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Friday, September 14, 2012

Our hope is not yet lost

Pomegranate, figs, passion fruit, dragon fruit, cactus pear, pepino melon
Sunday evening (9/16/12), in synagogues and temples across the countries, the Shofar will sound at sunset, calling all Jews to prayer as the observance of Rosh Hashannah - the New Year - begins.

Like the American celebration of the New Year which celebrates the past and plans for a better year with "resolutions", the Jewish New Year is a time to begin introspection, looking back at the mistakes of the past year and planning the changes to make in the new year.

The ten days starting with Rosh Hashannah and ending with Yom Kippur are commonly known as the Days of Awe (Yamim Noraim) or the Days of Repentance. This is a time for contemplation, a time to consider the sins of the previous year and repent before Yom Kippur. 

I've been fortunate to have been invited, several times, to Rosh Hashannah observances with various friends over the years. I find myself missing it this year.

I love the sound of the Shofar. The short, whimpering blasts and extended tones are symbolically meant to extend the cries of the people to awaken the ears of G-d (pious Jews never spell out the name of the Divine One) and arouse G-d's mercy and love for us.

Even the the horn's shape - narrow on one end and wide on the other - is symbolic of the painful pressures that burden us and hold us back, and the open escape to deliverance and freedom on the other side. "From the narrow places I called G-d; G-d answered me with wide expansion." (Psalms 118:5 and recited before the Shofar blowing service).

Small Shofar horn
Jewish ritual is opulent and extravegently rich with such symbolism, which extends even to the food one eats.

I must admit that the one ritual I love is that of eating new fruit. They are called "Shehechayanu fruits" - fruits that have not been eaten since the last Rosh Hashannah - and therefore bring a special joy to those who taste of it.

If you're lucky, there will be a dish of fresh honey to drizzle onto your piece of fruit, reminding you of the sweetness of G-d's mercy and the delight in G-d's abundant creation.

Shehechayanu is a special commemorative blessing which can be said when one is experiencing something that occurs infrequently or from which the person derives special meaning or pleasure. 

It can be as simple as not having seen a friend for more than 30 days, or the purchase of a new utensil or a new suit or a new home. 

It's a simple prayer, easy enough to remember in Hebrew or English:
Blessed are you, Lord our G-d
Ruler of the Universe,
who has granted us life, sustained us
and enabled us to reach this occasion.
During Rosh Hashannah, the Hatikvah is usually sung. Hatikvah means 'Hope', and this song has become the national anthem of Israel. While it has come to represent the fervent prayer of many Jews to return their ancient homeland, and to restore it and reclaim it as a sovereign nation, it is also a wonderful prayer to sing at the New Year.
As long as in the heart, within
A Jewish soul still years
And onward, towards the ends of the east
An eye still looks toward Zion.

(Refrain) Our hope is not yet lost
The ancient hope
To return to the land of our forebears
The city where David encamped.
I understand the longing.

I'm reminded of a song Episcopalians sing, "Jerusalem, my happy home / when shall I come to thee? / When shall my sorrows have an end? / Thy joys when shall I see?"

Of course, Christians are singing of the hope of the unity and joy in the afterlife, while Jews are singing of a reunion in an actual time and place in this life.

Being a good Anglican, I guess I long for both - a bit of that joy and peace here while having faith and hope in Life Eternal with Jesus.  Indeed, I think I catch glimpses of both, from time to time, if I keep the eyes of my soul open and expectant and hopeful.

Sunday morning, when Christians gather to worship and praise G-d through Jesus, we will hear from the Gospel of Mark (8:27-38). We will hear Jesus say,
"For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?" 
Sounds like a call to introspection and contemplation to me.

Maybe it was Rosh Hashannah. 

It seems to me that Christians and Jews have dedicated times of introspection and contemplation. Christians have Advent and Lent. Jews have 10 Days of Awe. Both long for an end to sorrow and strife and for the hope of endless joy and lasting peace, reunited with the people we love.

Our hope is not yet lost.

To me, eating the new fruit on Rosh Hashannah - wonderful, exotic stuff which I have either never tasted or not tasted in a very long while - blessing G-d for the experience, and singing songs of hope is about as joyful an expression I know to celebrate the New Year.

It's positively Eucharistic! Then again, we did take so much of the foundations of our theology and ritual and liturgy from our Jewish sisters and brothers.

Faithful Jews believe that Rosh Hashana marks the new year, the Day when G-d draws up plans for the world and for all of us.

Through the cries of the Shofar, they believe that G-d's love for us is aroused, and we live in sure and certain hope that G-d may then inscribe and seal us all for life and a Sweet New Year!

Faithful Christians believe in the divine gift of free will to make the choices life presents us. Hopefully, they are wise choices. If not, there's always the divine gift of grace - unearned, undeserved and always available.

Either way - once a year or all the time, no matter the specifics of your religious beliefs - there is always plenteous redemption with God!

Our hope is not yet lost.

Isn't it good to rejoice in the things we share, rather than focus on that which separates us? When we draw lines around the differences in our religious expression, the result, more often than not, is violence.  If you haven't heard it, just listen to what Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, had to say in a powerful speech about religion after the recent violence in Libya.

Here's a bit of what she said:
“I so strongly believe that the great religions of the world are stronger than any insults.  They have withstood offense for centuries,” said Clinton. "Refraining from violence, then, is not a sign of weakness in one’s faith; it is absolutely the opposite, a sign that one’s faith is unshakable.”

She asked the crowd to work towards building a world where if one person commits a violent religious act, millions of people will stand up and condemn it.

“We can pledge that whenever one person speaks out in ignorance and bigotry, ten voices will answer,” Clinton said forcefully. “They will answer resoundingly against the offense and the insult; answering ignorance with enlightenment; answering hatred with understanding; answering darkness with light.”

The secretary urged the audience not to be discouraged by the hatred and violence that exists, but instead resolve to do something tangible to promote religious tolerance in their own communities.
I think G-d is most pleased whenever we celebrate whatever gifts we have been given.  I think G-d is especially pleased when we can celebrate our differences and rejoice in the varieties of ways to worship and praise G-d.

In that moment, everything seems new and sweet and joyful.

K'siva v'Chasima Tova. L'Shanna Tova! Happy New Year!

May you know 12 months of Happiness. 52 weeks of Gezunt (health). 365 days of Brochas (prayer). 8760 hours of Mazel (luck). 5256000 minutes of Simcha (joy). 31536000 seconds of Shalom (peace).

Our hope is not yet lost.


Catherine said...

Right on, Elizabeth+. I could not have put it all together as well as you have. Shalom. Catherine+

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Happy New Year!

Unknown said...

Thank you! I always learn something when I read your blog!

Unknown said...

What a lovely essay! I have to share my favorite Rosh Hashanah video with you -- "Dip Your Apple by The Fountainheads". I send this to all of my friends every year because it such a beautiful statement of hope to this particular Christian.

Shana tova!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Susan - You're most welcome. I love learning new things about the way others worship God.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Brian - what a WONDERFUL video. Can't wait to share it with my Jewish friends.

David said...

L'Shanna Tova dearest Elizabeth

SCG said...

A lovely post, Elizabeth. I'm not sure about the singing of "Hatikvah" at Rosh Hashanah. Maybe that's done at the evening service, but I have heard that one associated more with Passover celebrations. I attend the Rosh Hashanah day service with my partner at the Reformed temple. I love the music. I love the blowing of the shofar. And I love sharing in that tradition with her. And it helps that her rabbi really knows how to preach. L'shana tovah, and may you enjoy a sweet new year.