Categories
High Holy Days

In the Middle of the Night: A High Holy Day Clergy COVID-19 Confession

Can I be honest? In these past months, I have lost more sleep, wrestled with more anxiety, and endured new levels of second-guessing myself, all because the intersection of High Holy Days and the coronavirus pandemic has upended finely honed planning and practices. Where once many of my fellow rabbis and I felt pressure over sermon writing, now, like so many colleagues around the world, we are stressing out over megabytes needed and minutes to cut, and platforms to stream on, and prayers to preserve. And then one late night, this confession came forth. Perhaps it speaks of your truth too:

In the Middle of the Night:
A High Holy Day Clergy COVID-19 Confession

In the middle of the night 
I am feeling the fright
About how to do this right—
My High Holy Days COVID-19 rewrite

Can I be an inspiration?
Will I shine a comforting light?
Will the internet hold up
Providing sufficient megabytes?

Are my kavannot kosher?
Are my stories too trite?
Should we prerecord or livestream
At the temple or offsite

What passions can I convey
From my living room as I sit tight?
What comfort can I bring
Streaming from a distance satellite?

Will I uplift enough souls
To make my community unite?
Will my sermons make them think
Or will they just cause a dogfight?

Can my services really stem
The feared membership flight?
Will my appeal really raise Tzedakah
From each philanthropic socialite?

Did we think it all through
Was our preparation airtight?
Did I fail to strategically plan
Without sufficient foresight?

Will I fall to the virus
The thermometer’s rising Fahrenheit?
Or from something unexpectedly random
Like a West Nile virus mosquito bite?

Have I already ruined Yom Kippur
Like a wayward satellite? 
Will I watch it come crashing down 
Like a fiery meteorite?

Will I later kick myself
With 2020’s hindsight
After I quickly crash and burn-
Oy, I’m getting stage fright

Yes, I’m trying for homeostasis 
To be patient and polite
But my heart’s being attacked
By anxiety’s lymphocyte

So as I ride the rollercoaster
Like a frightened suburbanite
I’m trying to discern the future 
Like a soon-to-be extinct Canaanite

Worrying, when we gather together 
For Rosh Hashanah’s first candlelight
Will my rabbinate already be over
Before I step into the limelight

Like all my clergy friends
I’m trying to breath through the fright
Though the pressure’s overwhelming
For us clerical leading lights

I know our people have the desire 
And a massive spiritual appetite 
So I wonder what else can I bring
During this moment of irreligious blight

What else can I offer
That will make my community delight?
Oy, I’d better calm down
So I don’t seem so uptight

And I’d better get some sleep
Hours after midnight
So I can get up and get working
At the first morning’s light

Just one more thought…
What if… 

My sermons are ready
And the chanting seems right
And the Torah’s all rolled 
And my machzor’s in sight
Will it all be for naught
Even if I get it all right
Because I simply forgot to send
The congregational Zoom invite?

Anxiety, I hate you
But at least you’re my constant friend
I’ll see you every night
Until these High Holy Days end.


Rabbi Paul Kipnes serves Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, California.

Categories
High Holy Days Poetry

Hin’ni: Here I Am, The Confession of a Broken Heart

I am here.
I am here.
I stand before the open Ark and
the eternal scrolls of our people
dressed in white light.
I stand ready to enter into the Holy Days,
to offer prayers that urge me
to live better, kinder,
ever present to the pain of others,
to become a compassionate vessel, trustworthy
holding hope in the midst of despair.

Hin’ni
I am here, I am here.
I stand on the edge between earth and heaven,
between what I know and what I can never understand,
between life and life everlasting.
Mortality hovers, a rippling presence,
always there, lingering, waiting, holding.
I am here.

Hin’ni
I am here
I stand resilient, determined,
though I have been taken down,
forced to live a different way.
The rhythm of life has been altered.
Time unfolds and morphs, expands and stands still.
I have been called to be present, to pay attention.
What have I learned?
What have I done with the time I have been given,
glorious time of never-ending possibility?
Have I squandered the beauty, the radiance of life,
an offering to my inner being?

Who am I?
Where have I gone astray?
Am I worthy to pray with my people?
May I be worthy to pray with my people.

Hear my plea,
grant me the faith, courage and wisdom
to enter into cheshbon hanefesh:
the fragility and humility of self-examination.

Hin’ni,
I am here, I am here.
May this fractured heart, softened
and hold love and compassion,
in a way it never has before.

Hin’ni, I am here.


Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar is the senior rabbi at Congregation BJBE in the Chicago area and is renown for her creative liturgy. Her work explores the need for meaning and purpose in our busy lives, creating an intentional life, spiritual awakening, forgiveness, as well as inspirational leadership and creating the synagogue for the twenty-first century. Her latest work includes Amen: Seeking Presence with Prayer, Poetry and Mindfulness Practice, available for purchase through the CCAR Press.

Categories
High Holy Days

Deeds, Not Fasting

In Talmudic times of trouble, tractate Taanit tells how the Jewish community needs to move forward:

The elder among them says words of admonition, “People! It does not say of the citizens of Nineveh that God say their sackcloth and their fasting, but rather: God saw their deeds, that they turned from their evil ways.”

Our High Holy Days are a time for turning.  And we know that it is neither our fasting nor our penitence that matters, but how we change our daily behavior, our deeds.  What is true for individuals is true for nations: the entire citizenry of Nineveh needed to turn from the improper path they walked together.  We know the ways in which our own nation walks are sometimes stepped in sin; our High Holy Days come to admonish us to find better pathways to the future.

This past August, we marked two sad national commemorations.  2019 marked a century since America plunged into its Red Summer, a season of violence in which white supremacists in over 36 cities (and many rural areas) unleased their fury on  black communities, killing hundreds of human beings, injuring countless others, burning many black neighborhoods to the ground.  August 18 of this year also marked the 400th anniversary of the first slave ship arriving on America’s shores.  Our summer has forced us to confront the evil ways of racial injustice that have been a part of our country since its inception.

This past August also witnessed fifty Reform Rabbis stepping forward, learning what we could do to help repair this historic and painful breach.

We travelled together to Montgomery, Alabama.   The destination was the new Legacy Museum and Memorial, build by the Equal Justice Institute to teach our nation about the direct racist trajectory from slavery through Jim Crow to Mass Incarceration.  Bryan Stevenson, the heroic founder of EJI, delivered a powerful keynote at our Cincinnati convention that called us to get proximate to this narrative, to the history, and to the lived experience of others.  Of course, Stevenson called us to learn the lessons so we might take action.  Over 50 CCAR colleagues answer Stevenson’s call for three powerful days this summer.

What did we learn? To begin with, we saw how deeply structures of injustice are built into our American way.  For many of us who had grown up proudly counting important pieces of civil rights legislation passed in the heyday of the Movement, we realized that those laws guaranteeing equal protection and equal opportunity never took their full effect.  Inequalities along racial lines are still starkly visible whether looking at the poverty line or at the distribution of prison sentences.  We learned that while individuals might consider themselves “colorblind,” our system still not only accounts for the color of one’s skin, but—according to overwhelming data and research—also disproportionally disserves people the darker their pigmentation. We learned that in an America that has always baked racism into the system, it is not enough to say, “Well, I’m not a racist.”  In a system as consistently oppressive as ours, we must actively become anti-racist.

Being anti-racist racist means many things.  First and foremost, being  anti-racist means we cannot be passive.  Being anti-racist it means actively learning about the depths of American racism, and then actively working to end our racially unjust system.  Being anti-racist means travelling outside our comfort zones to get proximate to difficult truths.  Being anti-racist means looking at the benefits we have unjustly won from the American system, and then being willing to sacrifice those most ill-gotten gains.  Being anti-racist means we have a whole lot of work to do, not just in our words, but in our deeds.

On the very day that marked the 400th anniversary of the first slave ship arriving on America’s shores, Rabbi Rachel Mikvah taught us about the difficult of dismantling racism.  The Talmud questions the extent to which we need to return objects that were stolen.  The example is brought of a stolen log that has been used—for decades—as the structural support for a grand palace.  Our Rabbis of blessed memory remind us that that stolen beam needs to be returned, even if it mean taking apart the palace, brick by brick. 

We learned this lesson in the cradle of the Confederacy, just hundreds of feet from the Confederate White House.  Yet we know that the other White House, the one that stands as symbol to many of America’s greatness, was built by enslaved individuals.  The labor that built the White House in Washington, D.C., was stolen.  The White House, therefore, symbolizes America in a different way: a structure rooted in injustice whose foundations must be rebuilt, and that which was stolen, returned.  That return, in Hebrew so appropriate for this Holy season called teshuvah, goes by many names we should not be afraid to say in English: repayment, restoration, reparations.

It is not enough that we learn about, that we talk about, that we write about these injustices of old that continue through to today.  Fasting and lament have their place, but they will move the Divine no more than they will change society.  We need a national time not just of truth and reconciliation, but of restoration and reparations.  Our High Holy Days call us to turn from our evil ways.  It is time for all of us to act.  It is time for all of us to help turn our nation from its inarguably racist path towards a future of true liberty and justice for all.


Rabbi Seth M. Limmer serves as Senior Rabbi of Chicago Sinai Congregation, and also as a Member of the CCAR Board of Trustees.  Together with Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, he is editor of
Moral Resistance and Spiritual Authority: Our Jewish Obligation to Justice, available from CCAR Press.

Categories
High Holy Days

Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die

Who shall live and who shall die…
Who shall perish by water and who by fire…

The Unetaneh Tokef – Rosh Hashanah’s central prayer – is truly terrifying and disturbing.  It tells us that next year at this time, some of us will be gone via a series of dreadful possibilities: floods, fires, illnesses and the like. God issues this decree from high above, sitting on a throne of judgement. Our behavior determines our fate according to the biblical and rabbinic system of reward and punishment. Not only does the prayer arouse people’s fear of dying, it adds a layer of blame and shame, suggesting that our illnesses and losses are deserved and self-inflicted. For this reason, I used to much prefer the interpretive versions by Jack Riemer and Stanley Rabinowitz. They transform the prayer into a psychological reckoning. For example, rather than “Who shall live and who shall die,” Rabinowitz’s version offers “Who shall be truly alive, and who shall merely exist.[1]

These interpretive efforts are much more in line with my theology. I do not believe in the kind of God who metes out our fate according to strict rules of justice. Indeed, I am not even certain the Bible believes in that kind of God. For example, the book of Job is a powerful challenge to that theology. As the story goes, Job is righteous and good, he loves and praises God even when everything is taken from him. However, Job suffers unfairly, not because he deserves it, but because God has made a bet with Ha-Satan, the Prosecuting Angel. Presumably, the rabbis included Job in the Bible because they realized that the world does not work like clockwork — and neither does God.

So it is no doubt surprising that I have come to value the prayer in its original. I appreciate it because it lends itself to multiple interpretations. If you believe in reward and punishment, you can read the prayer that way. If you prefer a psychological understanding of how our attitude affects our lives, that is an option. And the prayer gives expression to a reality we are forced to face, often regardless of our intentions and our behavior: the fact that some of us won’t be here next year or will be struck by heartache. Some will die of old age; some will become ill; some will lose homes to fires; some will lose loved ones to floods. These are life events over which we have limited control. And God is not necessarily responsible for them.

The question we must really ask is: How will we respond? The concluding verse of the Unetaneh Tokef suggests: U’t’shuvah, u’filah, u’tzedakah, ma-avirin et roa ha-gezera, “Repentance (return), prayer, and righteousness will mitigate the harshness of the decree.” A beautiful way to understand how this works is offered by Rabbi Helen Plotkin:

Teshuvah—repentence (sic), response, return—is the ability to move, to change course, to come back to center, to reconcile.

Tefillah—prayer—is the ability to let the world take your breath away, to hold onto and to articulate gratitude, hope, and awe.

Tzedakah—righteousness—is the ability to pursue justice and to act from a fountain of generosity.[2]

If we follow these practices, our lives will be richer and more rewarding, despite tragedies and setbacks. Wishing you all a shanah tovah u’metukah – a happy and sweet New Year.


Rabbi Suzanne Singer serves Temple Beth El in Riverside, CA. She is also a member of the Reform movement of Judaism’s Commission on Social Action as well as on the Leadership Team of California’s Religious Action Center.


[1] Adapted, in David Teutsch, ed., Kol Haneshamah: Prayerbook for the Days of Awe, Elkins Park, PA: The Reconstructionist Press, 1999, p. 345,
[2] https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/142538/unetanah-tokef

Categories
High Holy Days Holiday

Going Beyond the Shanah Tovah Email

I miss Rosh Hashanah cards.  They used to begin arriving in my mail box about three weeks before Rosh Hashanah.  Sometimes I knew I was one name on a list of thousands.  Other cards were a message from a great aunt or a member of my community who wanted to tell me something personal.  I always felt a bit ashamed of this enjoyment because I have never sent cards at the New Year.  To have one more thing to do, one more list to compile, seemed way beyond my practical and emotional capacity at this time of year.   But I looked forward to receiving them, and then hanging them as the major form of decoration in the Sukkah.

Now I receive New Year’s greetings in the form of emails.  I deeply appreciate that emails are significantly better for the very world whose creation we celebrate on Rosh Hashanah.  Still, receiving a greeting in an email has a different flavor.   It lacks the distinctive signature, the feel and texture of the paper, the option to place it where it can be seen as a small connection to the broader circle of Jews ushering in a New Year. An email is transient and ephemeral, gone when the delete button is pushed.  In an in-box that is too often overflowing, somehow the greeting becomes just one more thing to click on, one more item to get through.

I know that my feeling is not about cards vs. email.  It’s about connection.  While there is shared commiseration on Facebook about sermons not yet written and the challenge of finding just the right story, for those who are leading services there is an element of loneliness in the work we do this time of year.  The decision about what our particular community needs to hear from the pulpit rests with each individual rabbi.  Are there consequences in my particular location and community if I say something that may be controversial or unpopular?   Sitting in front of a blinking cursor, an open machzor is a solitary task.

We hold personal burdens as well, burdens that are not so easy to talk about with each other.  Is my rabbinic leadership being evaluated based on my Kol Nidrei sermon or the perceived ‘quality’ of the worship?  Is my authenticity lessened when I preach about spiritual preparation and can’t seem to make the time for my own Elul introspection?   What do I do with the guilt I carry about the impact this time of year has on my family?

We may face many of the same questions, but we do so in our own silos, by ourselves.  This need not be the case.  We know from you that you want to reach out to each other, to help and support, in a way that goes beyond the superficial email.  As a rabbinic community, we can live up to that intention.  Amidst the stress of the season, it’s a blessing to hear the voice of another rabbi – the rabbi you talked with at convention but haven’t spoken to since, the new colleague who came to town who you don’t really know yet, the classmate you haven’t seen in a year, a friend.  The nourishment that occurs of those moments of relationship is a way to prepare for the sacred days that lie ahead.  You can’t hang a phone call in a sukkah, but the connection will stay with you long after the sukkah has come down.

Rabbi Betsy Torop is the Director of Rabbinic Engagement and Growth for the Central Conference of American Rabbis. 

Categories
High Holy Days News

Creation: Fed up with Tohu

I am honored and excited to be the new editor at the CCAR Press. Under the leadership of Rabbi Hara Person, I will be listening to your ideas, reading what your write, and working with you to create books, apps, and online learning opportunities!

Think about me as your editor, liturgist, and teacher.

As I did for the last six years, I will spend the upcoming High Holidays at a JCC in Chevy Chase-Bethesda, Maryland, where I work as a cantorial soloist. Each year, I deliver the sermon on Erev Rosh haShanah. This is a snippet of the (oh, too many words) I am going to share on that Bimah:

 

I, personally, try to laugh that laughter more often these days. It’s a laughter that is forgiving towards myself, towards the human beings around me, and towards this entire mess of our chaotic world. I try to internalize that all we have is a little Torah (a book written after all,  on the skin of a dead cow) in order to help us figure out together the nature of this mystical creation, and write together the Torah of our lives, Torat Hayim, the Torah of Life, a living Torah.

In other moments, I, like so many others, grow impatient, and then I write poems (S. Pilz (2018): Creation. Unpublished.) like this one:

Creation: Fed up with Tohu

What if in the beginning
Something did get consumed?
With black coal a universe got written
Dancing, twisting, whimpering, crawling,
What if in the beginning,
Something was broken.

You and I, we shine together.

What if we were to learn
How to calmly tame our fire?
Will we then crush gently,
And rise,
With a kiss?

 

Most of our time on earth, it seems to me, gets spent trying to figure out how to live this life right here and now. We are getting used to ourselves and to others. We build relationships, co-creating our own entire little universes. This way, all of us re-create and change the world in every single second. This, now, is a moment when the world gets re-created by us. And now. At every single moment of our lives.

And in these moments, as all of us are sitting here together, creating a universe of prayer, Torah, singing, learning, the order of prayer, reflection, and beauty, I want to share yet another poem with you, a second poem by the American writer Mary Oliver (M. Oliver (1992): New and Selected Poems, from “The Summer Day”, p. 94.) who wrote the poem with which I opened my sermon:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

Rabbi Sonja K. Pilz earned a doctorate from the department of Rabbinic Literature at Potsdam University, Germany; she holds Rabbinic Ordination from Abraham Geiger College, Germany. Prior to joining the CCAR Press as editor, Sonja taught Jewish liturgy, worship, and ritual at HUC-JIR, NY; the School of Jewish Theology at Potsdam University; and in many congregational settings. She served as a visiting rabbi and cantorial soloist in congregations in Germany, Switzerland, Israel, and the US.

Categories
High Holy Days Prayer

“Gates” as an Enduring Metaphor

At Neilah, the closing service at the end of Yom Kippur, we imagine ourselves standing at the gates of heaven, urgently pleading for forgiveness until the final second of the day expires and the gates close.

The moment is one of great solemnity. We cry out: “Open a gate for us when the gates are being closed, for the day is about to fade” (Mishkan HaNefesh, Yom Kippur, p640). This is it. A last chance to plead our case.

Each year, surrounded by hundreds of congregants, in the urgency of prayer, I imagine myself standing alone at an ancient stone wall. There are two large wooden gates with iron adornments. One of the gates is already closed, the other slowly closing by an unseen force. They look more like the outer gates of a city than the gates of a castle. My prayer enters through these gates. The day fades. The shofar blows. I haven’t passed through the gates, but I haven’t walked away, either.

In this visualization of the metaphor, there’s a gate for each of us. Each gate is different. It’s the gate created by our own triumphs and our own challenges, our own misdeeds and our own acts of tikkun olam. In this version of the metaphor, each year the gate is different, shaped by our lives over the past 12 months.

We are, in truth, always standing at the gates of heaven. In each moment, we have the chance to build or destroy, to love or to withhold love, to bless or to curse, to be brave or to live in fear. Each moment is both a barrier and a portal.

This is what makes “gates” an enduring metaphor. The metaphor is potent with possibility. It’s a reminder of the challenges ahead.

As the sun fades, as darkness sets in, we pray one final viduii, one last confessional before that closing blast of the shofar. Then it is time to go back into the world, renewed and refreshed with the blessing of forgiveness.

Repentance Inside
This I confess:
I have taken my transgressions with me,
Carrying them year by year into my hours and days,
My lapses of conscience
And indiscretion with words,
My petty judgments
And my vanity,
Clinging to grief and fear, anger and shame,
Clinging to excuses and to old habits.
I’ve felt the light of heaven,
Signs and wonders in my own life,
And still will not surrender to holiness and light.

God of redemption,
With Your loving and guiding hand
Repentance in prayer is easy.
Repentance inside,
Leaving my faults and offenses behind,
Is a struggle.
In Your wisdom You have given me this choice:
To live today as I lived yesterday,
Or to set my life free to love You,
To love Your people,
And to love myself.

God of forgiveness, help me to leave my transgressions behind,
To hear Your voice,
To accept Your guidance,
And to see the miracles in each new day.

Blessed are You,
God of justice and mercy,
You who sets Your people on the road to t’shuvah.

Alden Solovy is a liturgist, author, journalist, and teacher.  His work has appeared in Mishkan R’Fuah: Where Healing Resides (CCAR Press, 2012), L’chol Z’man v’Eit: For Sacred Moments (CCAR Press, 2015), Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe (CCAR Press, 2015), and Gates of Shabbat, Revised Edition (CCAR Press, 2016). He is the author of This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day  (CCAR Press, 2017) and This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings, now available for pre-order from CCAR Press.

Repentance Inside is reprinted with permission from This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day © 2017 CCAR Press

Categories
Healing High Holy Days

A Less Lonely Path to Repentance

The High Holy Day days can be a lonely experience. Though many of us gather in overflowing sanctuaries, together with family and friends who constitute a community, each of us must confess our individual sins, seek forgiveness from those we have hurt, change our ways, offer tzedakah, and pray for our own individual absolution. We seem not to receive, or to give, any assistance in the process of repentance.

Our lonely journey to forgiveness was not always the Jewish way. When our ancestors required expiation, they would bring a sacrifice to the Temple. The blood of the animal, slain in the sacred ritual, would atone for their sins. Yes, the penitent Jew had to recite the appropriate words, and was required to provide the animal for the sacrifice, so the individual did have some role in that process, but the Priest did most of the work and the poor animal paid the ultimate price. The ancient Israelite was the beneficiary of what might be called “vicarious atonement,” forgiveness through the sacrifice from the flocks or the herds.

Christianity adopted this idea of vicarious atonement, with the faith that Jesus’ blood, shed on the cross, atones for the sins of others. Perhaps because Jews tend to disassociate ourselves so forcefully from that specific Christian claim, we have shied away from any notion that anyone or anything other than ourselves can help return us to the good graces of our God. Perhaps we protest too much. After all, we confess in the first person plural, “the sins we have committed.” Why not seek forgiveness communally?

Our Rosh Hashanah prayers do declare that we may find forgiveness in the righteousness of others. One portion of our shofar service is called zichronot, or remembrances. We ask God to hear the blasts and remember the righteousness of our ancestors, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob, Leah and Rachel. If we do not deserve atonement on these High Holy Days, we beg God to forgive us on account of their merit.

More personally, each of us recalls loved ones, now gone from this world, who had laudable traits that we wish we possessed. We may pray, in words of Reform prayer books past: “May the nobility in their lives and the high ideals they cherished endure in our thoughts and live on in our deeds.” Our beloved dead can truly live, if we will carry the goodness of their lives into our own. Perhaps, too, when we fall short, God will recall our loved ones’ goodness, and forgive us on their account.

Blessedly, our partners in repentance may include the people who continue to share our lives every day. Judaism teaches us the value of the tocheha, the loving rebuke, delivered in the right spirit, in the right time, in the right place. Nothing makes me a better person than a caring critique from a person who cares deeply about me. Even if we recoil from the rebuke upon first hearing it, we can learn, and become better people, in the process. Living in covenant calls upon us to help each other to abandon our unholy paths.

Let us find forgiveness for ourselves and offer atonement to others in the embrace of community on these High Holy Days.

Rabbi Barry H. Block serves Congregation B’nai Israel in Little Rock, Arkansas, and is a member of the CCAR Board of Trustees.

Categories
High Holy Days News

It’s Not the Apocalypse

Many people are speaking like it’s the end of days.

We know these people.  Sometimes, we are these people.  The way our world is talking has escalated our existence from the already wearisome struggles of everyday life to the exasperating level of world-ending scenarios.  But sometimes what seems like an apocalypse is just everyday life.

Jewish history is filled with people predicting the apocalypse.  Amongst the first of those was the last of our Prophets, Malachi.  His final prophecy warned of the approaching day of Divine judgment that like a “smelter’s fire” would purge Israel: Who can endure the day of this arrival, Malachi wonders.  Doom and gloom, destruction and suffering, are the imagery of the prophet’s visions.  Like many prophetic peers, Malachi saw his own time period as the literal “end of days”.

But Malachi’s 4th Century was hardly the end of days… in fact, it was the beginning of a wonderful period of expansion of Jewish thought, literature, and even political power!  The prophet’s perceived apocalypse in fact was the dawn of a far better day than he ever imagined.

Our Rabbis actually lived through a far more violent time than did Malachi: they were eyewitness to multiple failed insurrections in Judea, massacres in the Jewish diaspora, and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.  Despite all this, our Rabbis couldn’t have cared less about any apocalypse.  They needed simply to get through the day, to find a viable way for Jewish values and Jewish life to continue.

Our Rabbis read Malachi, especially the prophet’s final vision.  In fact, they maintained Malachi’s message, but steered it away from a prophecy of doom towards an oracle of hope.  They shifted our communal focus from a violence-ridden apocalyptic end-of-days to a messianic age of hope and glory.  How did they do so?  They aggrandized Malachi’s image of Elijah returning as the herald of an edenic age.  As a result of this Rabbinic revolution, Elijah has since stood as the paradigm of possibility for a world not only repaired, but perfected.  Thus do we make room for the hopeful optimism of Elijah every Passover, and intone only the positive part of the picture painted by Malachi: Behold, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the great and awesome day of God.  Elijah shall turn the hearts of parents to children and the hearts of children to parents.

Our Rabbis pivoted from awaiting a day doom towards working for a season of hope.  We need to do the same.

And there’s no better time than right now.  Our High Holy Day season, centered around the possibility of turning towards our better selves, makes clear that the choice we should make in these troubled times is to do everything within our power to restore hope and promise to our world.  In fact, the premise of the High Holy Days could never be more clearly stated than the very words of Malachi: Turn back to Me, and I will turn back to you, declares Adonai.  Our entire season of turning helps us focus first our intentions and then our deeds so that we can reorient our lives towards the better people we know we can be.

There’s no doubt there were troubles the in Malachi’s time, or in the age of our Rabbis.  And I would be the last to say there isn’t a lot broken with our world today, both here in America and overseas in Israel.  But especially in difficult days, Judaism reminds us we must make a powerful choice: we can see things as the end of days and turn inward, or we can work towards a messianic era and reach out our hands to fix our broken world.  In today’s times of trouble, in our Holy Day season of turning towards the purest paths, may we all move away from talking about the apocalypse and instead dedicate ourselves even more deeply to the work of tikkun olam, of bringing hope and healing to all.

Rabbi Seth M. Limmer, serves Chicago Sinai Congregation.  He is also the immediate past Chair of the Justice and Peace Committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and also Vice-Chair of the policy-setting body of the Union for Reform Judaism, its Commission on Social Action, and currently serves on the board of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.  He is also the co-editor of the forthcoming Moral Resistance and Spiritual Authority: Our Jewish Obligation to Social Justice from CCAR Press., now available for pre-order.