It was good to be away. The mountains were utterly breath-taking and breath-restoring — all in the same breath. I tried to post a few snapshots of our experiences while we were away, and this Friday, during our Zoom Shabbat Service, I look forward to sharing more. (Reminder: To register for this Friday’s service, contact the KKBE office before 3:00 pm on Friday to receive the secure link. We will open the “Zoom Room” at 6:45 pm for those who would like to mingle and schmooze a bit before the service begins at 7:00 pm.)
It was good to be away, but it’s also good to be back. Back in the embrace of our KKBE community. Back to the comforts of home. Back to familiar sights and sounds… and in our home, in this second full week of August, that can only mean one thing: Shark Week!
Now, it’s not my favorite week of the year mind you, but for the young man in our house, these seven days are like his High Holy Days. And there is a certain resemblance to the High Holy Days we know so well. The deep, bass voiceovers that sound like the trailer for every dramatic movie you’ve ever seen. The suspenseful soundtracks meant to indicate something incredible is about to happen (or at least the Discovery Channel hopes it will). The screams of fear/joy/amazement constantly emanating in stereo from both the TV and the couch in front of it. There is, I have to admit, something awe-some about the whole thing.
And so the timing is fitting, because while the days we most often associate with the High Holy Days are still over a month away — Rosh Hashanah begins on September 18, Yom Kippur on September 27 — believe it or not, we are actually already in the Days of Awe on the Jewish calendar. Wait, what?? That’s right: According to many, the High Holy Days begin on Tisha B’Av, the memorial day we commemorated on the Jewish calendar two weeks ago now already.
Though connected with several disasters which have befallen the Jewish people throughout history, Tisha B’Av is most associated with the destruction of both the first and second Temples in ancient Jerusalem. As Rabbi Alan Lew explains: “The Great Temple of Jerusalem was the naval of the universe, the earthly locus where Israel felt its connection to the Divine Presence in a palpable way.” Tisha B’Av therefore represents our greatest spiritual distance from the divine. Put another way, Tisha B’Av is the time when any residual “high” from last year’s High Holy Days has well worn off; when we feel distant, disconnected, perhaps even alienated from God. So over the next month and a half, we have to actively work to make our way back to the Source; we have to climb the spiritual ladder to the pinnacle of the New Year.
To quote the title of Lew’s classic work on the Days of Awe: “This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared.” (Cue the booming voiceover, music, and screams.)
Now, we’re not exactly totally unprepared. We’ve been planning for quite a while at KKBE, and while I was away, a wonderful task force did even more amazing brainstorming on how we can meaningfully observe the High Holy Days in this most unusual year. In the coming weeks you will see opportunities for hearing the sounds of the shofar, discussion/study sessions, inspiration for creating holy space in your home, and much more to mark these days with your KKBE community. And, of course, we are actively working on crafting special virtual worship experiences for each of the High Holy Days, as well. Yet this isn’t really the kind of preparation Rabbi Lew means. The preparation he’s referring to has to be done individually — preparations for the spiritual accounting that will be asked of us in the coming days.
Would you walk into your accountant’s office (back in the days when we met with people in offices) without first getting a handle on your finances? Without doing your best to go through your records and receipts and get them in some kind of order? Beginning our spiritual climb this many weeks before the start of the new year means we have time for serious reflection on the themes of these Holy Days and a considered assessment of our achievements and shortcomings over the past year.
This year I did begin this work for myself on Tisha B’Av and, to make it less daunting, I didn’t start from scratch. I turned to the beautiful prayer books we use on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The themes are all there in the traditional liturgy, of course, but the supplemental texts, the interpretive readings, the comments and notes are so rich, varied, and evocative that I could feel myself climb just by reading. I cannot recommend our machzorim as a resource for the spiritual work of this season enough.
While we work on the means to make the temple’s prayer books available to anyone who would like to borrow them this year, the CCAR is offering several ways you might bring these books into your own home more permanently:
- The prayer books are available for free as online Flipbooks.
- You can purchase discounted Kindle versions of the books ($9.99 each).
- You can purchase discounted print books for $35.20 (using code MHN2020) for the two-volume set — a really, really good price available for only a limited time!
All can be found at: https://www.ccarnet.org/publications/hhd/
With a great resource like this for the important spiritual work of these High Holy Days, we don’t need to be afraid — we got this! But now is the time to get serious with our preparations.
Or to put it in Shark Week terms: Duuuunnnn duun, duuuunnnn duun…