Friday, October 7, 2011

Rosh HaShana Sermon

In the beginning there was darkness. On the first day, G-d created light and separated the light from the dark and called the light day and the dark night and G-d saw that this was good. There was an evening and then there was a morning, a First Day. The autumn brings with it the fallen leaves, the dead grass, and the chills that foretell winter is just around the corner. The sun sets earlier and earlier every night, and light that follows the dark is months away in the Spring.

Rosh HaShana marks the evening of the year. Aside from the fact that it began at sundown, as every Jewish holiday and traditionally each day really does, autumn is the seasonal equivalent of evening. It’s not quite winter (nighttime) but it is twilight. The darkness approaches. What does it mean to us that we begin each day and each year with a darkening instead of with the dawning of light? Why isn’t New Year (Jewish or Gregorian) in the Spring with the dawn of new life? There was evening and then morning, one day.

We’ve all heard the expression, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.” In the beginning there was darkness, and G-d created light. When I was finishing up college, beyond the jubilation of graduation, there was an intense fear of the unknown. This fear became anxiety and depression as various Jewish jobs and internships and rabbinical schools could not seem to find a place for me in their communities. Throughout all of college and, indeed, most of my academic career, I planned on becoming a Rabbi and just assumed that each step would follow the last exactly as I pictured it. Well, life doesn’t work that way. I was forced to take a year off from “The Plan,” and just live for a while after college. In the beginning there was darkness.

One day early last Spring, a college friend came to visit from Great Neck, NY the apartment I shared with two other former Hampshire students. I was discussing with him how I was not accepted to the rabbinical school of my choice, and would have to spend a second year out of school. I had no idea what to do, as I certainly wasn’t about to spend a second year in Western Massachusetts hanging out with college friends feeling anxious. Should I go to Israel? Should I apply last minute to Yeshiva University and get an MA in Jewish administration and become a rabbi in twenty years instead of now? This friend looked at me funny and said, “Why didn’t you just apply to my mom’s school?” All the years we had been friends and I had known his mom was a teacher, I just assumed she taught at a Jewish day school. I had no idea she worked at a trans-denominational rabbinical school. I didn’t even know the Academy for Jewish Religion existed. I applied, was accepted, and shortly thereafter received an internship offer at a lovely synagogue in Brooklyn. From spending the winter sitting on my couch reading Radical Judaism, to sitting in class at learning radical Judiasm, working with B’nai Mitzvah students and a youth group, essentially back on track toward living my dream. I’m working toward being radically rabbinical, shedding a new light onto Judaism, Jewish life, and Tikkun Olam. At Hampshire, the student body is largely self-proclaim radical social activists, and I sought to break down the beautiful idealism I shared with them into digestible pieces that fit more realistically into the world. I find that Judaism teaches us well how to repair the world rather than tear it apart and start anew (which is how I felt many of my peers viewed their call to activism). This friend from Great Neck, the son of a rabbi and a rabbinic teacher, was always one of my most fervent supporters. If he had not been such a good friend, if he did not believe in my dreams or in my ability to fulfill them, if he had not been there that particular weekend, when I had received my letter from the other rabbinical school, if his mother did not teach at Academy for Jewish Religion, if, if, if… Would I have found my way back on track on my own? Where would I have decided to spend this year if not AJR? But then G-d created light.

As Jews, we’re good at remembering darkness in light. Each year we light a candle on the anniversary of the death of a loved one. There is a light in front of us, a celebration of that person’s life, but there’s a darkness in our hearts that they are gone that needs a physical representation that is the Yartzeit candle. When we celebrate our freedom each year during Passover, we are also reminded of the slavery that preceded it, and eat the bitter herbs lest we ever forget. In the beginning, there was darkness and G-d created light.

With this New Year, this synagogue is undergoing a transformation of its own. I know I am not intimate with nuances of this transition for all of you, but as this is all new for me it is unifying to say for all of us, we are now in the process of each creating our light together anew. After darkness comes light, and creation follows. The new year starts with a seasonal dusk, followed by complete night, but we all know that the day follows, that there will be light and spring and new beginning to come in this year. May you all find the light you seek within and around you. Amen.

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