Categories
High Holy Days

Elul and the Red Planet

This July Mars was closer than it’s been to Earth in fifteen years.  With giddiness and wonder many of us took a glance at the night sky to see a hazy orange glow that indeed felt far more visible than usual.

In truth, Mars is always roughly the same distance from the earth, 38 million miles give or take a few.  Sometimes, however, as happened this summer, our vantage point changes and we see our neighboring planet anew, as if now immediately by our side.  Rather than have our heads buried in phones and screens of every ilk, we saw in a new light what otherwise seemed so taken-for-granted.  The scientific community used the opportunity to present new findings on the epic volcano, Olympus Mons, the largest in our solar system, which rests atop Mars, as well as a winding lake, long dry, stretching twelve miles across a portion of the red planet.

All of it becomes a reminder that we need to look up sometimes too.  We need to be reminded to turn our gaze elsewhere, away from Facebook and meeting agendas, lengthy emails and service outlines.  Elul pulls us back, and turns our gaze to what matters, even as we feel the stifling pull of planning for our holy day season.  Rather than get drawn to the stark glare of logistics and minutiae, let alone a news cycle that can be so unnerving, Elul brings our attention to those places we often neglect.  During this sacred month, we turn to the full breadth of our faith, community, our Homeland and our God.  As the tangible world competes for attention and commercials blare of sales and upcoming TV premiers, it is Elul that pulls our heart back to what is most fundamental.

As one of the harrowing Haftarah readings of this time of year urges: ‘Look up all around you and see; they are all assembled, are come to you’ (Isaiah 49:18).

As we turn ourselves now to our most central and sacred texts and prepare for the upcoming hagim, we see it all as if anew, against the backdrop of our scary world and the multiple generations within our communities that are in search of perspective and guidance for today.  Like a planet that has always been there, but somehow feels brand new, we stand now to come back to the familiar hues and tones of Slichot, the Binding of Isaac, Tashlich, and of course Jonah.  Like Mars, these narratives feel both mysterious and familiar.  They are both right beside us and as distant as ever.  We squint to see them with clarity and marvel at how many have looked at them over the centuries.

Our task becomes turning them round and round so that our collective vantage point has us see them for what they are: inspiring, beautiful, and offering us the wisdom we so very much need.

Rabbi Benjamin David serves Adath Emanu-El in Mt Laurel, New Jersey and is a co-founder of the Running Rabbis.  Rabbi David is also the Editor of CCAR Press’s  Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation.

 

Categories
Books

Who Is Wise? One Who Learns From All.

In anticipation of the release of CCAR Press’s newest book, Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation, we’ve invited several of the book’s contributors to share excerpts from the book. The book is now officially available to order!

The opening words of the Torah are iconic, and they mark the start of an iconic narrative, namely the Torah’s account of how God created our world. Centuries later, these words continue to carry power and resonate broadly. However, those first six days, presented twice in Genesis, tell of much more than the beginning of day and night, skies and seas, animals of earth and air; they provide us with a touchstone to return to once and again over the course of our lives. When we dare to investigate the intricacies of the Creation text we come to see not only ourselves, but the imperatives with which we live as Jews: to care for the natural universe, to take responsibility for ourselves and those around us, to lift up the Sabbath as a holy day, and to always remember our ever-profound origins.

We might also argue that never before have there been greater misgivings regarding Creation. At a time when considerable skepticism is aimed at religious institutions and tradition at large, the early chapters of Genesis are easily cast aside as antiquated, even irrelevant. And yet, even when placed beside the realities of scientific discovery and evolution, those chapters remind us in the most succinct fashion of precisely what is so ennobling regarding religion and religious life: ritual, poetry, coexistence, tradition, and the underlying belief so many of us carry in a benevolent Creator manifest in our daily lives. It is true that if the Creation story is going to withstand the test of time, it is not only because of its literary prowess and magnitude, but because it consistently renews our commitment to faith itself.

In an age of dire pace and frenzied obsession with technology, holding fast to our beginnings matters greatly, for us and our children. Rather than fixate forever on what’s next, and whose social media status garners greatest attention, Creation has us consider who we are at our most fundamental. They are verses to which we are meant to pay attention.

Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation, a new publication from CCAR Press, started as a mere idea three years ago.  It has now become a very exciting reality.  When I proposed a book that would explore the great range of thought around the Torah’s Creation stories, I never imagined the far-reaching scope achieved by the nearly fifty essays.  Indeed, included in this collection are the diverse perspectives of awe-inspiring colleagues and teachers, each of whom have wrestled with Creation in their own right.  The end result is an anthology that captures the layers and complexities of Creation in new and fascinating ways.  At the start of this project I believed, and still believe, that we honor Creation most when we allow ourselves to see it in the most complicated light, rather than rushing to simplified, easy readings.

The book’s contributors challenge many of the common conceptions around Creation. They urge readers to see Creation not only as a story about how God formed our world in six days, but what it means to have faith, what it means to be a Jewish parent, what it means to care for the environment, what it means to protect the most vulnerable among us, what it means to think deeply about gender and sexuality, and what it means to observe Shabbat.

I am proud to align myself with a community that allows for and encourages diversity of thought.  To include authors that span the ideological spectrum within one anthology, sometimes in near total opposition to one another, speaks to the adage from the Mishnah: “Who is wise?  One who learns from all.” Perhaps one of the great victories of this book, therefore, is that it reminds us to learn from those not altogether like ourselves.

Rabbi Benjamin David serves Adath Emanu-El in Mt Laurel, New Jersey.  Rabbi David is also the Editor of CCAR Press’s newest book, Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation, now available to order.