The fall is the time of new beginnings. A new school year begins, with new clothes, new haircuts, and the excitement of new teachers and subjects. Sometimes, new rabbis join new communities. All of these things are exciting and engaging.
Yet there is a melancholy, too, about this time of year. The leaves begin to turn, then fall; the days get shorter and cooler; we see students or our children undergoing new experiences that are long behind us.
During this time of both excitement and melancholy we celebrate the High Holy Days. Many of us spend many hours reading through a prayerbook written in a language we don’t really understand, trying to connect with themes that were developed by people who lived in other societies many centuries before we were born.
The holidays are meant to be a time of self-reflection. We take account of where we’re come over the past year or years; we look at the quality of our personal relationships, how we can improve or repair them. We take the time to think about our Jewish commitments – our personal spiritual practices, our tikkun olam (repair of the world) commitments; our relationships with our fellow community members, and with God.
But this rather melancholy pursuit is followed by joy: the joy of Sukkot, which is called in the prayerbook zman sim- chateynu – time of our joy. We spend time in nature and it can be a gift – the most beautiful time of year. Then comes Simhat Torah, which literally means “joy of Torah,” when we raucously celebrate the tradition that is our birthright. After the lows, come the highs.
We can see here a microcosm of what Jewish life can be. Tishrei, the month in which all these holidays fall, is home to a full range of emotions – sorrow, guilt, self-reflection, turning to relief, joy and riotous celebration! Each emotion is felt all the more strongly because of its proximity to the others. The fact that many of us choose to only partake in part of this cycle limits the effectiveness of it all.
And that’s connected to the beginning of a new relation- ship between a community and a rabbi – between you and me. It’s one of the ironies of Jewish life that when a rabbi joins a community virtually the first thing that happens is the holiest time of the year. It’s like having the Super Bowl at the beginning of the season. Many people will only see me one or two times, and that will form a lasting impression – but in some ways a false one, whether good or bad.
For our relationship is more than the holidays. Our relation- ship is in the Shabbat worship, in the year cycle and lifecycle events, in learning, in the tikkun olam we do together, even (heaven help us) in committee meetings. Our relationship, like all relationships, will be built in the ebbs and flows of the time we spend together.
I feel blessed that I am able to begin to take this journey with you. I look forward to being with you in the holy and in the mun- dane, in the melancholy and in the joyful. I look forward to taking these journeys – of calendar, and of relationship – together.
Praised are you, Ad-nai our God, Sovereign of all the worlds, who has kept us alive, and sustained us, and allowed us to reach this season.