Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Every year, I hear from a different congregant the same story – I love the Unetaneh Tokef prayer, I come to high holidays just for it, no offense rabbi. But this year, I’m going to have to stand outside. You see, I lost someone close to me. Or, someone close to me received a diagnosis...or I did.
Unetaneh Tokef can be a scary prayer. Who will live, and who will die? How will they die? And it goes into detail. I mean, it’s scary stuff! Do you know, that we are the only being on earth that knows that one day, we are going to die? In order to function in life, we cannot think about it on a daily basis - if we did, we would go mad. But today and during these holy days, we allow ourselves those few moments to think about it – and I’ll tell why. It’s not so we get depressed – it’s not to paralyze us. Unetaneh Tokef is there to wake..us..up.
It is there to get us to appreciate life – to help answer a question:
When do you feel most alive?
This summer, my chevrutah (learning partner) and I, Rabbi Marci Bloch, asked each other this question as we both prepared for these days of awe. Now we want to see and hear your answers: When do you feel most alive? Tell the world with this hashtag: #Feelingalive5777
My kavanah from today before Unetaneh tokef. Now it seems Hurricane Matthew is coming to South Florida.
"Rabbi Edward Feinstein once told a number of rabbis that during the month of Elul, rabbis become moon watchers. Everyday, we see the moon get smaller and smaller – it’s our countdown to the holidays – the countdown to when our sermons have to be completed. In addition to watching the moon, Rabbis in Florida watch something else…the weather channel! Well, apparently, there may, or may not, be a hurricane coming to South Florida: Matthew. One news reporter said: “If you live in South Florida, just watch this one over the next couple of days.” Just watch over this one over the next couple of days?!? Are you kidding me?!? I felt like yelling at the meteorologist – do you know what’s about to happen in the next ‘couple of days’?!?
Why am I talking about hurricanes now? Because the prayer we are about to read, Unetaneh Tokef, wakes us up to something that we don’t often want to think about – the hurricanes in our lives. Hurricanes are natural disasters that we cannot control. They are formed in mystery, and they come to our shores. Sometimes they come fast, sometimes slow – sometimes big, sometimes small. Some of us have bigger homes to protect us, some are absolutely exposed; but we are all vulnerable.
And what gets us through the storms of life? How can we control the uncontrollable?
Tesuvah – returning to oneself – looking in the mirror – seeing what you can do to right the wrongs you’ve caused
Tefillah – we pray – we connect to God and to our communities through words of prayer.
Tzedakah – bringing justice and righteousness into the world through charity. At the moment when the storm is bearing down on us, rather than just look inward, we look outward to people who may need more help than us.
Will any of this prevent the storm from coming? No, it won’t. But, it can lessen the severity of the damage.