I am the rabbinic intern at Temple Beth David of the San Gabriel Valley and I had the honor of giving a sermon today, reflecting on my journey, God’s Grace, and using descriptions of the Divine as a blueprint for how we can live into the best versions of ourselves. L’Shanah Tovah U’Metukah. May we co-create a good and sweet year.
Returning to my journey through Psalms
The ten days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, 10 days of Teshuvah; of turning and returning to our essential selves. Cheshbon HaNefesh, accounting of the soul: clearly defining our vision and taking stock of how we have connected to that vision.
I started, then silently gave up, reading a psalm a day during the pandemic. Psalm 25 patiently waited for me to catch up. She took my breath away. I’ve been noodling for days how to do justice to this gorgeous explanation of all that draws me into Judaism. As the gates of Yom Kippur closed, my answer came. I shall write about one line per post until I have expounded on all of the depths she finds within me.
Psalm 25 begins
For David. לדוד
אליך ה״ נפשי אשא
Unto You, Cause of Being, my essence I lift.
Robert Alter translates this line “To You, O Lord, I lift my heart.” He explains: “The Hebrew noun used is nefesh, meaning “essential self” or “life breath. The clear meaning of the idiom is to pray fervently or plead.” (p84, The Book of Psalms)
Like many psalms, there is no doubt here that God exists. I cannot know with certainty whether scientific advances, human capacity for creating misery, or cynicism sowed the flourishing seeds of doubt that live among us.
Prayer and COVID-19
Reflecting on the plague we are surrounded by, my capacity for prayer waxes and wanes. At times, I plead with the universe for relief. More often, I am completely distracted by the responsibilities of parenting young children without respite.
Recently, I began attending weekday minyan — morning prayer service on days that are not holidays — with other students from the Academy for Jewish Religion, California. Learning the complete traditional prayer service has been enlightening. It returned the miraculous morning prayers to my consciousness: the beacons of light that whispered this path to me and push me towards a better version of myself.
Verse 1 Unfurls
Temerity: beginning a prayer to HaShem with a personal address. As if I have the right to speak to You directly.
Girded with the strength of The Essential Name, my essential self lifts towards You.
Seeking unity with the Divine flow beyond time and plague.
Fervently hoping for enlightenment and strength.
Daring to seek guidance on my journey.
Remembering You. By remembering You; returning to my essence.
Beloved Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on the eve of a new year. As we all struggle to make sense of this year, it is capped with the overwhelming loss of a giant legal mind, and a formidable member of the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, 5781 arrives: with expectations for returning, reflection, and resolve.
Elul, the Jewish month preceding Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year, ends. My Elul broke and shattered by COVID-19 before this news. It is hard to be upbeat and joyous when it has been months since you’ve hugged someone who doesn’t live with you. The last time I saw a significant number of family members was during my uncle’s passing from this world to the next, in early June.
And yet, despite my anxiety regarding the future of my country, I am determined to find joy in this spiritual New Year. I am profoundly grateful to know my children on a deeper level than was possible before. Sinking into the depths of their innocence is a revelation. I do not remember ever being so pure and naive — perhaps because my siblings are five and seven years older than me; perhaps because James Bond and Poltergeist are two movies I distinctly remember from when I was their age.
So we will dip apples in honey and wish each other a sweet year. We will continue to dream of all the adventures we will go one once this virus passes. The idea of a vacation involving airplanes and restaurant food for every meal enamors them.
A prayer: turning towards ourselves
I will have grace with myself and the world. Our lives turned upside down. Especially to my fellow parents: may we roll into each day with gratitude for the people around us and the village we know is near us spiritually. Let us not judge ourselves by the social media vision of other people’s lives. Let us resolve to be the best versions of ourselves we can be in this moment. And as we mourn what cannot be, let us find a way to relish in the companionship that is.