The Eternal said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of
the Eternal, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Eternal, but the Eternal was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Eternal was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Eternal was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
(I Kings 19: 11)
You may remember the play and then movie “Same Time Next Year,” starring Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn. Admittedly risqué, it revealed the rewards and difficulties inherent in relationships, especially those built on tenuous grounds. It occurs that the title could serve well as a description of the High Holidays. (Yes, the dates of the High Holy Days do drift in the Western Calendar from year to year, early to mid autumn, but from the Hebrew point of view they always begin on the 1st of Tishri and end on the 10th of Tishri. But they are not as much risqué as they are risky. Many traditions devote their practice to looking within and solemnizing them with ritual as in the Catholic confessional. But not so many communally, champion a ten-day period of remembering and repenting. Certainly, not an easy thing to do. Though Plato commented that the “unexamined life is not worth living,” our ever-defending egos work against efforts. Who among us easily says contritely “I am sorry!” Change in our lives is inevitable as we grow older. That is natural, but self-imposed change is more daunting.
As tradition bids us to start preparing for the Holy Days one month before, we do well to be mindful of the Hebrew concept of Hitbodedut, literally means to draw within. It connotes communion with God and ambiguously champions the view that as we withdraw we are reaching outward. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel noted that when the soul is stirred, God responds or as the prophet Elijah experienced when he head the Kol d’mama daka, a soft murmuring sound “or a small still voice.” (I Kings 19: 12)
The mystical tradition further insists that when we perform a commandment it is evidence of God’s soft still voice or murmuring being transformed into a good deed i.e. mitzvah.
I wish one and all as autumn beckons a time of peace and new awareness.
Rabbi Yossi Liebowitz, D.D.