Being a People, creating community, bringing light and warmth into our world: Rosh Hashanah Sermon Lev Chadash 2022

Rosh Hashanah 2022 Sermon Lev Chadash

L’italiano segue l’inglese

Once there was a small mountain village where a small Jewish community lived.There was no electricity and each home had a wood burning stove to give warmth and small candle lamps to give light, and any time the Jewish community wanted to meet, they did so in each other’s homes. One day, the people decided to build a synagogue, so that they could observe Shabbat and holidays together,  celebrate b’nai mitzvah and baby namings and weddings together, and be together to pray, because small as the community was they were too big for anyone’s home. They  though hard about what they wanted and they told the rabbi:

“It must have enough room for everyone in the village to dance the hora, without stepping on anyone’s feet.”

“But it must be small enough that no one ever has to feel like they are sitting off in a corner, alone.”

 “It must have a very big wooden stove, so that we can keep warm in the long winter months.”

“But it must have huge windows, so we can air it out in the summer months.”

But soon, they ran up against a problem. The lights. There was no simple way to light the new synagogue. There was no electricity in this village, and so there was no easy way to light the whole room. Because the synagogue had to be big enough for everyone to dance the hora without stepping on each other’s toes, if they put a lamp in the middle of the room, the corners would be dark, and if they put a lamp in the corners of the room the middle of the room would be dark. And there wasn’t enough money left in the budget to do both. Not to mention, how would they pay someone to keep all of the lamps lit all the time?

At long last the synagogue was ready and the people came a Shabbat evening dinner and service, so everyone arrived at the new building just before sunset. They waited and whispered outside in the snow, holding their lamps that would light their way home in the dark.

“I hope it’s big enough for a hora.” One villager said.

“I hope it’s small enough so that no one feels alone in the corner.” Another responded.

“I hope there’s a stove.” Said one.

“I hope there are windows.” Said another.

And there were a lot of people who said, “I wonder how they are going to keep it lit up through the night.”

Finally, the doors opened and all of the people poured in to have a look around. It was big enough for a hora, small enough for an oneg, with a big wood burning stove in the centre and huge windows on the side. But one thing was missing. As the sun started to dip lower in the sky, signalling that Shabbat would be here soon and along with it another long, dark night, they realized that there were no lights in the building at all.

The people gasped, “What are we going to do with a synagogue with no lights?”

“Did we run out of money?” Asked one.

“How am I supposed to see my prayerbook in the dark?” Asked another.

“How are we supposed to serve food in the dark?” Asked one.

“Are we just going to have all of our services in the daytime?” Asked another.

They looked around for the lights. And then they noticed – all along the four walls of the synagogue were brackets, big enough to hold the lamps they used to light their own homes . There were dozens of them, one for every person in the village.

The rabbi took her own lamp she had brought from home and put it in one of the brackets on the wall. “This is how we will light the synagogue. Each of you will bring your own lamp from home. When you are all here, this room will be full of light for us to eat and pray and dance by. And when you are not here, we will see that the room is darker, and we will miss you. And when you are at home, wondering whether or not to set out in the cold, dark night, you will remember that, without you, our synagogue will be that much darker.”

I found this story in a collection of folk tales and wanted to share it with you today. The whole period leading up to the Yamim Noraim began some weeks ago. After the month of Elul when we are expected to reflect on our lives, on our priorities and our actions, to repair what we can of our inevitable mistakes and to try to live more closely We are in a time of reflection and of self-judgment, of separating ourselves from bad habits and attempting to habituate ourselves to good ones. It is a time of renewal of our selves and of the way we live our lives, a time where we consider what is to be repeated and what is to be changed.

In many ways this is always going to be a highly personal and individual process. Like prayer it is an action we do both for and by ourselves. We stand in the presence of God but no one else can see or hear our inner monologue.  And yet –

– And yet this is a process that is enhanced by community. We stand amongst everyone else who is praying or reflecting or confessing or pleading or denying or avoiding the work of this season. Others walk alongside us just  as others have walked these paths before and yet others will walk them long after our own time.  This highly personal and individual process of tefillah and teshuvah is reliant for its success on the support of the community around us. The nudge to reflect that is incorporated in our liturgy and our calendar is amplified by the actions of the community. The words we can say out loud together – each of us confessing to everything so that those of us who need to say those words can do so in the safety of the collective confession. The pull of family or community – asking us what we are doing for the festivals, sharing their insights or reading suggestions or meals or even tasks to make us ready for the Yamim Noraim. We help each other along this path, often without even being aware of our contribution to the general good.

Asher Tzvi Hirsch Ginsberg, better known as the essayist “Achad Ha’Am” (literally meaning “one of the people” (1856-1927) was a founder of what became known as cultural Zionism who argued with the theories of political Zionists such as Herzl, and instead worked for Eretz Yisrael to become a spiritual exemplar for Jews in the Diaspora, something that would bring Jews across the world together as one people with shared values and spirituality, rather than fragmented communities – he wanted  what he called  “A Jewish State, and not just a State for Jews”.

He wrote: Judaism did not turn heavenward and create in heaven an eternal habitation of souls. It found ‘eternal life’ on earth, by strengthening the social feeling in the individual by making them regard  themselves not as isolated beings with an existence bounded by birth and death, but as part of a larger whole. As a limb of the social body…I live for the sake of the member. I die to make room for new individuals who will mould the community afresh and not allow it to stagnate and remain forever in one position. When the individual thus values the community as their own life, and strives after its happiness as though it were their individual wellbeing, they find satisfaction and no longer feel so keenly the bitterness of their individual existence, because they see the end for which they live and suffer. (Achad Ha’Am Asher Hirsch Ginsberg 1856-1927)

For Achad Ha’Am being part of the community gives meaning to our lives. Although he himself was secular, he is speaking from the foundational texts of Judaism – we are first and foremost “Am Yisrael” – a People [called] Israel

The word   Am עם is found hundreds if not thousands of times in the Hebrew bible. It is used to mean a nation or a group of people, though it has a secondary meaning of “a relation/relative”. Both the Hebrew root and its Arabic cognate appear to have had an original meaning of “father” or “father’s family” which is later expanded to kinsman or clan, and eventually to “nation”. The root  עמם from which it derives also means  “to join, to connect”, from where we also get the word im עם meaning “with”.

We learn in Mishnah Avot 2:5 that Hillel taught “do not separate yourself from the community” – both in its celebrations and in its difficulties we are part of this group. This  is also the reason we pray together, traditionally some of our liturgy demands we form a community before we can pray it – because the rabbis taught that “ For when one prays by himself, he might ask for things that are detrimental to some. But the community only prays for things which are of benefit to everybody. A reed on its own is easily broken but a bundle of reeds standing together cannot be broken even by the strongest winds.”

Community lies at the heart of Judaism. Jewish peoplehood is our overarching identity – whether we see ourselves as religious or secular, Ashkenazi, Sefardi or Italki, believers in God or sceptics, Orthodox Reform or Masorti – it is Jewish peoplehood that binds us, Jewish community that is the structure that we exist in symbiosis with, that we create wherever we go and that sustains us in return.

I think all of us know the slogan – or is it a prayer? – “Am Yisrael Chai”.  While it is unclear where this phrase originated, a recording of the liberated Jews in Bergen Belson concentration camp singing “Hatikvah” in April 1945 also contains the voice of Rabbi Leslie Hardman, the first Jewish Chaplain to the British Army to enter that camp two days after it was liberated,  calling out “Am Yisrael Chai” into the silence that followed the Hatikvah. It was a challenge, a prayer, a statement of intent rolled into three short words. Leslie Hardman supervised the burial of over 20 thousand victims in the camp, trying to give them the dignity in death that had been so lacking in life and saying kaddish over the mass graves. He circumcised babies who had been born in the camp, he even conducted a wedding of a survivor to a British soldier – he was determined in the face of so much death and horror, that Am Yisrael Chai – the people Israel would continue to live. He went on to minister to Jewish communities and made a lasting impression on many who knew him. Even today I occasionally meet people who toward the end of their lives want to reconnect with their Jewishness and who say to me “Leslie Hardman did my barmitzvah”!

The power of community, and the power of the people who believe in community is immense.

Everywhere we look in Judaism we see the imperative to community. In a few short weeks we will be celebrating Sukkot, and using the arba’a minim, the Four Species, in our services. There is a famous midrash on this ritual object  – together these different plants represent the fullness and diversity of every Jewish community. – “As the etrog has taste and fragrance, the palm taste  but no fragrance, the myrtle fragrance but no taste, and the willow neither taste nor fragrance, so some Jews have learning and good deeds, some learning but no deeds, some deeds but no learning, and some neither learning nor deeds.  Said the Holy One ‘let them all be tied together and they will atone one for the other (Midrash Leviticus Rabbah)

All together we can help each other to atone, but not only that – together we help each other to grow, to live, to thrive. At the centre of our torah is the injunction to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. As Israel Salanter (1810 – 1883) writes:  – “The Torah demands that we seek what is best for our fellow human beings: not by repressing our hatred or rejection of them, nor by loving them out of a sense of duty, for this is no genuine love.  We should simply love our neighbour as we love ourselves.  We do not love ourselves because we are human beings, but our self-love comes to us naturally without any calculations or limits or aims.  It would never occur to someone to say ‘I have already fulfilled my obligation towards myself!’ The same way we should love our fellow human beings naturally and spontaneously, with joy and pleasure, without limits or purposes or rationalisations”

In the folk tale I began with, the picture is painted of the contribution each and every one of us makes to making our community brighter and happier, supportive and challenging, warmer and kinder.

Today we might have electricity to light our synagogue but we still count on each and every one of you to bring your own light in a different way. When you come to be part of the community at prayer or in study, come to share simchas and sorrows, when you join in with the singing or the prayer, when you reach out and enfold each other under the tallit for the blessing of nesiat kapayim, then our synagogue is full of light and warmth. And when you are gone, everything feels a little darker because you are not here. The same is true in every community you take part in.

And so we pray, as this new year begins, that our lights will shine brightly and we will bring them to share with each other, and  everyone we join with in community – even if only for a short time -will be blessed by our light and warmth.

 And we pray too that like those long ago villagers, we will bring our lights with us wherever we go, and that we will find the places to fix our lights and let them shine out an warm our community.

In the words of the blessing of nesiat kapayim –“ ya’er Adonai panav elecha “– may the face of God shine on you; And in the vernacular of the Jewish community, may we each represent the face of God to each other, join with our communities and offer ourselves to brighten each other’s lives whenever and however we can.

Rosh Hashanà 2022: Sermone per Lev Chadash

di Rav Sylvia Rothschild

            C’era una volta un piccolo villaggio di montagna dove viveva una piccola comunità ebraica. Non c’era elettricità e ogni casa aveva una stufa a legna per riscaldare e piccole candele per illuminare, e ogni volta che la comunità ebraica voleva incontrarsi, lo faceva nella casa di qualcuno.

            Un giorno le persone decisero di costruire una sinagoga, così da poter osservare insieme lo Shabbat e le festività, celebrare insieme b’nai mitzvà e dare il nome ai bambini, fare i matrimoni e stare insieme per pregare, perché, per quanto piccola fosse la comunità, era troppo grande per la casa di chiunque.

            Pensarono molto a quello che volevano e dissero al rabbino:

            “Deve avere abbastanza spazio perché tutti nel villaggio possano ballare la hora, senza calpestare i piedi di nessuno”.

            “Ma deve essere sufficientemente piccola, che nessuno debba mai sentirsi come se fosse seduto in un angolo, da solo”.

            “Deve avere una stufa a legna molto grande, in modo da poterci riscaldare nei lunghi mesi invernali”.

            “Ma deve avere finestre enormi, in modo da poter arieggiare nei mesi estivi”.

            Ma presto si imbatterono in un problema. Le luci. Non c’era un modo semplice per illuminare la nuova sinagoga. Non c’era elettricità in questo villaggio, quindi non c’era un modo semplice per illuminare l’intera stanza. Poiché la sinagoga doveva essere abbastanza grande da permettere a tutti di ballare la hora senza pestarsi i piedi, se avessero messo una lampada in mezzo alla stanza gli angoli sarebbero stati bui, e se avessero messo una lampada negli angoli della stanza il centro sarebbe stato buio. E non c’erano abbastanza soldi nel budget per fare entrambe le cose. Per non parlare del fatto di come avrebbero pagato qualcuno per tenere tutte le lampade accese tutto il tempo.

            Alla fine la sinagoga fu pronta e le persone vennero per la cena e il servizio serale dello Shabbat, quindi tutti arrivarono al nuovo edificio poco prima del tramonto. Aspettarono e sussurrarono fuori nella neve, tenendo in mano le loro lampade che avrebbero illuminato la strada verso casa nell’oscurità.

            “Spero che sia abbastanza grande per danzare la hora”, disse un abitante del villaggio.

            “Spero che sia abbastanza piccola in modo che nessuno si senta solo nell’angolo”, rispose un altro.

            “Spero che ci sia una stufa”, disse uno.

            “Spero che ci siano finestre”, disse un altro.

            E ci furono molte persone che dissero: “Mi chiedo come faranno a tenere acceso per tutta la notte”.

            Alla fine le porte si aprirono e tutte le persone si riversarono all’interno per dare un’occhiata in giro. Era abbastanza grande per una hora, abbastanza piccola per l’oneg, con una grande stufa a legna al centro ed enormi finestre sui lati. Ma mancava una cosa. Quando il sole iniziò a calare nel cielo, segnalando che lo Shabbat sarebbe arrivato presto e con esso un’altra lunga notte buia, si resero conto che nell’edificio non c’erano affatto luci.

            La gente sussultò: “Cosa faremo con una sinagoga senza luci?” “Abbiamo finito i soldi?” chiese uno. “Come faccio a vedere il mio libro di preghiere al buio?” chiese un altro. “Come dovremmo servire il cibo al buio?” chiese uno. “Avremo tutti i nostri servizi durante il giorno?” chiese un altro.

            Si guardarono intorno in cerca delle luci. E poi si accorsero che lungo le quattro pareti della sinagoga c’erano delle mensole, abbastanza grandi da contenere le lampade che usavano per illuminare le proprie case. Ce n’erano a dozzine, una per ogni persona del villaggio.

            Il rabbino prese la sua lampada che aveva portato da casa e la mise in una delle mensole del muro. “Così illumineremo la sinagoga. Ognuno di voi porterà la propria lampada da casa. Quando sarete tutti qui, questa stanza sarà piena di luce per mangiare, pregare e ballare. E quando non ci sarete vedremo che la stanza è più buia e ci mancherete. E quando sarete a casa, chiedendovi se partire o meno nella notte fredda e buia, vi ricorderete che, senza di voi, la nostra sinagoga sarà molto più buia”.

            Ho trovato questa storia in una raccolta di racconti popolari e volevo condividerla con voi oggi. L’intero periodo che ha preceduto gli Yamim Noraim, i Giorni Solenni, è iniziato alcune settimane fa. Dopo il mese di Elul, in cui ci si aspetta che riflettiamo sulle nostre vite, sulle nostre priorità e sulle nostre azioni, per riparare ciò che possiamo dei nostri inevitabili errori e per cercare di vivere più da vicino, siamo in un tempo di riflessione e di auto-giudizio, in cui ci separiamo dalle cattive abitudini e tentiamo di abituarci a quelle buone. È un momento di rinnovamento di noi stessi e del modo in cui viviamo la nostra vita, un tempo in cui consideriamo cosa ripetere e cosa cambiare.

            In molti modi questo sarà sempre un processo altamente personale e individuale. Come la preghiera, è un’azione che facciamo sia per noi stessi che da soli. Siamo alla presenza di Dio ma nessun altro può vedere o ascoltare il nostro monologo interiore.

Eppure questo è un processo che viene potenziato dalla comunità. Siamo tutti tra coloro che stanno pregando o riflettendo o confessando o implorando o negando o evitando il lavoro di questa stagione. Altri camminano al nostro fianco proprio come altri hanno già percorso questi sentieri e altri ancora li percorreranno molto dopo il nostro tempo. Questo processo altamente personale e individuale di tefillà e teshuvà dipende per il suo successo dal sostegno della comunità che ci circonda. La spinta alla riflessione che è incorporata nella nostra liturgia e nel nostro calendario è amplificata dalle azioni della comunità. Le parole che possiamo dire ad alta voce insieme: ognuno di noi confessa tutto, in modo tale che quelli tra noi che hanno bisogno di dire quelle parole possano farlo nella sicurezza della confessione collettiva. L’attrazione della famiglia o della comunità: chiederci cosa stiamo facendo per le solennità, condividere intuizioni o pasti o persino compiti, leggere suggerimenti per prepararci per gli Yamim Noraim. Ci aiutiamo a vicenda in questo cammino, spesso senza nemmeno essere consapevoli del nostro contributo al bene generale.

            Asher Tzvi Hirsch Ginsberg, meglio conosciuto come il saggista “Achad Ha’Am” (che letteralmente significa “uno del popolo”), fu uno dei fondatori di quello che divenne noto come il sionismo culturale, che confrontò con le teorie dei sionisti politici come Herzl. Lavorò invece per Eretz Yisrael, affinché diventasse un esempio spirituale per gli ebrei nella diaspora, qualcosa che avrebbe riunito gli ebrei di tutto il mondo come un unico popolo con valori e spiritualità condivisi, piuttosto che comunità frammentate: voleva quello che ha chiamò “Un Stato ebraico, e non solo uno Stato per gli ebrei”.

            Scrisse: “L’ebraismo non si è rivolto al cielo e non ha creato in cielo una dimora eterna di anime. Ha trovato la ‘vita eterna’ sulla terra, rafforzando il sentimento sociale nell’individuo, facendogli considerare se stesso non come essere isolato con un’esistenza delimitata dalla nascita e dalla morte, ma come parte di un tutto più ampio. Come membro del corpo sociale… Vivo per il bene dei membri. Muoio per fare spazio a nuovi individui che plasmeranno di nuovo la comunità e non le permetteranno di ristagnare e rimanere per sempre in una posizione. Quando l’individuo valuta così la comunità come propria vita, e aspira alla sua felicità come se fosse il proprio benessere individuale, trova soddisfazione e non sente più così intensamente l’amarezza della propria esistenza individuale, perché vede il fine per cui vivere e soffrire”.

(Achad Ha’Am Asher Hirsch Ginsberg 1856-1927)

            Per Achad Ha’Am far parte della comunità dà un senso alle nostre vite. Sebbene lui stesso fosse laico, parla dai testi fondamentali dell’ebraismo: siamo prima di tutto “Am Yisrael”, un popolo [chiamato] Israele.

            La parola Am עם si trova centinaia se non migliaia di volte nella Bibbia ebraica. È usata per indicare una nazione o un gruppo di persone, sebbene abbia un significato secondario di “relazione/parente”. Sia la radice ebraica che il suo affine arabo sembrano aver avuto un significato originale di “padre” o “famiglia del padre”, poi successivamente esteso a “parente” o “clan” e infine a “nazione”. La radice עמם da cui deriva significa anche “unire, connettere”, da essa proviene anche la parola im עם che significa “con”.

            Impariamo in Mishnah Avot 2:5 che Hillel ha insegnato “non separarti dalla comunità”: sia nelle sue celebrazioni che nelle sue difficoltà siamo parte di questo gruppo. Questo è anche il motivo per cui preghiamo insieme, tradizionalmente alcune delle nostre liturgie richiedono di formare una comunità prima di poter pregare perché i rabbini insegnavano che “perché quando uno prega da solo, può chiedere cose che sono dannose per alcuni. Ma la comunità prega solo per cose che giovano a tutti. Una canna da sola si spezza facilmente, ma un fascio di canne che stanno insieme non può essere spezzato nemmeno dai venti più forti”.

            La comunità è al centro dell’ebraismo. Il popolo ebraico è la nostra identità generale: che ci consideriamo religiosi o laici, ashkenaziti, sefarditi o Italki, credenti in Dio o scettici, riformati, ortodossi o masortì, è il popolo ebraico che ci lega, la comunità ebraica è la struttura con cui esistiamo in simbiosi, che creiamo ovunque andiamo e che in cambio ci sostiene.

            Penso che tutti noi conosciamo lo slogan (o è una preghiera?) “Am Yisrael Chai”. Sebbene non sia chiaro da dove abbia avuto origine questa frase, una registrazione degli ebrei liberati dal campo di concentramento di Bergen Belsen che cantavano “Hatikvà” nell’aprile 1945 contiene anche la voce del rabbino Leslie Hardman, primo cappellano ebreo dell’esercito britannico ad entrare in quel campo due giorni dopo la liberazione, che grida “Am Yisrael Chai” nel silenzio che segue l’Hatikvà. Era una sfida, una preghiera, una dichiarazione di intenti racchiusa in tre brevi parole. Leslie Hardman ha supervisionato la sepoltura di oltre ventimila vittime nel campo, cercando di dare loro la dignità nella morte che era stata così mancante nella vita e dicendo il kaddish sulle fosse comuni. Ha circonciso i bambini che erano nati nel campo, ha persino organizzato il matrimonio di una sopravvissuta con un soldato britannico: era determinato, di fronte a tanta morte e orrore, a far sì che Am Yisrael Chai, il popolo di Israele, continuasse a vivere. Ha continuato a servire le comunità ebraiche e ha lasciato un’impressione duratura su molti che lo conoscevano. Persino oggi incontro occasionalmente persone che verso la fine della loro vita vogliono riconnettersi con la loro ebraicità e che mi dicono “ho fatto il bar mitzvà con Leslie Hardman!”

            Il potere della comunità e il potere delle persone che credono nella comunità è immenso.

            Ovunque guardiamo nell’ebraismo vediamo l’imperativo della comunità. Tra poche settimane celebreremo Sukkot e utilizzeremo le arba’a minim, le Quattro Specie, nei nostri servizi. C’è un famoso midrash su questo oggetto rituale: insieme queste diverse piante rappresentano la pienezza e la diversità di ogni comunità ebraica. “Come l’etrog ha gusto e fragranza, la palma ha sapore ma non fragranza, il mirto ha fragranza ma non ha sapore e il salice non ha né sapore né fragranza, così alcuni ebrei hanno istruzione e buone azioni, alcuni sono dotti ma non compiono atti, alcuni compiono atti ma senza nessun apprendimento, e per alcuni non vi sono né apprendimento né azioni”. Dice l’Eterno: “Siano legati tutti insieme ed espieranno l’uno per l’altro” (Midrash Levitico Rabbà)

            Tutti insieme possiamo aiutarci a vicenda per espiare, ma non solo: insieme ci aiutiamo a vicenda a crescere, a vivere, a prosperare. Al centro della nostra Torà c’è l’ingiunzione di amare il nostro prossimo come amiamo noi stessi. Come scrive Israel Salanter (1810 – 1883): “La Torà esige che cerchiamo ciò che è meglio per i nostri simili: non reprimendo il nostro odio o rifiuto nei loro confronti, né amandoli per senso del dovere, perché questo non è un vero amore. Dovremmo semplicemente amare il nostro prossimo come amiamo noi stessi. Non ci amiamo perché siamo esseri umani, ma il nostro amor proprio ci viene naturale senza calcoli, limiti o obiettivi. A qualcuno non verrebbe mai in mente di dire ‘Ho già adempiuto al mio obbligo verso me stesso!’ Allo stesso modo dovremmo amare i nostri simili in modo naturale e spontaneo, con gioia e piacere, senza limiti, scopi o razionalizzazioni”.

            Nel racconto popolare con cui ho iniziato, c’è l’immagine figurata del contributo che ognuno di noi dà per rendere la nostra comunità più luminosa e felice, solidale e stimolante, più calorosa e gentile.

            Oggi potremmo avere l’elettricità per illuminare la nostra sinagoga, ma contiamo ancora su ognuno di voi per portare la propria luce in un modo diverso. Quando venite a far parte della comunità in preghiera o in studio, venite a condividere simchà e dolori, quando vi unite al canto o alla preghiera, quando vi proteggete e vi avvolgete l’un l’altro sotto il tallit per la benedizione di nesiat kapayim, allora la nostra sinagoga è piena di luce e di calore. E quando ve ne siete andati, tutto sembra un po’ più oscuro perché non siete qui. Lo stesso vale in ogni comunità a cui prendete parte.

            E quindi preghiamo, all’inizio di questo nuovo anno, che le nostre luci splendano brillanti, così le porteremo a condividerle tra tutti, e coloro con cui ci uniamo in comunità, anche se solo per un breve periodo, saranno benedetti dalla nostra luce e calore.

            E preghiamo anche che, come quegli abitanti del villaggio di tanto tempo fa, porteremo le nostre luci con noi ovunque andremo, e che troveremo i posti dove fissare le nostre luci e farle risplendere e riscaldare la nostra comunità.

            Nelle parole della benedizione di Nesiat Kapayim: “ya’er Adonai panav elecha” –  

”possa il volto di Dio risplendere su di te”; E, nel vernacolo della comunità ebraica: possa ognuno di noi rappresentare il volto di Dio l’uno per l’altro, uniamoci alle nostre comunità e offriamo noi stessi per illuminare la vita gli uni degli altri quando e come possiamo.

Traduzione dall’inglese di Eva Mangialajo Rantzer

Renewal, Reform, the Chatam Sofer and Me – a Rosh Hashanah Reflection

L’italiano segue l’inglese

I imagine we all wonder occasionally just how we got to be here – all the random coincidences and statistical improbabilities that caused our ancestors meet each other and produce children; all the wars and migrations and social upheavals that could so easily have changed our own histories. In even the most recent history of my family, had my mother’s parents not fled the oppression of the Russian Empire and my father not been sent as a young teenager to escape Hitler’s Germany – both ending up accidentally in the same ordinary northern town, I would never have been born.

And when I go back further, I find my family tree has some characters who fought hard against the Judaism that gives me my identity and my passion – Reform Judaism – My great-great-great grandfather Levi Yehudah Spanier, the president of the (orthodox)synagogue Beth El in Albany, New York, was in the beginning very good friends with its rabbi -Dr Isaac Mayer Wise, but ended up in a series of fiery and violent disputes over Dr Wise’s reformist tendencies – to the point where he ultimately dismissed Dr Wise from his post of rabbi to the community effective on 6th September 1850 – the shabbat the day before Rosh Hashanah. Dr Wise refused to accept the dismissal –  turning up at the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah. This is his description of what happened next

“Everything was as quiet as a grave, Finally, the choir sings Sulzer’s great Ein Kamocha. At the conclusion of the song, I step before the ark in order to take out the scrolls of the law as usual, and to offer prayer. Spanier steps in my way and, without saying a word, smites me with his fist so that my cap falls from my head. This was the terrible signal for an uproar the like of which I had never experienced. The people acted like furies. It was as though the synagogue had suddenly burst forth into a flaming conflagration.”

The fracas was so pronounced that the Sheriff was called; the Sheriff cleared the synagogue, locked the doors, and took the keys. This was the end of Wise’s position at Temple Beth-El and the beginning of the Reform Movement in the USA -its many synagogues, the Rabbinical College HUC, the Central Conference of Progressive Rabbis, and Reform Judaism becoming established as the majority Jewish expression in the USA.

So my three-times-great-grandfather in his desire to close down Reform Judaism, instead accelerated its growth, and periodically I wonder what he would have made of his descendants’ choices to become Reform Rabbis.

Then there is Moshe Sofer-Schreiber, my seventh cousin seven times removed. More usually known as the Chatam Sofer, he is sometimes described as the father of Orthodoxy and the scourge of Reform Judaism. Born in Frankfurt in 1762 he was an outstanding scholar at several prestigious yeshivot. However he was not always so acceptable to the Jewish world. In his youth he was deeply attached to Natan Adler, a kabbalist whose followers practised the exceedingly new form of Judaism known as Chasidut. The group were known for their revolutionary religious tendences – praying Sefardi liturgy even though they were Ashkenazim, wearing their tefillin according to the custom of Rabbenu Tam[i] They formed and prayed in separate and independent minyanim, generally following Chassidic customs nobody had heard of previously. The Ashkenazi Jewish world they belonged to was not happy to see such changes in customs and traditions, and began to persecute Rabbi Adler and his followers. Indeed some prominent rabbis wrote attacking the “new sect” who, they said  “with great haughtiness in their hearts did not attend to the customs of the Jewish people, a Torah fixed from antiquity  according to our ancestors z”l and changed them by the crudeness of their spirits”. They were identified by the established Jewish community as being a dangerous phenomenon akin to Sabbateanism.[ii]

In a pamphlet entitled “An Act of Trickery” published in Frankfurt in 1789, Rabbi Nathan Adler and his acolytes were accused of intending to “destroy the foundations of our customs, to cut off the roots of our received tradition, to build new manners […] and in their galling daring, they mocked our holy fathers, and deny those bearing the received tradition, and the wise men who founded our good customs were as grasshoppers to them.”

 This conservative fury led to Rabbi Adler’s excommunication. He was expelled from Frankfurt (1782) and wandered through German communities while suffering repeated attacks. He remained excommunicated until two weeks before his death. In his wanderings, he was accompanied by his young student, Moshe Schreiber who would become known as the Chatam Sofer.

What was happening in the Jewish world – among both the Mitnagdim [iii]and the Chassidim, personified by the towering figures of the Vilna Gaon and of the Baal Shem Tov, was that they simply had no respect for the view that “we do it this way because it was always done this way”. They were ready to change the practise of Judaism, initiate new customs, read the text in different more modern ways, correct the unthinking habits and mistaken ideas that had taken root among the ordinary Jews.

It would be to go too far to say that the groundwork for Reform Judaism was laid by such figures, but the context in which Reform Judaism developed is important. Once the genie of challenging “always doing what was always done” and of not allowing innovation was out of the bottle, it was impossible to return it. My cousin Moshe Schreiber discovered this as he grew in stature as an halakhist, and effectively joined the “establishment” and it seems that as he grew older the growth of desire for modernity in Judaism which was leading to a thirst for Reform Judaism alarmed him. Challenging the fixed and the habitual seems to have been acceptable when done by Rabbi Adler, but  when the newer generation chose to challenge harder and more widely, looking for rational explanations and for a less burdensome set of behaviours, he apparently repudiated his earlier expressions of Judaism.

His most well-known innovation was to insist upon the primacy of the custom of a community to outweigh halachic arguments.   He argued that the custom of a community took the same importance in halacha as a vow – and in Torah the prohibition against breaking a vow is absolute.  He knew exactly what he was doing with this extraordinary step: Responding to a halachic question from a student he wrote “I have spoken about this at length because, as a result of our many sins, the lawless in our nation have now grown in number. They present a false vision, ridiculing the second day of Yom Tov, that it is merely a custom. They do not wish to follow in the footsteps of the Sages of Israel; they speak against their own lives; they know not, nor do they understand; they walk on in darkness.” (Responsa Chatam Sofer I, OC, no. 145)

In the pre-modern period, custom was seen as a competitor to written halacha; it was an “external source” which sometimes contradicted halacha outright. So the Chatam Sofer’s “hiddush” – new teaching -was a turning point in the history of halacha. Identifying custom as the ultimate rival of modernity and rational debate, he deliberately increased its importance, turning it into a potent weapon against Haskalah – the Enlightenment, which was based on reason. He not only reinvented  the status of custom but utterly changed the process of halacha because now halacha was to follow custom rather than the other way around.

While there were other rabbis who elevated the status of community custom, (E.g. Yitzchak Alfasi, Asher ben Yechiel) but they did so based on the idea that the oral teachings of a community were to be respected as coming from an earlier age of halacha. The Chatam Sofer did not do that – instead he based his view on an entirely new link he himself had forged between local customs and biblical vows.  

The Chatam Sofer created what can only be called a conservative revolution. Why? It was because he could not accept the nascent Reform Judaism that was taking hold around him in  Enlightenment Europe. Reform Judaism that was challenging burdensome customs such as two days of festivals in diaspora and demanding rationales be given for halachic dicta, beyond the emotional imperative that “our ancestors did this” or of maintaining the status quo. Reform Judaism, grew not so much from the Mitnagdik or the Chasidic challenges to “normative Judaism” but from a desire to bring Enlightenment thinking into Judaism – what today we might call “informed choice”, to base our practises on reason and on thought rather than historical precedent or the words of earlier sages. And so he brought in his own “reform” or “renewal”, ironically to try to prevent any other reform or renewal taking place.  

The Chatam Sofer’s principle as a halakhist is summed up in his statement “He’Chadash assur min HaTorah” – literally meaning “The new is forbidden by the Torah”. He was punning from a biblical verse which forbade the eating of the new grain (Chadash) until the Omer offering had been given on the second day of Pesach. With that one phrase of word-play the stage was set for what would later be termed “orthodoxy”.  

For generations Judaism had managed to retain its dynamism and adaptability to the circumstances and context it found itself in.  Only with the emergence of modernist Judaism influenced by enlightenment philosophy and scientific thought, did the traditionalists feel so threatened they did something utterly radical, and tried to close this dynamism down. Yet paradoxically the Chatam Sofer relied on innovation. In his battle against Spinoza who argued that bible should be studied as a human document, Sofer wrote that to do so would be to deny all the “hiddushim” – new understandings – that could be created if it were studied as a divine document, multi layered and with concealed meanings. He was not against new insights – indeed his name proclaims their importance –  While the name Sofer is a direct translation of his name “Schreiber”, “Chatam” is an acronym for “Hiddushei Torat Moshe” – “New insights of the Torah of Moses” (though he may also be referencing a particularly opaque part of the last prophecy in the book of Daniel (Shut up the words and seal the book” (Stom ha’devarim va’chatom ha’sefer) Daniel 12:4.

When I think of my illustrious ancestors and their stringent desire to protect a traditionalist Judaism that meant doing things as they had always been done, I have some sympathy. In a world of great flux and change, the temptation to appeal to tradition for stability and certainty and to unify behind agreed norms is equally great. Yet I am grateful that they did not carry the argument, that instead the modernisers of Judaism have thrived alongside the traditionalists. Because classically Judaism has always operated along that dynamic – the old being honoured and cherished and at the same time being renewed.

We say in the yotzer prayer וּבְטוּבוֹ מְחַדֵּשׁ בְּכָל יוֹם תָּמִיד מַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵאשִׁית  That God in divine goodness renews every day the works of creation. Our liturgy speaks of continual renewal  – God is described as the one who “in mercy gives light to the earth and to those who dwell on it” – the very first creative act repeated every morning through God’s mercy and God’s goodness. Creation is perpetually renewed, so we – as part of creation – can also be renewed. This is because of God’s goodness and God’s mercy to us. We do not have to be stuck in behaviours that are not beneficial to us or are simply habitual and without meaning – we can – indeed we must – renew not only ourselves but our also our world. 

The Hebrew word for year is “Shanah” and every Rosh Hashanah, every beginning of a year, is a prompt and an opportunity for our renewal. The root of the word Shanah means both to repeat (as in the number two) and also to change. Which will we do this year? Repeat what we have always done, or will we change and make ourselves and our lives renewed and refreshed? The reality is likely to be somewhere in between, as we hold the tension between comfortable “business as usual” and a fearful desire to make changes in aspects of ourselves and our lives.  

We live our lives repeating many of our habits and making small incremental changes. Jewish time is not circular but spiral – we find ourselves back at Rosh Hashanah, but we are not the same person we were last year. If all goes well, slowly we find ourselves changed – not drastically different but a renewed version of ourselves. We have a Lev Chadash, a new direction and a new heart within the person we have always been. This is the beauty of the Jewish year and of the tradition of renewal within it.

Rav Kook wrote the “The old shall be renewed, and the new shall be made holy”. It is part of his exploration about observing the Shmitta year in the Land of Israel but it is true of every aspect of Judaism.

So this is the challenge asked of us today – and every day. We are asked to renew ourselves and make ourselves holy. We are reminded that God renews creation every day from divine mercy and goodness – that we can take accept that mercy and renew our own being too – repeating and changing, step by step, evolving our Jewish selves as we find our own hiddushei torat Moshe – new meanings in the ancient never changing text.  

The prophet Ezekiel reminds us of God’s promise to give us a new heart and a new spirit… and you will be My people and I will be your God.

וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם לֵב חָדָשׁ, וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה אֶתֵּן בְּקִרְבְּכֶם

וִהְיִיתֶם לִי, לְעָם, וְאָנֹכִי, אֶהְיֶה לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים…………

Now is the time for renewal, for return, and for making the changes that will enable us to fulfil  this promise. For as Hillel said, If not now, When?


[i] Rashi and Rabbenu Tam disagreed on the order in which the sections of text are written on the parchment. Early authorities state that one should not wear Rabbenu Tam Tefillin unless he is generally known to be pious and careful in all his actions. Otherwise, doing so would be considered a pompous display of piety.

[ii] Sabbateanism—a messianic movement of unprecedented duration and scope—was centred on the charismatic personality of Shabtai Zevi, a seventeenth-century Jew from the Ottoman port-town of Smyrna who, even after his conversion to Islam in the summer of 1666—a discreditable act which was paradoxically explained in kabbalistic terms as the most challenging part of his mission—was believed by many to be the ultimate redeemer and an incarnate aspect of the kabbalistic godhead. The messianic frenzy he created spread rapidly throughout the Jewish world to become a mass movement, but it subsided gradually following his conversion and evident failure to accomplish his mission by the time of his death in 1676.

[iii] lit. “opponents”), a designation for the opponents of the Hasidim. The name originally arose from the bitter opposition to the rise, way of life, and leadership of the Hasidic movement. By the second half of the 19th century the hostility began to subside. One of the causes of the cessation of hostilities was the common front which both formed against the Haskalah (Enlightenment) from which Reform Judaism grew.

(https://iyun.org.il/en/article/challenge-of-change/edmund-burke-and-the-chatam-sofer/)

https://yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Sofer_Mosheh

RINNOVAMENTO

23/09/2022 04:14:45 PM

di rav Sylvia Rothschild

Immagino che di tanto in tanto tutti noi ci chiediamo come siamo arrivati qui: tutte le coincidenze casuali e le improbabilità statistiche che hanno fatto sì che i nostri antenati si incontrassero e generassero figli; tutte le guerre, le migrazioni e gli sconvolgimenti sociali che avrebbero potuto cambiare così facilmente le nostre storie. Anche nella storia più recente della mia famiglia, se i genitori di mia madre non fossero fuggiti dall’oppressione dell’Impero russo e se mio padre non fosse stato mandato da giovane adolescente a fuggire dalla Germania di Hitler – finendo entrambi casualmente nella stessa città del nord – io non sarei mai nata. 

E se vado più indietro nel tempo, scopro che nel mio albero genealogico ci sono personaggi che hanno combattuto duramente contro l’ebraismo che mi dà la mia identità e la mia passione – l’ebraismo riformato -. Il mio trisavolo Levi Yehudah Spanier, presidente della sinagoga (ortodossa) Beth El di Albany, New York, all’inizio era molto amico del suo rabbino, il dottor Isaac Mayer Wise, ma finì in una serie di accese e violente dispute sulle tendenze riformate del dottor Wise, al punto che alla fine licenziò il dottor Wise dal suo incarico di rabbino della comunità con effetto dal 6 settembre 1850, lo shabbat del giorno precedente Rosh Hashanah. Il dottor Wise rifiutò di accettare il licenziamento e si presentò in sinagoga il giorno di Rosh Hashanah. Ecco la sua descrizione di ciò che accadde in seguito:

“Tutto era silenzioso come una tomba, Infine, il coro intona il grande Ein Kamochadi Sulzer. Al termine del canto, mi avvicino all’arca per estrarre, come di consueto, i rotoli della legge e per offrire la preghiera. Spanier si mette sulla mia strada e, senza dire una parola, mi colpisce con un pugno che mi fa cadere il cappello dalla testa. Questo fu il terribile segnale di un tumulto che non avevo mai sperimentato. I presenti si comportarono come una furia. Era come se la sinagoga fosse improvvisamente esplosa in una fiammeggiante conflagrazione”. 

La rissa fu così forte che fu chiamato lo sceriffo, il quale fece sgomberare la sinagoga, chiuse le porte e prese le chiavi. Questa fu la fine della posizione di Wise al Tempio Beth-El e l’inizio del Movimento di Riforma negli Stati Uniti, con le sue numerose sinagoghe, il Collegio Rabbinico HUC, la Conferenza Centrale dei Rabbini Progressisti e l’affermazione dell’Ebraismo Riformato come espressione ebraica maggioritaria negli Stati Uniti.

Così il mio trisavolo, nel suo desiderio di far finire l’ebraismo riformato, ne ha invece accelerato la crescita, e periodicamente mi chiedo cosa avrebbe pensato delle scelte dei suoi discendenti di diventare rabbini riformati.
Poi c’è Moshe Sofer-Schreiber, mio lontano cugino. Più conosciuto come Chatam Sofer, è talvolta descritto come il padre dell’Ortodossia e il flagello dell’Ebraismo Riformato. Nato a Francoforte nel 1762, fu uno studioso di spicco in diverse prestigiose yeshivot. Tuttavia, il suo pensiero non fu sempre così accettabile per il mondo ebraico. In gioventù fu profondamente legato a Natan Adler, un cabalista i cui seguaci praticavano la nuovissima forma di ebraismo nota come Chasidut. Il gruppo era noto per le sue tendenze religiose rivoluzionarie: pregavano la liturgia sefardita pur essendo ashkenaziti, indossavano i tefillin secondo l’usanza di Rabbenu Tam, formavano e pregavano in minyanim separati e indipendenti, seguendo generalmente usanze chassidiche di cui nessuno aveva mai sentito parlare prima. Il mondo ebraico ashkenazita, a cui appartenevano, non era contento di vedere tali cambiamenti nei costumi e nelle tradizioni e iniziò a perseguitare Rabbi Adler e i suoi seguaci. Alcuni rabbini di spicco scrissero infatti attaccando la “nuova setta” che, a loro dire, “con grande superbia nel cuore non si è curata delle usanze del popolo ebraico, di una Torah fissata dall’antichità secondo i nostri antenati z “l e le ha cambiate con la crudezza dei loro spiriti”. L’establishment ebraico li identificò come un fenomeno pericoloso, simile al sabbateismo.
In un pamphlet intitolato ‘Un atto di inganno’, pubblicato a Francoforte nel 1789, il rabbino Nathan Adler e i suoi accoliti vennero accusati di voler “distruggere le fondamenta dei nostri costumi, tagliare le radici della nostra tradizione ricevuta, costruire nuove maniere […] e nella loro audacia gallica, si sono fatti beffe dei nostri santi padri, e rinnegano coloro che portano la tradizione ricevuta, e i saggi che hanno fondato i nostri buoni costumi sono per loro come cavallette “.
Questa furia conservatrice portò alla scomunica del rabbino Adler. Espulso da Francoforte (1782), vagò per le comunità tedesche subendo ripetuti attacchi. Rimase scomunicato fino a due settimane prima della sua morte. Nelle sue peregrinazioni era accompagnato dal suo giovane studente, Moshe Schreiber, che sarebbe diventato noto come il Chatam Sofer.
Quello che stava accadendo nel mondo ebraico – sia tra i Mitnagdim che tra i Chassidim, con le figure imponenti del Gaon di Vilna e del Baal Shem Tov – erano considerate semplicemente posizioni che non avevano rispetto per l’opinione prevalente per cui “facciamo così perché è sempre stato fatto così”. Erano pronti a cambiare la pratica dell’ebraismo, a introdurre nuove usanze, a leggere il testo in modi diversi e più moderni, a correggere le abitudini e le idee sbagliate che si erano radicate tra gli ebrei comuni.
Sarebbe esagerato dire che le basi della riforma ebraica siano state gettate da queste figure, ma il contesto in cui l’ebraismo di riforma si è sviluppato è importante. Una volta che il genio che sfidava il “fare sempre quello che si è sempre fatto” e a non permettere l’innovazione era uscito dalla bottiglia, era impossibile farlo rientrare. Mio cugino Moshe Schreiber lo scoprì mentre cresceva la sua autorevolezza come halakhista e si univa di fatto all’establishment e sembra che, con l’avanzare dell’età, la crescita del desiderio di modernità nell’ebraismo, che stava portando all’interno dell’ebraismo a un desiderio di riforma, lo abbia allarmato. Sembra che sfidare l’immobilismo e l’abitudine poteva essere accettabile se fatto dal rabbino Adler, ma quando la nuova generazione scelse di spingersi più duramente e più ampiamente, alla ricerca di spiegazioni razionali e di un insieme di comportamenti meno gravosi, egli apparentemente ripudiò le sue precedenti espressioni dell’ebraismo.
La sua innovazione più nota fu quella di insistere sul primato della consuetudine di una comunità rispetto alle argomentazioni halachiche. Sosteneva che la consuetudine di una comunità avesse la stessa importanza nella halacha di una promessa, di un impegno – e nella Torah il divieto di infrangere un voto è assoluto. Sapeva esattamente cosa stava facendo con questo passo straordinario. Rispondendo a una domanda halachica di uno studente, scrisse: “Ho parlato a lungo di questo perché, come risultato dei nostri molti peccati, i senza legge nella nostra nazione sono ora cresciuti di numero. Essi presentano una visione falsa, ridicolizzando il secondo giorno di Yom Tov, che è solo un’usanza. Non vogliono seguire le orme dei Saggi di Israele; parlano contro la loro stessa vita; non sanno e non capiscono; camminano nelle tenebre”. (Responsa Chatam Sofer I, OC, n. 145)

Nel periodo pre-moderno, la consuetudine era vista come un concorrente della halacha scritta; era una ‘fonte esterna’ che a volte contraddiceva apertamente la halacha. L’’hiddush’ (nuovo insegnamento) del Chatam Sofer fu quindi un punto di svolta nella storia della halacha. Identificando la consuetudine come l’ultimo rivale della modernità e del dibattito razionale, egli ne accrebbe deliberatamente l’importanza, trasformandola in una potente arma contro la Haskalah – l’Illuminismo, che si basava sulla ragione. Non solo reinventò lo status della consuetudine, ma cambiò completamente il processo della halacha, perché ora la halacha seguiva la consuetudine anziché il contrario.
Ci sono stati altri rabbini che hanno elevato lo status della consuetudine comunitaria (ad esempio Yitzchak Alfasi, Asher ben Yechiel), ma lo hanno fatto sulla base dell’idea che gli insegnamenti orali di una comunità dovevano essere rispettati in quanto provenienti da un’epoca precedente della halacha. Il Chatam Sofer non fece così, ma basò il suo punto di vista su un legame del tutto nuovo che egli stesso aveva creato tra le usanze locali e i voti biblici.
Il Sofer Chatam creò quella che può essere definita una ‘rivoluzione conservatrice’. Perché? Perché non poteva accettare il nascente ebraismo riformato che si stava affermando intorno a lui nell’Europa illuminista. Un ebraismo di riforma che metteva in discussione usanze gravose come i due giorni di festa in diaspora e che chiedeva di dare una motivazione che andasse oltre l’imperativo emotivo del “i nostri antenati facevano così” o del mantenimento dello status quo. L’ebraismo riformato non nacque tanto dalle sfide mitnagdik o chasidiche all'”ebraismo normativo”, quanto dal desiderio di portare il pensiero illuminista nell’ebraismo – ciò che oggi potremmo chiamare “scelta informata”, per basare le nostre pratiche sulla ragione e sul pensiero piuttosto che sui precedenti storici o sulle parole dei saggi precedenti. E così introdusse la sua “riforma” o “rinnovamento”, ironicamente per cercare di impedire che si realizzasse qualsiasi altra riforma o rinnovamento.
Il principio del Chatam Sofer come halakhista è riassunto nella sua affermazione “He’Chadash assur min HaTorah”, che letteralmente significa “Il nuovo è proibito dalla Torah”. Si trattava di un gioco di parole che prendeva spunto da un versetto biblico che proibiva di mangiare il grano nuovo (Chadash) fino a quando l’offerta dell’Omer non fosse stata fatta il secondo giorno di Pesach. Con questo gioco di parole si è posto il punto di partenza per quella che in seguito sarebbe stata definita “ortodossia”.
Per generazioni l’ebraismo era riuscito a mantenere il suo dinamismo e la sua adattabilità alle circostanze e al contesto in cui si trovava. Solo con l’emergere dell’ebraismo modernista, influenzato dalla filosofia illuminista e dal pensiero scientifico, i tradizionalisti si sentirono così minacciati da fare qualcosa di assolutamente radicale, cercando di chiudere questo dinamismo. Eppure, paradossalmente, il Chatam Sofer puntava sull’innovazione. Nella sua battaglia contro Spinoza, che sosteneva che la Bibbia dovesse essere studiata come un documento umano, Sofer scrisse che così facendo avrebbe negato tutti gli “hiddushim” – nuove comprensioni – che si sarebbero potuti creare se fosse stata studiata come un documento divino, a più strati e con significati nascosti. Mentre il nome Sofer è la traduzione diretta del suo nome “Schreiber”, “Chatam” è l’acronimo di “Hiddushei Torat Moshe” – “Nuove intuizioni della Torah di Mosè” (anche se potrebbe anche riferirsi a una parte particolarmente opaca dell’ultima profezia nel libro di Daniele (Taci le parole e sigilla il libro” (Stom ha’devarim va’chatom ha’sefer) Daniele 12:4).
Quando penso ai miei illustri antenati e al loro rigoroso desiderio di proteggere un ebraismo tradizionalista che significava fare le cose come erano sempre state fatte, provo una certa simpatia. In un mondo di grandi cambiamenti, la tentazione di appellarsi alla tradizione per avere stabilità e certezza e di unificarsi dietro norme condivise è altrettanto grande. Tuttavia, sono grata che non abbiano portato avanti l’argomento e che invece i modernizzatori dell’ebraismo abbiano prosperato accanto ai tradizionalisti. Perché l’ebraismo classico ha sempre operato secondo questa dinamica: l’antico viene onorato e custodito e allo stesso tempo rinnovato.

Noi diciamo in yotzer  וּבְטוּבוֹ מְחַדֵּשׁ בְּכָל יוֹם תָּמִיד מַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵאשִׁית Che Dio nella bontà divina rinnova ogni giorno le opere della creazione. La nostra liturgia parla di un continuo rinnovamento – Dio è descritto come colui che “per misericordia dà luce alla terra e a coloro che la abitano” – il primo atto creativo che si ripete ogni mattina grazie alla misericordia e alla bontà di Dio. La creazione si rinnova continuamente, quindi anche noi, in quanto parte della creazione, possiamo rinnovarci. Questo grazie alla bontà e alla misericordia di Dio nei nostri confronti. Non dobbiamo rimanere bloccati in comportamenti che non ci giovano o che sono semplicemente abitudinari e privi di significato: possiamo, anzi dobbiamo, rinnovare non solo noi stessi, ma anche il nostro mondo.
La parola ebraica che indica l’anno è “Shanah” e ogni Rosh HaShanah, ogni inizio d’anno, è un invito e un’opportunità per il nostro rinnovamento. La radice della parola Shanah significa sia ripetere (come il numero due) sia cambiare. Cosa faremo quest’anno? Ripetere quello che abbiamo sempre fatto o cambiare e rinnovare noi stessi e la nostra vita? La realtà è probabilmente una via di mezzo, in quanto siamo in tensione tra il comodo “business as usual” e il timoroso desiderio di cambiare alcuni aspetti di noi stessi e della nostra vita.
Viviamo la nostra vita ripetendo molte delle nostre abitudini e apportando piccoli cambiamenti incrementali. Il tempo ebraico non è circolare ma a spirale: ci ritroviamo a Rosh Hashanah, ma non siamo la stessa persona dell’anno scorso. Se tutto va bene, lentamente ci ritroviamo cambiati – non drasticamente diversi, ma una versione rinnovata di noi stessi. Abbiamo un Lev Chadash, una nuova direzione e un nuovo cuore all’interno della persona che siamo sempre stati. Questa è la bellezza dell’anno ebraico e della tradizione del rinnovamento al suo interno.
Rav Kook ha scritto “Il vecchio sarà rinnovato e il nuovo sarà reso santo”. Fa parte della sua esplorazione sull’osservazione dell’anno Shmita in Terra d’Israele, ma è vero per ogni aspetto dell’ebraismo.
Questa è la sfida che ci viene posta oggi – e ogni giorno. Ci viene chiesto di rinnovarci e di santificarci. Ci viene ricordato che Dio rinnova la creazione ogni giorno grazie alla misericordia e alla bontà divina, e che possiamo accettare questa misericordia e rinnovare anche il nostro essere, ripetendo e cambiando, passo dopo passo, evolvendo il nostro essere ebrei mentre troviamo i nostri hiddushei Torat Moshe – nuovi significati nell’antico testo che non cambia mai.
Il profeta Ezechiele ci ricorda la promessa di Dio di darci un cuore nuovo e uno spirito nuovo… e voi sarete il mio popolo e io sarò il vostro Dio.

וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם לֵב חָדָשׁ, וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה אֶתֵּן בְּקִרְבְּכֶם

וִהְיִיתֶם לִי, לְעָם, וְאָנֹכִי, אֶהְיֶה לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים…………
È il momento di rinnovarsi, di tornare e di fare i cambiamenti che ci permetteranno di mantenere questa promessa. Perché, come disse Hillel, se non ora, quando?

Traduzione di Eva Mangialojo Rantzer

29th Elul – entering the year of release

29th Elul  6th September 2021

We are about to enter a shmitta year.

Every seventh year is the biblically mandated “sabbatical year”, what is called sometimes Shabbat la’aretz – the sabbath for the land. Shmitta means “release” and not only is the land released from its ongoing work of production and allowed to lie fallow, but also debts are forgiven, private agricultural land becomes open for people to glean what grows of itself, and there is a kind of community reset of economic and social justice.

Time exists in patterns and cycles in the biblical world. So we see that in the same way that humans will work for six days and then take a day of rest, the land must be worked for six years followed by a year of rest. There is another echo too – there are seven weeks – seven times seven days which will culminate in Shavuot on the 50th day– rabbinically interpreted as the time commemorating Matan Torah – Revelation at Sinai; and there is the cycle of seven times seven years, which will take us to the 50th year – the Jubilee – when society is reset, people return to their own land, slaves are freed etc.

There are three passages in Torah which establish shmitta:

Exodus 23:10-12

Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but in the seventh you shall let it rest and lie fallow. Let the needy among your people eat of it, and what they leave let the wild beasts eat. You shall do the same with your vineyards and your olive groves. Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labour, in order that your ox and your ass may rest, and that your bondman and the stranger may be refreshed.”  The passage is set between the command not to oppress strangers as we too were strangers, and the command to keep shabbat which emphasises the rest of the entire household, servants, strangers and animals alongside the family. Not, I think, a coincidence. The poor and marginalised are the focus, the animals and the ones without land or agency.

Then we have Leviticus 25:2-7 :

When you enter into the land that I assign you, the land shall observe a Sabbath of the Eternal. Six years you may sow your field, and six years you may prune your vineyard, and gather in the yield; but in the seventh year, the land shall have a Sabbath of complete rest, a Sabbath of the Eternal God: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your untrimmed vines. It shall be a year of complete rest for the land, but you may eat whatever the land will produce during its Sabbath—you, your male and female slaves, the hired and bound labourers who live with you, and your cattle and the beasts on your land may eat all its yield.

And here the focus is on the wellbeing of the land which has its own needs, its own character to be cared for and recognised. Here people are not the owners or the exploiters of the land, but in a peer relationship with it.

The third passage is from Deuteronomy and adds an extra dimension – the remission of debts.

“Every seventh year, you shall practice remission of debts. This shall be the nature of the remission: every creditor shall remit the due that they claim from their fellow; They shall not exact payment from their fellow or kin, for the remission proclaimed is of the Eternal. You may exact payment from the foreigner, but you must remit whatever is due you from the kinsman…. If, however, there is a needy person among you, one of your kin in any of your settlements in the land that the Eternal your God is giving you, do not harden your heart or shut your hand against your needy kin. Rather, you must open your heart and lend them sufficient for whatever they need. Beware, lest you harbour the base thought, the seventh year, the year of remission is approaching, so that you are mean to your needy kinsman and give them nothing. They will cry out to the Eternal against you, and you will incur guilt. Give to them readily, and have no regrets when you do so, for in turn, the Eternal your God will bless you in all your deeds and all your works. (Deut 15 1-10 redacted)

In his commentary “Shabbat Ha’Aretz”, Rav Kook, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi in British Palestine, wrote of the shmitta year: “The Sabbatical year comes to correct the situation of inequality and societal rifts, by removing a major source of power of the elite: debts owed to them……….What the Sabbath achieves for the individual, the Shmitta achieves with regard to the nation as a whole.”

Every year we have the opportunity to consider and where necessary to reset the trajectory of our lives. Indeed we have the opportunity every day, but the yearly audit is baked into our internal calendars. And every seven years we are invited to think more deeply, to think beyond our own lives and our own time, and to connect to the condition of our world (though again, this is an invitation every day of our lives should we want to hear it). With its focus on the poor and marginalised, on the land, and on the resetting of debts and return to community equality, the Shmitta calls us to social and economic and ecological justice.

We are coming to the end of Elul – tomorrow we will hear the shofar call us back – back to ourselves, back to our values, back to God. We enter a period that will take us through the ten days of return and through Yom Kippur, all the while invited to contemplate what we are, what is our life, what is our purpose, what can we become, what can we let go of, what holds us back and what will help us to move forward.

The new moon of Tishri will soon be in the sky. As we enter the year of release, let’s release ourselves from old habits and old fears, and with Jewish communities all over the world, like Jewish communities for generations, take the first steps into a new year, a year of newness.

28th Elul: What are we, what is our life, what are our deeds?

28th Elul September 5th

As the moon of Elul begins to wane, we increasingly reflect on our lives and their purpose. What are we here to do? What is our reason for being?

Jewish tradition tells us that our purpose is to embody the principles of torah, to live lives that demonstrate and fulfil the words of the living God.  And in so doing, in bringing the words and ideas to life in every generation, we become part of the chain of relationship that takes us right back to Sinai and our people’s encounter with God.

The idea that each human being is a kind of living torah – or at least has the ability to become a living torah – can be found in the Talmud (Sotah 13a-b) where a connection is drawn between the two boxes (aronim) that travel with the people of Israel in the desert. One is the coffin of Joseph, whose bones are brought out – as promised on his deathbed – when the people leave Egypt. The other is the Ark in which the stones containing the Ten Commandments are carried, on the instructions of God at Sinai. Both are described as being an “Aron”. So we read:

And all those years that the Jewish people were in the wilderness, these two arks, one a casket of a dead man, Joseph, and one the Ark of the Divine Presence, i.e., the Ark of the Covenant, were traveling together, and passers-by would say: What is the nature of these two arks? They said to them: One is of a dead person and one is of the Divine Presence. The passers-by would ask: And in what way is it the manner of a dead person to travel with the Divine Presence? They said in response: This one, i.e., the deceased Joseph, fulfilled all that is written in this. Therefore, it is fitting that the two arks should lie side by side.” (Sotah 13a-b)

Similarly in Mekhilta d’Rabbi Yishmael, a halachic midrash on the book of Exodus dating from c135 CE we can read a rather more expanded version of the story:  Moses occupied himself with the bones of Joseph.. …..And, what is more, with (the casket of) Jacob there went up the servants of Pharaoh and the elders of his household, while with Joseph there went up the ark and the Shechinah and the Cohanim and the Levites and all of Israel and the seven clouds of glory. And, what is more, the casket of Joseph went alongside the ark of “the Life of the Worlds” (i.e., the Ten Commandments), and when the passersby asked: What are these two arks? they were told: This is the ark of a dead man and the other is the ark of “the Life of the Worlds.” And when they asked: How is it that the ark of a dead man goes alongside the ark of “the Life of the Worlds”? they were told: He who lies in this ark fulfills what is written in what lies in the other ark. … 13:19:5)

Bachya ibn Pakuda reminds us that days are scrolls, and that what we do in our lives is not forgotten but the consequences live on. But here in these texts we are the scrolls themselves, embodying the living words of torah in our own choices and actions – we are to try to fulfil to the best of our ability the ideals and values of our sacred texts. 

It is notable that the aron of Jacob was accompanied by Pharoah’s servants and his family when he was taken for burial at Machpela, but the aron of Joseph – who seemed to have a much less “Jewish” life was accompanied by the Shechinah. Of course, the journey with Jacob took place before the Sinaitic encounter, although Jacob was the ancestor who most famously encountered God and struggled with God before being renamed so that his very identity became one of a person who engaged in a struggle with the divine.   However it is Joseph, who lived his life on foreign soil, who was less of a struggler with God, who lived apart from his family for much of his life- it is Joseph who fulfils the Torah goals. How so? Could it be that however assimilated, he never forgot his place in the chain of tradition; he brought his children into the fold;  he used his power to prevent mass starvation; he straddled both his old and new worlds, embalmed in the Egyptian manner in order to be taken back home for burial when his people left the country.

What is our purpose in life? It is to be living torah, to embody and act the values of shared humanity. To add our understanding to how the texts are read, to play out in ordinary life the extraordinary ideas in Torah, to build human connection through time.

Albert Einstein asked the question too – his answer, though framed a little differently, is essentially the same as the Talmudic answer:

“Strange is our situation here on earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That [We Are] Here for the Sake of Others… for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day I realize how much my own outer and inner life is built upon labours of my fellow[s], both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received and am still receiving.” –Albert Einstein in Living Philosophies

27th Elul : coming back to where we started

27th Elul

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with

new eyes and extra colours. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

The Jewish year is about continuing our journeying and returning. The very word for year – Shanah – is a Hebrew root that means both to repeat and to change. Our festival prayer book is called a machzor, from the root meaning to return – or to be part of a cycle. The festivals come around each year, inexorably reminding us of how life has and has not changed since the previous iteration, what we have and have not done, who is no longer with us, how we have been impacted by the days and months we have just lived through.

But the cycle is not circular, rather it is spiral. The festivals come and go but each time we are in a slightly different place, a slightly different time, we have moved on in our journey. We cannot bring back past times or lost opportunities, we can only acknowledge the loss and resolve to use the coming time rather better. Yet Judaism connects us to time – both times past and times present. When we celebrate a festival we are sharing the experiences of generations before us as well as those celebrating across the world. Lighting shabbat candles and ushering in the 25 hours of peace is said to give us a taste of the World to Come. Much of what we do in our ritual is about remembering – bringing forth the stories of our past and embedding them in our present.

As we spiral through time we look back at our history, bringing our stories and our memories with us, and we look forward to a future we hope to be part of shaping for the better. And as the new moon of Tishri will be seen in the sky we can see both past and future in its light.

We journey and we return. We bring some of our memories with us – and some of the memories of our people that we have learned to embody. And we leave behind some of the things we need to leave behind, facing a future with the resolve to do differently.

We go away and we come back. We see the places we came from in a different perspective, with different understanding, and we see the places we can go towards differently too. As Pratchett so wisely remarked, “coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving”.

26th Elul

Elul 26th   Friday September 3rd

בְּכָל-הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַזְכִּיר אֶת-שְׁמִי, אָבוֹא אֵלֶיךָ וּבֵרַכְתִּיךָ.
In every place where My name is mentioned, I will come to you and will bless you.

“In ancient times there were holy places.The land of Israel was holy.Holier still was Jerusalem. In Jerusalem the holiest site was the Temple.And within the temple was a place supremely sacred: the holy of holies. Then there’s holy time. There are festivals.Holier still is Shabbat.And holier than that is Shabbat Shabbaton, the Sabbath of Sabbaths, Yom Kippur. The day of atonement. And there are holy people. Israel is called goi kadosh, a holy nation.” Mishnah Kelim 1:6

After the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, Judaism had to face the question – there is still holy time and still holy people, but where are the holy places?

The answer comes from Ezekiel (11:16) who, speaking of forcible expulsion and dispersion from the Land of Israel, offers God’s promise:

וָאֱהִי לָהֶם לְמִקְדָּשׁ מְעַט, בָּאֲרָצוֹת אֲשֶׁר-בָּאוּ שָׁם  
And I will be for them a mikdash me ‘at (a small sanctuary) in the lands where they go to

Wherever we are, we create mini sanctuaries for ourselves. According to the Talmud (Megilah 29a), God will dwell in the holy spaces we create, because they are in place of the Temple: mik’d’shei me’at.  These holy spaces are traditionally study halls, synagogues, and of course our homes. Each of us makes for ourselves a mikdash me ‘at, we can feel safe and be ourselves “at home;  and the holiness comes when we intentionally create the space for it.  Be it lighting shabbat candles or making Havdalah, considering the ethics of the food we cook and consume, having a “Jewish kitchen”, studying Torah, praying…..

This is the second year many of us will be participating in services at a distance from our communities, sitting in our homes in rooms that are not purposefully designed to facilitate prayer. It may be helpful to think about how to make our prayer space more intentionally holy, how to transform the tables and spaces we work from and sit in, so that we are more able to feel ourselves both in the divine presence and also in the company of our community.

Firstly – find a space that is not your usual workspace if possible. Or if it is your workspace move things around a little, clear the desk, put away files.  Maybe put a meaningful tsatske or flowers on the table too.  Place your candlesticks and kiddush cup in your eyeline. On Rosh Hashanah put some honey and apple there, on kippur if you have a shofar, put it out too.  Get your prayerbooks ready and maybe also some good meditative reading (suggested list below)

Put a different cloth over the desk/table, and make your chair different too – you can drape it with some fabric like a scarf.  Then say a blessing over the space to designate it you mikdash me’at  (some suggested blessings are at the end of this post)

Move your computer screen as far away from you as you can, or attach your computer to the TV so that you are not tempted to play with the keyboard etc, and can instead immerse in the experience on screen. Turn off all other programmes and notifications that might pop up on screen while you are participating in the service.

You may also find that if you have a wall hanging on a Jewish theme, or a mizrach, it would help to make the space feel more “Jewish”. You can often download artwork or mizrachim or photos of Jewish interest from the net.

Then it is time to think about yourself. Just as you would if you are attending physical synagogue, consider what you will wear to be festive yet comfortable. Get your tallit and kippah ready and available to wear.

Verses and blessings to help create your sacred space/mikdash m’at:

  מַה־טֹּ֥בוּ אֹהָלֶ֖יךָ יַעֲקֹ֑ב מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶ֖יךָ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
How good are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwelling places, O Israel!  (Numbers 24:5)
  מַה-נּוֹרָא, הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה:  אֵין זֶה, כִּי אִם-בֵּית אֱלֹהִים, וְזֶה, שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם
“How awesome is this place, this is the none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. (Gen 28:17)
  כִּ֣י הַמָּק֗וֹם אֲשֶׁ֤ר אַתָּה֙ עוֹמֵ֣ד עָלָ֔יו אַדְמַת־קֹ֖דֶשׁ הֽוּא׃
The place which you are standing on is holy ground (Exodus 3:5)
בְּכָל־הַמָּקוֹם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אַזְכִּ֣יר אֶת־שְׁמִ֔י אָב֥וֹא אֵלֶ֖יךָ וּבֵרַכְתִּֽיךָ
In every place where My name is mentioned, I will come to you and bless you.  (Exodus 20:21)
וְעָשׂוּ לִי, מִקְדָּשׁ; וְשָׁכַנְתִּי, בְּתוֹכָם
Exodus 25:8  And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’, הַמַבְדִּיל בֵּין קֹדֶשׁ לְחוֹל   Blessed are you God who separates between the holy and the ordinary. (Havdalah blessing)  
Blessing for the Household:    

בְּזֶה הַשַּׁעַר לֹא יָבוֹא צַעַר בְּזֹאת הַדִּירָה לֹא תָבוֹא צָרָה בְּזֹאת הַדֶּלֶת לֺא תָבוֹא בֶּהָלָה בְּזֹאת הַמַּחְלָקָה לֺא תָבוֹא מַחְלוֺקֶת. בְּזֶה הַמָּקוֺם תְּהִי בְרָכָה וְשָׁלוֺם Through this gate let no sorrow enter Through this house let no trouble come Through this door let nothing frightening come In this area let there be no quarrelling or conflict In this place let there be blessing and peace.  

25th Elul: building our community together

25th Elul  2nd September 2021

This will be the second year that many of us will not be sitting together with our community as we work our way through this penitential season. We may be alone or in a small group, but the loss of being together with the whole synagogue community, of hearing and singing along with the heartfelt penitential prayers, of viscerally experiencing teshuvah with others, helping each other on the journey – this loss is real.

As Rabbi Sacks wrote – and I am never quite sure if he is paraphrasing a famous theme tune – “Community is the human expression of Divine love. It is where I am valued simply for who I am, and for what I give to others. It is the place where they know my name”

So how do we build community when we are socially distanced from each other? How do we reach out to others, pray with them, call them, feed them, cry with them? How do we enable the sense of belonging that we crave?

One of the mi sheberach prayers after the reading of the Torah and Haftarah, the prayers that invoke God’s blessing on those being prayed for, is the prayer for the community and it is extraordinarily detailed.

We ask for God’s blessing first on the whole of the local community and their loved ones, as well as on the whole Jewish people, but then focus more narrowly  

Those who prepare synagogues for prayer and those who come to pray in them. Those who provide light, and those who provide wine for kiddush and Havdalah, and those who provide bread, and those who give charity to the poor and for everyone who is involved faithfully in supporting the needs of the community……

There is no job too humble, no gift too small, for the community to recognise that without that person/ work/ object they would be far less able to function.

While we are unable to meet in person, it is up to us to keep communities together and functioning. Reaching out to others to see how they are, checking that there are supplies so that everyone will be able to make shabbat and the festivals – and for the wider community that our neighbours and neighbourhood is cared for.

Making community is an active verb. It doesn’t just happen, and it works best when there are many different people involved.   It is for all of us to get involved – as the midrash says: “If someone… says, “Why should I trouble myself for the community? What’s in it for me to take part in their disputes? Why should I listen to their voices? I’m fine [without this],” this person destroys the world. — Midrash Tanhuma, Parshat Mishpatim

Soon the new moon of Tishri will be with us and we will prepare for the services of Rosh Hashanah. We may be physically alone or isolated from loved ones. We may feel ourselves distanced from normal community events. We can respond by drifting away or we can respond by making an active choice to create community in whatever way we can.

The mi sheberach  for the community uses an interesting adjective – it speaks of those who create community be’emunah  With faith. It sometimes is a leap in the dark to put in the work to create community, and sometimes the process is discouraging or hard to do. But with all important work if we begin with a belief in its importance, we will find the strength to bring it forth into reality.

24th Elul: Each of us has a voice with which to speak truth

24th Elul 1st September

“Rabbi Yochanan said: When God’s voice came forth at Mt. Sinai, it divided itself into 70 human languages, so that the whole world might understand it. All at Mt. Sinai, young and old, women, children, and infants according to their ability to understand. Moses too, understood only according to his capacity, as it is said (Ex. 19:19), ‘Moses spoke and God answered him with a voice.’ With a voice that Moses could hear.” (Midrash Exodus Rabbah 5:9)

This midrash, which speaks of God being heard by each person according to their ability to understand, also hints that even if we might disagree with each other, we all somehow hold the same ultimate/absolute truth. 

The Talmud clarifies this Eruvin 13b

Although Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel disagreed, Beit Shammai did not, nevertheless abstain from marrying women of the families of Beit Hillel, nor did Beit Hillel refrain from marrying those of Beit Shammai. This is to teach you that they showed love and friendship towards one another. . . For three years Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel disagreed. [One group] said: “The law is in accordance with our opinion,” and the other said: “The law is in accordance with our opinion.” Ultimately a Divine Voice emerged and proclaimed: “Both these and those are the words of the living God.”

The word of God emerges in a multiplicity of ways and is understood according to the context and situation of those who understand. But as the Talmud tells us, the disagreements that ensued from different groups having different understandings were held with respect, the groups never separated from each other or put each other on the other side of acceptability. Instead they worked with each other, recorded each other’s opinions, found ways to work with the complexity rather than boil God’s word down to absolute do’s and don’ts.

Rav Kook developed this theme. Writing about the idea that the scholars of Talmud were known as “builders” he said “the building is constructed from various parts, and the truth of the light of the world will be built from various dimensions, from various approaches, for “these and those are the words of the living God” . . . It is precisely the multiplicity of opinions which derive from variegated souls and backgrounds which enriches wisdom and brings about its enlargement. In the end all matters will be properly understood and it will be recognized that it was impossible for the structure of peace to be built without those trends which appeared to be in conflict”

We come from a tradition of rich multi-vocality. And each of us has a voice we must bring to the community, each of us builds our world as we understand the imperatives to be. If we are passive or silent, our voice will be missed, our world the poorer. Speak your truth with respect and with love.

23rd Elul “I am wrong. I was wrong, I will be wrong again. I am human

23rd Elul  31st August

Most of us find it hard to admit to being wrong. We have what is known in psychology as “error blindness”

This may be because we have long internalised that making an error demonstrates our incompetence, or inadequate morality, or even our stupidity, so we prefer to be blind to our own mistakes and often double down on them rather than acknowledge them.

We know that “to err is human” – that as a general principle human beings are fallible, we make mistakes. We know that learning follows a pattern of getting things not quite right until we get them right. But as individuals, we tend to take our own subjective position and weave stories around the inconvenient parts until we can defend ourselves and what we “know” to be right.

Kathryn Shulz asks in her Ted talk “On Being Wrong” “how does it feel to be wrong? The answers show an interesting disconnect – people will generally say “it feels bad, or embarrassing or uncomfortable”. But these are not answers to the question – instead they are answers to the question “how does it feel when you realise you are wrong?”.  When we are wrong, and haven’t realised it, we simply don’t notice. We assume it is the fault of the other person that they disagree with us. And because we assume there is a problem with the other, then we find it hard to connect with them.

Shulz argues that our ability to see things other than with complete objectivity is inherently human. We expect something to happen, and if something else happens we either don’t notice it or we generate stories about it that keep our expectation safe. We bring forth our own reality and so stay in our comfortable space.

 “For good and for ill, we generate these incredible stories about the world around us,” she says, “and then the world turns around and astonishes us. . . . If you really want to rediscover wonder, you need to step out of that tiny, terrified space of rightness, and look around at each other. And look out at the vastness and complexity, and mystery of the universe and be able to say, ‘Wow. I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong.”

If we really want to rediscover wonder, we need to step out of our tiny space of being right, and look around us. Notice what else – and who else – is there. Notice other realities. Be able to say “I might be wrong” without any of the judgemental aspects we are often so afraid of.  Owning our mistakes can take us to wide new spaces, open us up to experiences and understandings and relationships we may otherwise think unimaginable.

Our liturgy for this time contains a number of ritualised confessions. Ashamnu, Bagadnu, Gazalnu – I have been guilty, I have betrayed, I have stolen, I have been hypocritical…..  Maybe we should add another vidui line – “I was wrong, I am wrong, I will be wrong about so much – and now is the time to stop defending my view and think about it again.

21st Elul

Elul 21   29 August

“I am not immortal.

Whatever I put off for later

May never be.

Whoever doesn’t know now

That I love them

May never know.

I have killed time.

    I have squandered it.

            I have lost days…weeks…

As a man of unlimited wealth

Might drop coins on the street

And never look back.

I know now, that there will be an end,

A limit.

But there is time

Valuable and precious time

To walk,

        talk,

            breathe.

Time to touch,

        taste,

            care.

To warm the child

Who is cold and lonely.

There is time to love

I promise myself…

            I will.

I am

I am ready

I am ready to give

I am ready to give and to receive

I am ready to give and to receive love”

This poem is part of a longer work by Leonard Nimoy, published in 1973

Suggestions for reflection

With the limited time we all have on this earth, what are the most important things for you to have done?

Are you ready to give love – to others and to yourselves?

Are you ready to receive love – from others and from yourself?

Is there something you can decide to do in order to show more love to yourself or to others?