There is a particular service which, year by year, opens my heart to the High Holydays. It’s a small gathering, and maybe its best that way because it takes place at the cemetery. We remember together our family, community and friends, once part of our everyday life and whose love still hold us in our hearts.*
I’m privileged to witness to many loving words. Love at the close of life is especially moving; it touches the transcendent, it’s the only quality able to transcend:
(In the hospital) I’m here. I’m holding your hand, my darling. You can go now; be free, if that’s what has to be. I love you and I’m with you.
(In the chapel) I couldn’t keep you by my side, but I hold you in my heart forever.
(On the stones) ‘Forever loved and deeply missed…’ ‘You are my love, my life, my hope’… (Those words, always inadequate, always merely pointers to what cannot be expressed.)
Many matters touch the heart, but love is at the centre.
We are mortal. Embodied, in our parents, partner, closest friend, children (God forbid), love cannot conquer time. But in the soul, it does: the love which reached us from the past and nurtured our spirit, lives in us and becomes our gift. Perhaps life’s greatest achievement before we return to the dust is to pass that love safely into the trust of the future.
We say of God in the Days of Awe: ‘Your throne will be established in love and you will reign on it in truth.’ A Hasidic leader commented: ‘Only where there is love can God truly reign’.
I’m not entirely sentimental. Love isn’t always easy. People are complicated: they don’t only inspire us; they annoy us, bore us, frustrate and frighten us. Opportunities for anger are always present: there’s not just road-rage, but supermarket rage, office quarrel rage and my-family-are-driving-me-crazy rage. For many, rage at life itself is amply justified: life can take away loved ones, expose one to cruelty and abuse, leave one with no work, no home, no freedom, no sense whatsoever of hope.
Love is not a given; it’s inner work, for which we often need help. Mercifully, life not rarely proffers it, in the form of kindness, loving people, beauty, quiet, prayer. Life offers it often, but not always.
And yet (or maybe I should say ‘And therefore’) I believe love is a subterranean river, flowing hidden beneath the heart, invisible across the generations; sometimes, suddenly emerging fast-flowing into green, refreshing joy, then plunging down and away, but almost never utterly, very rarely totally, beyond the reach of the deep well of the heart.
So may God’s throne be established in truth in each of our hearts so that we can face life’s challenges with love.
*(I am leaving the theme of environment, not because I don’t think it’s important, but because there are so many important matters close to the heart. I will revert to it just once before Yom Kippur. For those who want more practical guidance on what we can do, please go to on the NNLS website, or to Eco Synagogue)