A Message for the Final Shabbat of 5777
It is the final Shabbat of the Jewish year 5777. And though it is a warm and sunny day, the summer flowers are beginning to fade, and the landscape is just starting to take on the yellow-orange glow of autumn. We had a joyous opening week of Religious School at Congregation B’nai Torah, and the Brotherhood sponsored Welcome-Back-BBQ was enjoyed by our multi-generational synagogue family. It is always exciting to see how children grow and change over the summer months, and always interesting re-connect with people whom we have not seen during the vacation weeks. We also have welcomed a number of new families to Congregation B’nai Torah recently, and it is a privilege to embrace them as new members to our congregational community.
Tonight, we will change the mantles on our Torah scrolls from their usual colorful attire to the white that we associate with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This changing of the mantles is one more sign that time is passing and that we are entering into the Yamim Nora’im the Days of Awe, the High Holy Days. We change the Torah mantles to all white to remind us that on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we are all equal. Age, status, gender, ability – none of these matter on these Days of Awe. What does matter is that we all share the blessings and challenges of being human: the joy of raising a family, the struggles of aging, the anguish of sickness, the despair of loss, the complex relationships that bring us together and drive us apart.
Members of our Shabbat morning Torah Study group will be leading the service this evening, together with David Smerling and me. Individuals in our Torah Study will reflect on their connection to Torah, and will share with the congregation the role that Jewish plays in enhancing their full and busy lives. For, more than any external symbol, the High Holy Days call to us to look inward; to measure ourselves against our own standards and scales. We are each urged to conduct our own private conversations: What were the personal goals we set for ourselves a year ago? How did we do as far as accomplishing them? Did we learn from our mistakes? Did we take care of undone promises we made? Have we put closure on those things that have brought us down and that now we need to move past?
One of my favorite children’s books for the High Holy Days was written by Jacqueline Jules and is entitled The Hardest Word. The main character in this story is an oversized and somewhat clumsy bird, who learns the importance of the words “I’m sorry.” We all know how difficult these words can be – to admit to ourselves and also to say to others. We know that unless “I’m sorry” is spoken with sincerity and purposes, with the resolve to avoid repeating the same mistake again, they are empty in bringing the healing and wholeness we need at this time of the year or any other.
But the empowering and “awesome” part of the High Holy Days is that we are not alone in our mistakes; we are in the company of community as we peel off the outer layers of ourselves in order to reach the most private corners of our souls. Just as we will gather as a congregation tonight to change the Torah mantles together, in community, and to share thoughts and impressions at this time of year-end, so too, will we gather next week for Rosh Hashanah and ten days later for Yom Kippur to do the “work” on ourselves that releases us from one year and enable us to move into the next. The white mantles, the special words and melodies of these days, the opportunity to say the “hardest word” in the comfort of family and community – all these remind us that change is not only possible but redemptive.
On this final Shabbat of 5777, may you find the words, the melodies, and the inner fortitude to bring a sense of awe to these days, just as I hope that you will receive and experience that awe at Congregation B’nai Torah, and in the intimate recesses of your souls. May the sounds of the shofar inspire you, and may the taste of apples and honey sweeten the beginning of the New Year 5778.