassion to do something
from the bottom of one`s heart
- with great feeling, sincerely
The girl thanked the man from the bottom of her heart for saving her dog`s life.
have a heart-to-heart talk with (someone)
to have a sincere and intimate talk with someone
open one`s heart to (someone)
- to talk about one`s feelings honestly, to confide in someone
with all one`s heart (and soul)
-       with all one's energy and feeling

To do something by heart is to do something that deeply expresses some essential aspect of our self. I love the idea that ‘God made us by heart’ – it expresses so beautifully something of what it might mean to be made in God’s likeness. And when the Children of Israel were asked that those whose hearts moved them should contribute to the Mishkan – the Tabernacle that represents the Presence of God in their midst, this notion then becomes reciprocal. In fact, I think it goes deeper than that. When the Children of Israel do something with all their heart – something that innately expresses an essential piece of who each one of them is (and they do that by bringing not only things but also the talents and skills that they possess to the job of building the Mishkan), they actually manifest God’s Presence in their midst.

This is a powerful lesson. The notion that, by being fully present and sharing something of our deepest sense through our gifts and our giving, we are actually manifesting the God Who Dwells Among Us.  And we, mere human beings, have the power to do this because our essential selves are, in turn, a manifestation of an aspect of God’s essence. All we need to do is search within, and then let it out.

So each and every one us of can ask ourselves the question, ‘What can I do ‘by heart’ to build the mishkan in my home, my congregation, my community, my world?’  The Children of Israel were given the gift of an opportunity – to help create a great symbol that would travel with them throughout the wilderness journeys to remind them how to manifest God in their midst. What reminders do we need? How can this place  - this holy space – provide us with the reminders that we need to live more of life ‘by heart?’  We say that the study of Torah leads us to a life of mitzvot – the spiritual practice of being together, hearing Torah together, praying for and with each other… this is our modern Mishkan, and it is one place to start.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Four stages of Redemption – Why the Freedom story for African Americans is incomplete

This posting is a version of the sermon I gave last Friday, for MLK Weekend

It is appropriate that tonight is a Torah Shabbat where we find ourselves in the early chapters of Sh’mot – the 2nd book of the Torah – Exodus.  We find our ancestors have become slaves in Egypt, and we begin the narrative that will lead to our redemption. And this is Martin Luther King Jr Weekend.  Martin Luther King Jr – an inspiring leader and orator who drew heavily on the freedom narrative in the Torah to point the way forward for this country.

And while we remember and celebrate his legacy, and can clearly look back and see the progress that has been made since he led the fight for civil rights for African Americans, recent events continue to remind us that their freedom story is incomplete.  Just this week, major highways around Boston were shut down during the morning commute by those protesting to keep reminding us that Black Lives Matter and there is a systemic set of problems that have not been satisfactorily addressed in our country where our African American brother and sisters are concerned. The picture is more complicated and nuanced than in MLK’s time. ‘How can it be’, we ask, ‘that we can live in an era where a person of color is President of the USA, and yet such inculcated and systemic racism continues to be present in our society?’

Let’s take a look at this week’s parsha, and the midrashim that our Rabbis spun from this text to reflect on what freedom and redemption truly look like, as these insights can inform our understanding of why there is more work to be done in our society today.

Let’s begin with a core text that becomes the basis for the 4 cups of wine at a Passover Seder:

Exodus 6:6-7:
6 “Say, therefore, to the Children of Israel, ‘I am the Eternal, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.
7 ‘Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Eternal your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.

The Midrash on these two verses gives us the historical background:
“There are four expressions of redemption: I will bring you out—I will deliver you—I will redeem you and I will take you. These correspond to the four decrees which Pharaoh issued regarding them. The Sages accordingly ordained four cups to be drunk on the eve of Passover to correspond with these four expressions, in order to fulfill the verse: I will lift up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord (Psalm 116:13).”

The Jerusalem Talmud expands on this:
“Why do we have four cups of wine? R. Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Benayah, this refers to four stages in the redemption. . . “I will bring you out from under the burdens of Egypt.” Even if God had left us in Egypt to be slaves, God would have ceased the burdensome yoke. For this alone we would have been grateful to Him and therefore we drink the first cup. “I will deliver you from their slavery.” We drink the cup of salvation for God delivered us completely from serving them. “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm . . . .” Because God confused them and crushed them on our behalf so that they could no longer afflict us, we drink the third cup. “I will take you . . . .” The greatest aspect of the redemption is that God brought us near and granted us also spiritual redemption. For this we raise the fourth cup.

What these Rabbis are teaching us is that true freedom does not happen in a single act. True freedom is never simply the removal of one kind of enslavement or limitation. We can look back at the Torah narrative and see that our ultimate state of freedom was represented by first escaping from slavery in Egypt. But then we began a period of wandering. We received Revelation and we are presented with a whole system of laws, practices and ethical principles that provide the scaffolding for a society that can better ensure the redemptive possibilities for all, albeit through the limited lens of society at that time (where slaves were still permitted, and women were not equal to men).
Finally, we are able to enter the Promised Land. This is the place where we have the ability for true self-realization, where no other group determine what is possible for us.

We can highlight a similar set of steps when we pull back the lens of history and look at the longer perspective. Jews took a giant leap in the redemptive journey when the era of Enlightenment in Europe brought us the status of full citizens. However, as our history cruelly demonstrated to us, this alone could not secure our sense of freedom while a society continued to view us as ‘other’. Theodore Herzl understood this, and the world via the United Nations was finally willing to accept this after the Holocaust. And so the State of Israel came into being. Whether we choose to make it our home or not, its existence – even the troubled existence that it continues to have with its neighbors – provides a place of ultimate self-realization for us as a people.

And what of the African-American experience in the US? We see that significant stages of redemption have come into being. Freed from slavery. But then subject to Jim Crow laws. Civil rights granted, but other socio-economic and cultural factors continuing to make a less systematic but still present kind of segregation a reality in the lives of many.  Why is this still so?

There is one step in that ancient midrash that I skipped over – the step where God confuses and crushes Pharaoh and his army so that they can no longer oppress us. Hitler was defeated. The Jewish people won the war of Independence that had to be fought right after the modern State of Israel was declared. Is this step inevitable? Is the only way to truly arrive at redemption to overthrow those who were once the oppressors? No-one wants to see any kind of literal war in this country again. Having just returned from a vacation in Charleston and Savannah, I have a new awareness of the devastation wrought by America’s civil war. I hear fear expressed in voices that wonder whether peaceful protest might inflame some to literally fight back against our police forces; fears that might not be entirely unfounded given what has already transpired in recent weeks, even if only by the hand of one or two unstable and violent individuals. But I reject the inevitability or even the necessity as loudly as MLK Jr himself rejected violence as a means to accomplishing his ends.

Nevertheless, we have a real challenge that we, as a society, must be willing to confront. I look at the realities for many members of our African American communities and I recognize that those realities have been created by a complex set of systemic issues and remnants of a history of oppression that continues to leave its mark. Attempts that were made to rebalance society by providing additional points of entry into schools, colleges, the workplace, and the voting booth have actually been undone in recent years by many local and state legislative bodies. The Supreme Court itself has contributed to the undoing of some of these systems, however blunt and clumsy they might have been, that helped to level the playing field just a bit. This is not right. We must not, through our actions or through our silence, be contributors to the hand of Pharaoh that continues to shape the lives of African Americans in our country.

How can we do our part? There are many civil rights organizations who are leading the way at this time that we can work with and support. But there is no better place for us to start than our Reform movement’s very own Religious Action Center. Get on their mailing list. Respond to their calls for advocacy and action. They work with broad coalitions of organizations to help get legislation passed in Washington that can provide the system-wide structures through which change for the better can come. For example, right now you can sign up to support their call for the ‘End Racial Profiling Act’. The End Racial Profiling Act would legally prohibit racial profiling, ensure specialized instruction in federal law enforcement training, condition state and local governments’ receipt of federal funds on the successful adoption of anti-racial profiling policies, award Justice Department grants to state and local governments that best implement practices that defeat racial profiling, and position the U.S. Attorney General as watchdog to assess such practices.

At the end of February we will be taking our 10th grade Confirmation Class on our annual trip to learn with the Religious Action Center in Washington D.C. They will learn how their own powers of advocacy and action can be informed by Jewish values, and how to assess whether legislation being voted on by our politicians brings us closer to a vision of the kind of society we want to live in, or further from it. They end their trip with a visit to the offices of our Congressional and State legislators, to lobby on those issues that they most care about, on behalf of the membership of the approximately 900 Reform congregations in North America.

Don’t just leave this work to our teens. The journey to freedom is not complete until we can say of others, as we can say of ourselves that we have been brought out, delivered, redeemed and taken to a place where we have the potential for full self-realization within the society in which we live.  In 1958 as he stood before the American Jewish Congress, MLK said these words:
My people were brought to America in chains. Your people were driven here to escape the chains fashioned for them in Europe. Our unity is born out of our common struggle for centuries, not only to rid us of bondage, but to make oppression of any people by others an impossibility. 

Friends… we have work to do.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

What Noah can teach us about our response to Ebola

This is the drash that I shared at Congregation B'nai Shalom this past Shabbat, parsha Noah.

While the story of Noah and the ark is often told as a charming children’s story, it is, of course, nothing of the sort. The idea that all life on our planet would be wiped out is quite horrifying. And, while Noah has our gratitude for ensuring the survival of the species and enabling life to begin again, later generations of commentators on our biblical story point out his flaws. He might have been ‘righteous in his generation’ but, they tell us, he would not have been considered so in future generations. Why not? Because, unlike Abraham, who argued with God for the survival of the evil cities of Sodom and Gemorrah if only 10 righteous people could be found living there, Noah dutifully saved his family and the animals he was instructed to collect, but did nothing to try and save the rest of humanity.

We know definitively that the story of Noah that we find in the Torah is a flood story but is not the flood story. It shares many similarities with other ancient myths about floods, including ones that predate the likely approximate timeframe of ours. So we’re not reading history here. Yet what our version introduces that is a variant on an older telling is a moral element.  The biblical telling emphasizes the destructive consequences of human immoral behavior. The rabbinic commentaries emphasize the morally deficient position of Noah who raises the drawbridge on the ark and closes his eyes to the rest of the world.

This past week I haven’t been able to stomach listening to US news channels for more than about 2 minutes at a time. Based on the wall-to-wall coverage, it would appear that the rest of the world has entirely disappeared. It might as well be underwater right now. We appear not to be able to see it at all. Instead, with highly charged, urgent voices,  news commentators seem to leading a nationwide panic attack that obsessively reviews every remote possibility that someone with the Ebola virus has appeared in our ark. Politicians are arguing that the drawbridge should be fully up, all entrance-ways sealed, so that we keep this pernicious disease out.

Where is the compassion for the awful suffering in parts of Africa? Where is the nationwide call for $10 per text, and all the other ways that international health organizations usually mobilize us to raise millions quickly so that we can provide equipment, expertise, and ensure that vaccinations work and are quickly produced to be made available abroad?

And, while the scale is serious and action does need to be taken in African countries that are most severely affected, when it comes to the US, where is our sense of proportion?  John Stewart got it right with his coverage earlier this month:

After a series of clips of politicians and commentators announcing that we should do ‘whatever it takes’ to seal up our borders and keep Ebola out, Stewart remarks: ‘Wow, what a difference in Africa-US travel policy 150 years makes!’ He then goes on to make the more serious point, through another series of clips that Heart Disease is the leading cause of death among Americans, killing 600,000 a year. And yet, when the government comes out with proposals to bring healthier eating to American citizens, control what is served to children in schools, and other forms of preventative care, many of the same voices tell us that the government shouldn’t be telling us what to eat or what we can do.  He points out that estimates are that between 7,000 and 17,000 lives a year could be saved if we expanded Medicaid so that more people had access to healthcare in our States. And 88 people die from gun violence every day. So clearly ‘the government should do whatever it takes to save American lives’, Stewart points out, seems to have more to do with things that might enter our country from other places, and we seem to be somewhat more laissez-faire when it comes to the large number of things that we could be doing each and every day to save American lives from causes that affect an exponentially larger number of citizens.
What can you or I do to make a difference? If we have the means, perhaps a donation to Medicin sans frontiers, who are putting medics into Ebola-affected communities in Africa to try and stem the spread of the disease and tend to the sick. Or via American Jewish World Service, who are directing funds to their partner organizations in Liberia who are trying to better educate people about how to limit the spread of the disease.

The Story of Noah is several thousand years old. 2000 years ago our early rabbis were pointing out that Noah could have done more to try and save others rather than only saving himself. Now it is 2014. Jewish tradition put morality at the heart of the Flood myth. There are many ways we can apply those moral values to life-threatening situations in today’s world. Creating panic over the airwaves is not one of them. So tune out the TV pundits and the politicians, and tune into some of the ways we can turn outward and give a helping hand to another human being who is drowning and need of our support.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

#BlogElul 23: You turn my mourning into dancing

Today's blog is dedicated to the memory of Mordecai Levow
my father-in-law

Yizkor on Yom Kippur is ... not about human frailty or the futility of human endeavors. Yizkor on Yom Kippur is about the power of others to affect us, about our power to affect others, about the power of the dead and the living to continue to affect each other. Yizkor on Yom Kippur is ... not simply about remembering the dead, by about attempting to effect change in our relationships with the dead and thus to effect change in ourselves and in our relationships with those who are still among the living.
(Rabbi Margaret Moers Wenig, in the CCAR Draft machzor, forthcoming 2015, Mishkan haNefesh, Yizkor service)

I've missed a number of days of Elul to blog because my father-in-law died last Wednesday. After his funeral in Florida on Friday morning, my wife and her sister returned to sit shiva at our home in Massachusetts. What happened over those days was a reflection of how love, healing, and change are truly what the rituals of remembrance are about, and enable us to do.  For those who joined us for multiple nights of shiva, the change that occurred over those days as memories and reflections were shared was quite evident, and powerful for many.

Without sharing the specifics here, the journey we took was one that first confronted the past, and acknowledged the challenge of engaging with memory in the face of difficult relationships. Yet, with the honesty of needing to acknowledge the challenges, the blessings that emerged from those life experiences were also evident.  On the following night, more family members gathered and a broader range of perspectives and memories were shared. There were many moments of laughter. There was a release - the laughter not only lifted the weight of some of the challenging memories, but also opened up the banks of memories that were positive and powerful. And so, by the third night, new stories had been laid bare and had risen to the surface. There were words of forgiveness, acceptance, and love.  By the fourth night, in a beautiful, spontaneous sharing and connecting of memories and reflections connected to the words of specific prayers as we davenned (prayed) the ma'ariv (evening) service, there was a sense of completeness. We were speaking of a life lived, and memories that we carry with us, but embedded into the heart of the tefilot that were so much a part of Mordecai's being that, when advanced dementia had taken almost all else from him, davenning was the only activity that he could still do, in short bouts.

In the forthcoming CCAR machzor, Mishkan haNefesh, we find a version of precisely how we did our remembrances on the last night of shiva.  We are offered 7 paths, where readings, psalms and reflective texts are woven around the 7 thematic blessings of the Tefilah, or Amidah prayer, the central prayer of our Shabbat and Festival liturgy.  There is an abundance of material - many, many years worth of exploration and contemplation. There is a clear recognition that everyone remembers differently. There are ways to remember children who died too young. There is a prayer in memory of a parent who was hurtful. There are words to remember one who died violently. There are words to remember dearly beloved ones. And so many more.

As we return to Yizkor, year after year, we do not necessarily have to engage in the memories in the same way. With the passage of time, and the ways we remember may we, as invited by Rabbi Wenig in the reflection above, find the possibility to change our relationships with the dead, and thus effect change in ourselves and in our relationships with those who are still among the living.

Monday, September 8, 2014

#BlogElul 13: Buying forgiveness on credit

Avinu Malkeinu - one of the central prayers associated with the High Holy Days. I remember a congregant in my last community commenting on how uncomfortable she felt reciting the long list of 'asks' that this prayer contains:
Avinu Malkeinu - listen to our voice!
Avinu Malkeinu - let our hands overflow with Your blessings.
Avinu Malkeinu - do not turn us away from You with nothing.
Avinu Malkeinu- listen to our voice; treat us with tender compassion.

On and on it goes - these are just a sampling of the lines. My congregant asked, 'Isn't this the ultimate act of chutzpah? What right do we have to make these demands of God?'

She had a good point. And it reminded me of a story that I once heard Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z'l tell. He describes a time when you would go to the General Store and you'd ask the shopkeeper behind the counter, 'Can I have a ball of string?' and the shopkeeper would go to the shelves behind the counter and bring down a ball of string. 'Can I have a yard of cloth?' 'Can I have a dozen cans of this' and 'half a dozen boxes of that'.  So it would continue, and the shopkeeper would pull down all the items on your order list and pile them on the counter. At the end he would calculate the total bill. And, embarrassed but hopeful the man would respond, 'I don't have any money to pay you, but may I take these items that I need nevertheless?!'

You can imagine how that would go in real life. But at the end of Avinu Malkeinu, we acknowledge as much in the closing line:
Avinu Malkeinu, chonainu vaaneinu, ki ein banu maasim - aseh imanu tzedakah vachesed, v'hoshieinu.
Avinu Malkeinu, Almighty and Merciful - answer us with grace, for our deeds our wanting. Save us through acts of justice and love. 
(translation from the forthcoming CCAR machzor, Mishkan haNefesh)

We ask for the response to our pleas to come as an act of grace. That's not language that we are used to associating with Judaism, but it is, in fact, very present in our liturgy and many of our teachings. Ki ein banu maasim - because there isn't anything in our deeds.  We showed up the store without any money to pay for our requests.

Here is how I translate these words into more contemporary concepts that speak to our inner lives. When I really engage in the work of the High Holy Days and look deeply at myself, there is plenty to cause me disappointment. We are often pretty harsh judges of ourselves. And here we are, in an act of chutzpah, hoping that life will be good anyway. That we will be forgiven for our failings. Can we give to others what we ask for ourselves? Can we respond to others from a place of grace? We go to the store without credit, but one of the ways we can acquire credit is by paying it forward.

Living more of life with that awareness we understand that only through acts of tzedakah and chesed can we change the meaning of our lives. Its not about what we have or haven't got. A lot of life 'just happens'; we like to think we are in control, but that's seldom the reality. So we're never going to be able to 'pay' for our fate through our deeds. Because it doesn't really work that way. Acting morally doesn't buy us more life, but it does enable us to practice and to receive forgiveness. Because it gives us the tools we need to be authentically remorseful and try to make amends when we mess up. And that is the answer, from a place of grace, that we seek.  Remind us, as we pray, that we can change the quality of our existence, and the existence of others, through our acts. This is how salvation comes to this life and this world. 
Avinu Malkeinu - our deeds are wanting; help us to do a little bit more in the year to come.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

#BlogElul 7: To be - I am alive again

When the new edition of a Reform Siddur for Shabbat and Festivals, Mishkan Tefilah, was published a few years ago, some of the changes and some of the choices embedded in the liturgy necessitated conversations in congregations about how we would pray some of the prayers.

One example was the second paragraph of the Amidah, often referred to as the ‘Gevurot’ (strength/power), for it begins with the phrase, ata gibor l’olam Adonai – Your power is eternal, Adonai. In earlier generations of Reform prayer books a change had been made to the language of this prayer as you would find it in a Conservative or Orthodox prayer book. In three instances the traditional prayer referred to God as m’chayey hameitim, literally ‘who brings the dead back to life’. For decades in Reform congregations we recited this prayer with a change in the wording, declaring m’chayey hakol – who gives life to all things. Conceptually, this didn’t rule out the idea, discussed in early rabbinic sources, that one day the dead would come back to life. But neither did it assert this doctrinal belief in the way that the traditional phrase seemed to do so definitively.

So why, when a new edition of a Siddur was created, do we now find the words ‘hameitim’ offered in brackets as an alternative choice to ‘hakol’? There were those who argued that there were allegorical ways of understanding ‘who brings the dead back to life’ and that we could use the more ancient liturgical language without having to accept a messianic doctrine of the revival of the dead. We all have times when we feel like we’ve hit a dead end. Maybe we are stuck trying to solve a problem at work, deal with a difficult family member, or so lost in grief that we cannot imagine ever experiencing the joy and blessing of life again. And yet… somehow we do. We go home and we start the next day anew, and maybe we see a solution to our problem that was beyond our grasp the day before. Perhaps we try to reach out to that family member in a different way, or perhaps something changes in their life and we unexpectedly get a message from them to indicate a desire for reconciliation. And while we have good days and bad days, perhaps a grandchild comes to visit and brings us joy in the midst of our grief, or a walk in the fields on a particularly beautiful day brings us some awareness of beauty. Each of these are experiences of m’chayey hameitim – we have had a powerful experience of a revival of life. Our ‘being’ is not only in the past tense; now we feel some hope in the potential of our future ‘being’ too.

In Mishkan haNefesh, the draft Rosh Hashanah morning liturgy presents us with a poem by the Israeli poet, Zelda, as a contemporary text facing the Gevurot passage. In this poem Zelda, in the midst of grief, reflects on how the smallest things around her can suddenly bring her back to life:

In the morning I said to myself:
Life’s magic will never come back.
It won’t come back.

All at once the sunshine in my house
is alive for me
and the table with its bread
is gold
and the cups on the table and the flower –
all gold.
And what of the sorrow?
Even in the sorrow, radiance.

The closing phrase of the blessing (chatimah, or ‘seal’) is translated: You are the Source of all blessing, the life force surging within all things.

Bringing our awareness to all that surges with that life force can open up the possibility of feeling the presence of blessing in our lives once more. It is an invitation to return to life.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

#BlogElul 4: Will you hear my cry? Will you accept me?

One of the most emotionally heart-tugging prayers and melodies of the High Holy Days is a petition called Sh’ma Koleinu. In a beautiful new translation in the forthcoming Mishkan haNefesh, we pray:

Hear our call, Adonai our God. Show us compassion
Accept our prayer with love and goodwill.
Take us back, Adonai; let us come back to You; renew our days as in the past.
Hear our words, Adonai; understand our unspoken thoughts.
May the speech of our mouth and our heart’s quiet prayer
Be acceptable to You, Adonai, our rock and our redeemer.
Do not cast us away from Your presence, or cut us off from Your holy spirit.
Do not cast us away when we are old; as our strength diminishes,
Do not forsake us.
Do not forsake us, Adonai; be not far from us, our God.
With hope, Adonai we await You;
Surely, You, Adonai our God – You will answer.
(CCAR, 2014, All rights reserved).

Take a listen to this recording, with a melody by Levandowski, that I grew up hearing throughout my youth in the UK. (click on the 2nd sound link when the new page opens up)

Put aside theology for a moment. If you are not sure what God-idea you believe in, you could get stuck on the literal words here. But look instead at the human emotion being poured out. It is a heart crying out for relationship. To be received. To be held. To be seen. To not feel alone and abandoned, uncertain of what lies ahead. Uncomfortable when we sit quietly long enough to notice what thoughts, anxieties, doubts, self-disgust, arises within us. We want to be accepted. We want to be received. We need relationship despite our flaws and imperfections.

To me, this gets to the heart of the human condition. It is a crying out that has been distilled into a few sentences that captures so much of what many of us feel in the dark, when no-one is watching.

As with so many of the core prayers of our High Holy Day liturgy, the new CCAR machzor also offers us an alternative text drawn from a more contemporary source. On Kol Nidre, the text that is offered is a poem by Rachel, an Israeli poet. It’s opening verses, like the prayer they face, express an outpouring of emotion:
Will you hear my voice, you who are far from me?
Will you hear my voice, wherever you are;
A voice calling aloud, a voice silently weeping,
Endlessly demanding a blessing.

This busy world is vast, its ways are many;
Paths meet for a moment, then part forever;
A man goes on searching, but his feet stumble,
He cannot find that which he has lost…

Listen to the video below of the popular Israeli performer, Rita, sing these words that were set to a melody that has been sung for decades in Israel. Feel the same pulling of the heart strings.

Hear me! Help me find meaning in all of this vastness! Help me live in relationship and connection to others. Accept me, and help me learn to accept myself.