CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013 - 4

Voices of Torah
Rosh HaShanah

Haazinu

(Amy Scheinerman)

(Amy Scheinerman)

Avinu Malkeinu is arguably the most
emblematic prayer of the High Holy Days
because it expresses the essence of our
prayers and aspirations for the coming
year. It joins forces with that powerful
image Sefer HaChayim, in which there
are two kinds of inscriptions, though
we usually don’t much distinguish
between them.

Haazinu, often called Shirat Moshe, expresses God’s tender love and unceasing devotion to Israel,
despite her willful rejection of God in favor of idols. God therefore determines to destroy them
but has a change of heart when it occurs to God that other nations will take credit for Israel’s
dissolution. In the end, God decides to avenge Israel’s enemies. Phew, that was a close one.
Or was it?

The first inscription is what is written
about us, which we imagine God to
be reading on Rosh HaShanah. This
is compelling because it reminds us
that everything we do and say—not to
mention everything we neglect doing and
fail to say—make a difference. Nothing
hovers meaninglessly in the air; all those
looks, gestures, words, comments find a
landing spot in someone’s head or heart.
The second kind is God’s inscriptions
(more like prescriptions) for us in the
coming year. We implore God to write
us down for life, redemption, and
sustenance, implying that it’s mostly in
God’s hands, not in ours.
We acknowledge responsibility for the first
kind of inscription, but what if we accept
more responsibility for the second: the
potential blessings and curses we can be
to those we know and love. We are each
God’s manifestation in the world: God’s
eyes, ears, hands, feet...and mouth.
If words are like arrows, here are some to
keep in the quiver and shoot generously
in the coming year: “I feel good when
I’m around you.” “I love your sense of
humor.” “It’s fun to do things with you.”
“You’re easy to talk to.” “I always know I
can count on you to listen.” “You always
have something interesting to say.” “I
appreciate your caring.” And most of all:
“You’re important to me.”

Haazinu certainly reflects a messy situation. God’s love is unrequited, Israel’s disloyalty evokes
divine anger, and revenge against Israel is considered, rejected, and transferred to the nations.
This is hardly a kiss-and-make-up poem. Yet the poem offers us hope that what has gone awry
can be set aright even when strong feelings of resentment and even bitterness remain—perhaps
not perfectly, nor with a Hollywood ending, but in time effectively.
What a wonderful poem to read as we conclude the High Holy Days. As Tikva Frymer-Kensky z”l
wrote: “[This poem] offers hope for the people of Israel in the time of their greatest suffering, for it
carries with it a sense of anticipatory forgiveness and the end of suffering, the promise of an eternal
bond that remains unbroken even through difficult times” (In the Wake of the Goddesses, pp.
162-63).
Repentance and forgiveness are a continuing cycle in our lives because that is the nature of human
relationships and of our relationship with God: ups and downs, closeness and distance, bubbling
enthusiasm and withering disinterest. There is something comforting in this: repentance and
reconciliation are always offered us.

Yom Kippur
(David Novak)
No sooner do we conclude Yom Kippur, than we pray Maariv and include a prayer for t’shuvah.
So soon? In reciting the blessing for t’shuvah right after Yom Kippur, we can’t possibly imagine
having done anything in the moments since the service ended and a speedy Maariv begins.
What are we praying for? Perhaps we might see this as a prayer of aspiration, for the ability
to create an ever-present t’shuvah-consciousness, a spiritual tool we can use to tinker with
ourselves not just on Yom Kippur, but on all of our days.
T’shuvah is a powerful concept. When we look at ourselves, when we make adjustments, when
we bring to the surface what we’d rather suppress deep inside, we are giving ourselves the
opportunity to use t’shuvah for self-improvement and greater self-awareness. Whether we pray
daily or not, the power of t’shuvah is always available to us 365 days a year.
What the Mussar Institute says of musar in general applies to t’shuvah as a practice and
aspiration: “The goal of Mussar practice is to release the light of holiness that lives within the
soul. The roots of all of our thoughts and actions can be traced to the depths of the soul,
beyond the reach of the light of consciousness, and so the methods Mussar provides include
meditations, guided contemplations, exercises and chants that are all intended to penetrate
down to the darkness of the subconscious, to bring about change right at the root of our
nature.”

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CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2013

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