“A Time to Renew” ~ Rev. Melanie Eyre
Join us for our Sunday Gathering as Rev. Melanie talks about the traditions of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and the gifts they offer each of us.
Talk starts at 18:17
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A revised transcript of this week’s talk is provided below for the Deaf and hard of hearing.
Prayers, readings and songs from this week’s service are also included.
This is the season of healing:
Of healing our hearts and minds,
Of healing the moments we share with each other
And the moments we share with ourselves.
This is the season of memory:
Of remembering our parents and grandparents,
The love of generations,
The holiness of our ancestors.
This is the season of stillness,
The season of silence and quiet:
Of deep breaths,
Of open eyes,
Of compassion and consolation.
This is the season of healing:© 2017 CCAR Press from Alden Solovy, This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day.
The season of grief turning to wonder,
Of loss turning toward hope,
The season that binds this year to the next,
The season that frees this year from the next,
The season that heralds the redemption of spirit
And our return to God’s Holy Word.
O Great Love, thank you for living and loving in us and through us. May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings. Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of glory. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world. Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God. And so it is, and together we say Amen.Richard Rohr, adapted by Rev. Melanie Eyre
“A Time to Renew” by Rev. Melanie Eyre
Sept. 27, 2020
Today we wrap up our series on the second half of life, and I can’t think of a better time to do it than now. We are in the midst of the Jewish High Holidays, which began with the first day of Rosh Hashanah before sundown on September 18 and will close with Yom Kippur, which begins before sundown today and ends after nightfall tomorrow. In the Jewish calendar it is a time of turning, and of new beginnings.
I want to talk about this holiday, and specifically explore what this holiday can teach us about change, and growth, and awakening – all themes we have explored this month.
In Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah means, literally, “head of the year” or “first of the year.” Rosh Hashanah is known as the Jewish New Year, even though it falls on the first day of the seventh month of the Jewish calendar.
Traditionally, Rosh Hashanah begins a period known as the ten days of awe, or the Days of Repentance. It’s a time for introspection, self-examination, a review of the year past. It’s also a time of reconciliation, forgiveness, and renewal. The Torah refers to this time as the Day of Remembrance, and it is the Torah, in Leviticus Chapter 23, verses 24-25, that sets it on the first day of the seventh month, the month known as Tishri.
In those verses, God spoke to Moses, saying “Speak to the Israelite people thus: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts. You shall not work at your occupations; and you shall bring an offering by fire to the Lord.”
Many of you will have heard the sounding of the shofar, or ram’s horn, in synagogues during Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur. Those of you with us several years ago will remember the year that our kids made shofars out of paper and sounded them, followed by a fellowship of honey and apples, the traditional Rosh Hashanah foods to symbolize our hope for a sweet new year.
You may ask why the new year falls on the seventh month. In Jewish tradition, the new year begins at the time that God created Adam, the first human. Rosh Hashanah celebrates this new creation. According to the Talmud, God created Adam, and thus mankind, on the first day of the month Tishri, which is the seventh month.
Rosh Hashanah is referred to traditionally as the Day of Judgment. On this day, in traditional belief, God opens the Book of Life and begins to decide who shall live and who shall die. One’s actions taken in the ten days before Yom Kippur can change this result, and therefore observers during this period focus on the three ways in which they can ensure their names are written in the book of life.
These three ways are repentance, prayer, and charity, or good works. Together, these practices are known as Teshuvah, or “turning.” They represent our opportunity to take a fresh look, renew, and affirm choices that serve us better.
Repentance, prayer, and good deeds: these sounds familiar, even though we may not use the same language.
The notion of repentance has a lot of baggage: For many it means judgment of a harsh God, begging for forgiveness. However, the source of the word is just to regret, to be sorry. I think of awareness, consciousness, unfolding. It means we’ve taken the opportunity to look back and see that we might have behaved in a different way, made a different choice. We bring ourselves back into alignment with the divine, and with others. It is a time of awareness, reconciliation, and healing.
Prayer, the next step: We are a community that strongly affirms the power of the energy of prayer. We align our focus, our thoughts and hearts to connect with source, to know that we are one, that we can affirm the truth of our wholeness and that of others. Prayer is a primary way we rest in spirit, individually and collectively.
And good works: What does that mean but service? We are the hands, the feet and the voice of the divine here on earth, and the goal of our awakening is to spread that love and compassion here on earth. As Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore said,
“I slept and dreamt that life was joy
I awoke and saw that life was service
I acted and behold, service was joy.”
We do not follow a spiritual path so that we can focus on our own growth to the exclusion of the world. The holy path necessarily brings you deeper into the world – more deeply involved with others and with all of life. The more we awaken, the more we open our hearts to all, seeing the oneness of all. If we believe we all are one, that separation is an illusion, then awakening inevitably means widening our circle of love, compassion, and care. Loving action follows.
You may view as metaphorical the imagery of God opening a book and examining it for names. It is a rich image, and you still get to ask yourself what meaning it has for you as you reflect on your past year with a view to a new start.
What a gift it is to have a time dedicated to reflection about the larger questions: Am I behaving with kindness? How do I treat others? What judgments or assumptions, or beliefs, do I have that injure others, that prevent me from seeing them in their true and holy light?
How necessary it is to have a period of time devoted to the notion that we should look back, reflect on our actions, and consider how we may live a life in the coming year that brings us closer to each other and to God.
Several of us just completed several weeks of a discussion group on justice and equity, exploring issues of individual and systematic racism in ourselves and our society. I really appreciate the wisdom and effort that Danielle Wright put in as our discussion leader. I can’t imagine a better time for that class than during this time of retrospection and reflection, and commitment to new beginnings. This ritual, this holiday, is new every year, for whatever issues we are carrying that need resolution. The opportunity is always fresh, even if the ritual is ancient.
We may be tempted during this process to focus on the many ways we perceive we have fallen short, and those should be examined. However, Rosh Hashanah also calls on us to examine the ways we have been a blessing, to be kind to ourselves. We can grow, we can change, without heaping judgment on ourselves. By and large, we all are doing all we can, and we are human.
Rabbi Robin Nafshi of Temple Beth Jacob in Concord, NH, gave the following analogy in her 2017 Yom Kippur message. She said that when you’re driving somewhere and you take a wrong turn, your GPS doesn’t start yelling “You idiot! What were you thinking?” Instead, it calmly redirects, and you get to where you’re going—no judgment, no recrimination. We should do the same for ourselves.
“We are in the season of t’shuvah, turning or changing ourselves to become the people we want to be or we know we can be. We will never be perfect. We can’t be. We are human. Flaws will remain. But we still can make changes.”
That is the purpose of this time.
She goes on,
“T’shuvah involves many steps. The final stage of t’shuvah is accepting who we are and realizing that our flaws make us unique. Our challenge in life is not to hide who we are, hide our inner voice, or live like other people, but to become more like ourselves.”
She quoted the great Chasidic master, the Ba’al Shem Tov, who taught,
“Compare yourself not with anyone else, lest you spoil God’s curriculum.”
Our goal is to become the light that we are, that no one else can be. Another way of putting it? Be yourself, because everyone else is taken.
Rosh Hashanah at its core is a celebration of our ability to renew, to begin again. However, as we grow in awareness, one of the gifts of our unfolding is a loving acceptance of who we are and where we are. Don’t we say that we are exactly where we need to be on our path, we are perfect just as we are, even though we could all use some improvement?
Rabbi Roni Handler writes that her goal for the High Holy Holidays is to “examine where I’ve been and where I’m going through the lens of acceptance” – not that she is not going to continue to grow, but that she will love who she is now as she grows. We grow on a foundation of love and nurturing – that is how we flourish.
Rabbi Yael Levy, who wrote today’s reading, writes that in this time of renewal we can lift our eyes to the good we have done this year, the blessings we have bestowed. She writes that this examination is the essence of teshuvah, of turning.
“The tradition teaches that acknowledging the good in ourselves is an act of teshuvah – an act of turning. We call ourselves to return to our best selves by recognizing the ways in which we have acted for love and blessing.”
The renewal called for during Rosh Hashanah thus is not a time to judge yourself and respond harshly, promising to be a better person. It is a time to affirm that you are a child of light, that your heart is called to bestow blessings, love, and compassion in this world. Rabbi Yael calls it an “invitation back into loving relationship with each other and all of life.”
There is always opportunity for change. The story is told of Rabbi Salanter, who one night, was walking home, past the home of a shoemaker. Despite it being very late, he observed the shoemaker was still busy, working by the light of a single candle. “Why are you still working?” Rabbi Salanter asked him. “It is very late and soon the candle will go out.”
The shoemaker replied, “As long as the candle is still burning it is still possible to accomplish and to mend shoes.” In his wisdom, Rabbi Salanter realized this message is true for all of us. It’s never too late to change.
As I was researching this talk, I came across a Rosh Hashanah tradition that resonated with me, and I’d like to share it. It will sound pretty familiar, and it may be one you want to consider in the days ahead. It is the ritual of Tashlikh.
The goal of the ritual is to symbolically rid yourself of your past sins so that you may move forward unburdened. Sin is a loaded word. Some regard it as an act that offends God, while others see it as those moments we have stepped off our paths – unkindness, lack of welcome, withdrawal of compassion. You might think of it as error thinking, succumbing to the illusion of separation to indulge our human ego. We become proud, self-centered, arrogant, self-righteous. We separate ourselves from the holy within, and from each other. Maybe all these definitions add up to the same thing.
So how does Tashlikh help? With awareness, we leave these burdens behind.
In the Tashlikh ceremony, traditionally one goes to a body of running water and casts breadcrumbs, or other symbols, into it, to be carried away. Some go and turn out their pockets into the running water, to release what they symbolically have been carrying around.
This ceremony has been practiced for thousands of years, recognizing the power of awareness, release, and beginning anew.
I mentioned earlier that Rosh Hashanah is celebrated at this time of the year because Jewish tradition teaches that this is when God created Adam, the first human. This is also a message rich in symbolism, that can bring inspiration and hope to us.
Author Shimon Apisdorf, author of the book Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Survival Kit, draws this lesson from Rosh Hashanah: He observes that God, being God, could have created thousands of people at once, entire cities or civilizations. But he didn’t – he created an individual. To this author, that choice reflects what Apisdorf calls “the fantastic potential inherent in each of us.” Each of us has the ability and potential to make a difference in our world. One is enough.
These high holidays teach us that renewal is an ongoing gift and opportunity. Every day we have the choice to reflect, renew, begin again, reconnect with our essence. Every moment of our life gives us that opportunity. We are constantly, every day, starting anew. What can we do in the weeks and months ahead to continue our growth, to share our gifts? How can I contribute to making the world a better place? The message of Rosh Hashanah is that the world awakens as we do.
Look at the three practices I spoke of at the beginning – repentance, prayer, service. What might that mean for you, in whatever language you select? Reflect, connect, and act. Breathe, light a candle, go to work. There is so much to be done.
So, may you have a blessed year – Shana tovah.
The Unfolding of All Life sings: “Return to reverent relationship with yourself, with each other, with the majesty of creation. Return to your beauty and light. Let yourself shine.”
The soul hesitates, afraid of its imperfections, shamed by mistakes and misdeeds. And the Mystery continues to call: “You are loved for exactly who you are. Return to me and I will return to you.”
As we stand on the threshold of a new year, our tradition urges us to look into our hearts, our minds, and our bodies, and to see our beauty and goodness. To lift our eyes to all the good we have done this year, to acknowledge the offerings we have made, and the generosity and kindness we have bestowed. To raise up these sparks and let them shine. We are also urged to look into the hearts of others and to call forth their beauty and light. To acknowledge and name the goodness in others, and the ways we have lived well, created connection, and brought forth love. The tradition teaches that acknowledging the good in ourselves is an act of teshuvah—an act of turning. We call ourselves to return to our best selves by recognizing the ways in which we have acted for love and blessing.Return to Me, by Rabbi Yael Levy
“I Am Opening Up in Sweet Surrender”
Written by Michael Stillwater
“Humble and Kind”
Written by Lori McKenna
This service aired on September 27, 2020.