Sunday, 16 September 2012

Shanah tova u'metukah

Shanah tova u'metukah

"shana tova u'metukah" (שָׁנָה טוֹבָה וּמְתוּקָה) meaning "a good and sweet year

It's a greeting often said for the Jewish new year Rosh Hashanah, this year around now, and the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a time of deep reflection. So here's a blog posing looking at this, and wishing new year greetings to all my Jewish friends.

Here's one news report:

Jews across the San Gabriel Valley will be marking the Jewish New Year starting tonight with apples dipped in honey, festive family meals, deep reflection and prayers for peace. Rosh Hashanah, which means head of the New Year and is the first of the Jewish High Holy Days, signifies rebirth and recommitment to one's family, community and values, area Jewish leaders say. "It's getting ourselves ready to think about where we can improve our lives, who we need to apologize to, where we need to try to heal if there needs to be healing in our lives, in our relationships with family and God," said Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater. (1)

And here is a lovely story from one blog (2):

My favorite story is Yitzchak Loeb Peretz's classic "If Not Higher." It is the story of the Rabbi of the Ukrainian town of Nemerov who regularly disappeared from the view of his congregants in the days preceding Rosh Hashanah. So righteous did his congregants consider their rabbi that they believed he ascended to heaven to intercede with the Almighty on behalf of his people as the Days of Awe approached. But one Ukrainian doubter did not believe that for a moment. So he decided to follow the rabbi secretly to see what he really did in the days before the New Year.

To his amazement, the skeptic discovered that instead of going to the synagogue, the rabbi arose very early in the morning, put on peasant clothes, took an axe and a rope, went to the woods, chopped down a small tree, cut the wood into kindling, tied it up, hoisted the heavy bundle on his shoulders and walked out of the forest. He headed to the poorest area of town, knocked on the door of an elderly woman, and in his disguise told her he was there to sell her firewood as the weather was quite chilly. She said that she had no money. He said he would extend credit.

She said she was too frail to build the fire. He said, "I'll build it for you." And he did. Then he went home, changed his clothes and returned to the synagogue.

From then on whenever anyone said that the Rabbi goes up to heaven to plead on behalf of his people in the Days before Rosh Hashanah, the erstwhile skeptic would reply, "Yes, the Rabbi goes up to heaven, or perhaps to a place even higher than that."

Taking responsibility for those not as fortunate as we are, takes us to a place even higher than heaven.

and this blog has a rethinking of a Psalm 126 (3)

My song of assent
I will return from this exile
wake up
from this bad dream
my crazy laughter's busting out
I'm learning to sing
all over and over and over
only now do I know
you were there all along
coaxing me along to this
place of my return oh yes
you'll bring me home
like water
roaring down dry river beds
I'll be coming home
those who sowed with tears
will reap with joy
those who bury their pain deep
will soon gather
their bountiful harvest

The Velveteen Rabbi has a description of one ritual to mark Rosh Hashanah. Symbolic acts can be powerful tools rather than relying on mere words (3):

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, after morning services, it's customary to go to a body of water and perform the ritual of tashlich, in which we throw breadcrumbs or pieces of bread into the water as a symbolic releasing or casting-away of our mistakes from the previous year. There are elaborate liturgies for tashlich. In my community this year, we'll use a simple one-page sheet which contains a brief explanation, this prayer, one song, and a shofar call.

A Prayer for Tashlich

Here I am again
ready to let go of my mistakes.

Help me to release myself
from all the ways I've missed the mark.

Help me to stop carrying
the karmic baggage of my poor choices.

As I cast this bread upon the waters
lift my troubles off my shoulders.

Help me to know that last year is over,
washed away like crumbs in the current.

Open my heart to blessing and gratitude.
Renew my soul as the dew renews the grasses.

And we say together:

And on another site, a sermon. Like the secular New Year, the Jewish New Year is a time for beginnings, and looking back on the year that is past (5):

On Rosh Hashanah, more than any other time of year, we are invited to ask ourselves: What are the ways we feel compelled to bow down to certain people, ideas, values, systems or behaviors that do not deserve and are not worthy of our ultimate allegiance? Are we ready to truly face the limits of our power and bow before the power, yes even greater than our own? Are we ready to serve the Greatest Good we can possibly imagine?

Of course, service is a primary spiritual value for all religious traditions one way or another. For Christians, the image of Jesus as "suffering servant" is considered a model for humankind. The very word "Islam" is understood by Muslims to mean "voluntary submission or service." And the Buddha teaches, "Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity." One of my favorite teachings about service comes from Mahatma Gandhi:

"Consciously or unconsciously, everyone of us does render some service or another. If we cultivate the habit of doing this service deliberately, our desire for service will steadily grow stronger, and it will make not only for our own happiness, but that of the world at large"

So we're back in Deuteronomy again. We're standing at the edge of the Jordan. We're about to enter the Promised Land of another new year. Moses is reminding us that even though we've left Egypt behind, we're still servants. Why do we serve? Because to serve is to truly live. Who do we serve? Use whatever name works best for you. Hashem. Melech Haolam. Malkat Haolam. God. Godliness Goodness. Holiness. The Holy One. The One…

But just a few things. There will be distractions. You must constantly ask yourself: who or what am I serving now? Is it sacred or idolatrous service? What do I need to do to redirect my steps so that I don't wander off this path back into exile?

And most important: How can I find the joyous center at the core of my service? Especially at those times when it feels like happiness has left me forever. How can I fan that tiny spark of joy into a fiery blaze once again, so that I may truly serve God with joy


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