05 Sep 2018
We are in this together
Dear families and friends, chères familles et amis,
With a few days to go before Rosh Hashanah, my thoughts always turn to the writings of the first Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel, Rav Kook (1865-1935), and his teachings of teshuvah (penitence) in his classic spiritual work Orot HaTeshuvah (‘Lights of Penitence’).
Allow me to explain. You see, I have a big problem over the High Holidays. The truth is that I can’t sit still. At. All. The thought of being in synagogue for that long, trapped between my fellow co-religionists in the pews, is something I dread, and struggle with every year. Prayer is hard work, and it takes real effort over time to get to the point where it is an amazing, soul-expanding experience (i.e. what we all envision prayer to be). To quote the talmud in Tractate Ta’anit (2a):
“For ‘To love Hashem your G-d and to serve Him with all your heart’ (Devarim 11:3). Which avodah (work), which service of G-d is performed in the heart? You must say this is prayer.”
And so, over the years, as I sat in the pews, trying to daven, experiencing what is referred to in the medical community as shpilkes, I read and I learned in between tefillot, in order to quiet my mind and my body. I began to learn from Rav Kook’s Orot HaTeshuvah. And I fell in love with his teachings.
In the spirit of Rosh Hashanah, I’d like to share one of his beautiful teachings. He writes that teshuvah is not only an individual responsibility, but a communal, collective process:
“We must disclose the secret that the genuine teshuvah of the entire nation of Israel is a mighty, powerful vision that provides reserves of might and strength, imbuing all of our spiritual and pragmatic values with a lofty spirit of vigorous, surging creative energy from the power of the Rock of Israel. This living teshuvah flows not from isolated, fragmented souls, but from the treasury of the nation’s collective soul, Knesset Yisrael …. In this way, the united soul of Israel is prepared to return to its former strength, as in days of old.”
Without me going too far down a theological rabbit hole, and losing myself (and you, dear reader) in the process, what I take from this teaching is the following:
You and I are connected, bound together by the promise of the nation of Israel. And regardless of what type of Jew we are, and how often or how little we choose to engage in this crazy Jewish experiment of ours, we share a collective soul. How we treat each other matters more than we think. When you do well, I do well. When you hurt, I hurt. When you get closer to Hashem, you schlepp me along. And vice versa. There’s no other in this equation – just an us.
So wherever you are this Rosh Hashanah, look around you at the other faces in the crowd, at your loved ones, at your friends, at the people who drive you crazy, at the fancy people and the regular crowd, and when the shofar blows, remember that we are in this together – the united soul of Israel.
Ktivah v’chatimah tovah. To the whole HFS school community, I want to wish all of us a happy, healthy and meaningful 5779.