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As the Days of Awe Aproach

08/29/2018 03:17:07 PM


Rabbi Fred Greene

Our Days of Awe are constructed to challenge us. It is that simple. To get out of our own ways and find a renewed sense of purpose in our lives and a renewed relationship with God.

Recently, I have had a lot of conversations with different congregants about their feelings about God. They have shared questions, challenges, objections, and arguments. Nevertheless, among them I have seen a real, heartfelt desire to connect with God. They often just don’t know where to begin.

I believe in God. (That probably does not surprise you.) But it is not only an intellectual enterprise. It is a relationship that is part of my spiritual, emotional, and physical being. My relationship with God challenges me to get out of my own way, it keeps me grounded, and encourages me to continue to grow; it is very similar to my other most significant relationships – those with my wife and children.

As I explore the questions posed to me and reflect on my own ideas, it has become clear to me that Jews can sustain a loving relationship with God even when they find that God is not the figure they imagined in childhood. While Jewish tradition offers many avenues to connect to God, I find that many of us get stuck just on the term: “God.” The term itself (yes, it is a term, it is not God’s Name) sometimes confuses us as we muddle it with so many images that we have inherited but might not integrate into our own spiritual lives.

The Days of Awe give us an amazing opportunity to come together – all together – to find our way back to our God and to our true selves. But it certainly isn’t easy.

The medieval philosopher Bahya ibn Pakuda wrote: “The words of prayers are like the husk covering the grain, and reflection on their meaning is like the kernel. Prayer itself is like the body, and reflecting in its meaning is like the spirit. If we merely utter the words of prayers while thinking about matters other than prayer, it is like a body without a spirit, a husk without a kernel, the body is present but the heart is absent.”

Join this sentiment with what Rabbi David Wolpe teaches: “Jewish prayer is built upon the idea that an offering is being made to God. Something is being given – the fervor and fullness of our souls. ‘One’s prayer is not heeded,’ says the Talmud, ‘unless God is approached with one’s heart in one’s hands (Tannit 8a).’”

Or to cite another contemporary teacher, Rabbi Larry Kushner, prayer is like the hokey-pokey, and that what it’s all about is putting our whole selves in.

One of the reasons that we have moved to this new machzor (High Holy Day prayerbook) is that it doesn’t offer one approach to connect to God/the Divine. It has many… a multiplicity of voices and paths, for the traditional, the challenged, the doubting…and for you and for me. Mishkan HaNefesh will offer new insights and contemporary messages that can elevate our experience, help us to reflect and bring us to a meaningful place as we move into the New Year.

May the New Year be a sweet one for all of us.

Mon, June 5 2023 16 Sivan 5783