Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Be Here Now

13 Tishrei, 5771

Every time I need inspiration, I go over to our ECC.  It’s a special place (and not just because Eva, her staff, and our parents are unbelievable). It’s actually rare to be able to interact with young kids in this world, and I’ve forgotten what gifts their presence brings to our lives.

So giddy and more than a little fatigued after Yom Kippur, I trooped over to visit. And what I thought, seeing them play, was that we’ve all just done a very adult thing. To be bohen levavot – searching our hearts – introspecting for over a month, diving into our own complexity, managing the demand that our lives be propelled forward with the need that we change their course – I can’t think of a more mature thing to do.

Watching these kids play, though, was a totally different experience. They are all now; they are all here; at most they are yesterday but certainly not twenty years in the past nor ten in the future.

It made me think of Sukkot (I apologize for that, but it’s a professional hazard). Rabbi Akiva teaches that sukkot are supposed to evoke annanei hakavod – clouds of glory. After the splitting of the sea, Midrash teaches that God carried us to Sinai in these clouds, which kept our clothes ever clean and new, prevented our shoes from wearing out, and other such miracles. The point being that inside the clouds of glory it was always now, always here: there was not the urge of the future, not the need to replace worn out things, no errands, groceries, etc. It was a world that moved without the consequences of movement.

And that’s what, ideally, life inside a sukkah is meant to be.

I’m not advocating that we use Sukkot to act like we’re in nursery school – there are some rather obvious downsides to that strategy; but rather that we enjoy what Dr. Bruce Powell once called simplicity on the other side of complexity. It isn’t that we’re being childish, not examining our lives, but rather realizing that the point of self-examination is to introduce a beautiful simplicity into our lives.

The urges of the year press: things to do, kids to school, programs to plan, work to finish. But for just a moment, let’s be here now. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Yamim Noraim 5771, Part 4: Context


21 Elul, 5770

Imagine that the big day has arrived: Rosh HaShannah is here (what, that's not the big day you were thinking of?). You are surrounded by hundreds of people. What are you thinking about?

That's the rub, see. It's so hard for us to know how to be on the High Holy Days. What is it, exactly, that we are meant to be doing? Most of us end up critiquing your neighbor's sense of style. This is not the holiest idea, but it is highly addictive (don't deny it).

Most Jews step into the Yamim Noraim as if it was controlled anarchy. There is an experience to be had, something occurring around us, something profound; however, it seems so difficult to access the experience itself. How do we move from the outside to the inside? The Ben Ish Hai (our teacher from a few columns ago), has a suggestion.

Look around you, he says. Notice that everyone surrounding you is either younger or older than you are. Think to yourself something like this: "that person, older than me, must have so much extraordinary life experience, wisdom that I do not yet have, has accomplished things which I have not;" or, alternatively, "that person, younger than me, has not made as many mistakes as I have, has more youthfulness and innocence than I do, more of life ahead of him."

The truth of these assertions is irrelevant. The point is, in a very humble way, to figure out who we are when we step into that room. One of the gifts that other people bring us is that of context: where are we in our lives? how far have we come? how far do we believe we have yet to go? And from that moment of essential location, we can step into what is happening around us.

May this Yamim Noraim bring us in touch with who we are.                   

Kol Tov,
Only Good,
Rabbi Perlo