September 9, 2015 admin

What I want to do better

May this be a good year, in which we care better for each other, for our community, for our people and all people, especially for the homeless, the hungry, the suffering and the sick, and for all life.

Puns and word-plays can be trivial and annoying. But this is not how the rabbis who created our prayers saw them. They understood the different possibilities implicit in a word or phrase as often intrinsically connected with its deeper meaning. Rosh Hashanah is epitomised by the call of the shofar. The rabbis and poets of the liturgy found in the term not just a reference to the animal horn or instrument (is it a musical instrument?) which we blow on the festival, but to the root shaper, ‘improve’. One prayer takes as its core refrain shipru ma’aseichem, ‘improve your deeds’, following on with a further sound-play, uverit al tupar, ‘so that the covenant is not broken’.

A deep feeling and essential principle lie behind the word games. We are part of a bond, and inter-connectedness with all life. Any bond, or brit, in the Hebrew Bible, has hesed, faithful loving-kindness as its ideal mode. But it’s up to us; we can live our relationships with life as we choose, with compassion, indifference, anger, attentive concern, or calculated cruelty. Who we are, emotionally, morally and spiritually is the sum of these choices.

After noting that the Torah provides no reason whatsoever for blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, (it simply prescribes it as what we have to do) Maimonides notes that it contains a ‘hint’. There’s nothing subtle about the hint; the word is an understatement: ‘Wake, sleepers, from your sleep, slumberers from your slumber!’ To what should we wake up? It is the realisation that we have an opportunity, whose time is now and always, to change our lives and do better. We are not condemned to carrying on just the same as before. We are not the hapless victims, but the leaders of our own lives and all our choices matter.

How am I living my relationships, my brit, with my family, my friends, the people in my street, with my community, with refugees, with the hungry, with Israel, with the earth itself? These are the questions we need to inspire each other to answer with a fuller heart a deeper humanity. This is the real text, within the words and music, of the High Holydays.

LeShanah Tovah

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