liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
[personal profile] liv
So I've made it to 5777, and successfully led the Rosh haShana services. Attendance was quite low; we had I think 8 people for the evening and just barely enough for a minyan on the day. Several of our regulars are away and we didn't get any visitors; I hope there's no particular reason for that like not letting people know about the service who needed to. Best compliment to receive as shlicha tzibbur (service leader): I can't believe it's half past one already, the time went really quickly and that didn't drag at all.

I learned from [twitter.com profile] GWillowWilson on Twitter that the thing of RH coinciding with the Islamic new year happens every 33 years, which explains why I don't remember it happening before. Also it's pretty cool to learn new religion facts from the author of Ms Marvel. Does anyone want to explain to me how we get from a 19-year lunisolar cycle to synching with the Muslims' solely lunar [sic] calendar every 33 years?

I'm moderately proud of this year's sermon, so I'll include it behind a cut. Basically I decided to talk about Ibn Gabirol's piyyut (religious poem) The crown of glory, because [livejournal.com profile] ghoti went to Malaga recently and sent me a postcard of a statue of him. And because I miss the poetry from the Reform liturgy I grew up with. (My community use the Birnbaum which I believe is a fairly standard American Orthodox Machzor, and it has a lot of Elazar haKallir's stuff, much of which I find obscure. I don't know how standard the selection of poetry is in the Orthodox liturgy.)

We've spent Elul preparing for our season of repentance, and that steps up now as we enter the Days of Awe. In the Rosh haShana service itself, the emphasis shifts from Shacharit [the morning service] where we are mostly celebrating the birthday of the world and being happy about the New Year, to Musaf [the additional service] which focuses much more on the Day of Judgement, the start of the Ten Days leading up to Yom Kippur. At this stage I think it's easy to get into a rut where we're thinking so much about sins that we just feel awful, you can get really bogged down in just hating yourself. And feeling shame and guilt is one part of repentance, but that on its own isn't enough for the transformation that teshuva needs from us. There's a parable that compares getting stuck on brooding over sin and self-hatred being like dirty water; if you stir it up, it doesn't get any cleaner, you just mix the dirt around.

As we come into the Ten Days, I invite you to think about the positive as well. Think about things you've done right, actions you feel proud of. We Ashkenazim have a lot of poetry in our High Holy Days liturgy, not like the Sephardim who have poetry all year round, it's much more of a contrast for us. The payytan or religious poet Ibn Gabirol, who was an 11th century Spanish philosopher – and also composed the hymn Adon Olam which is one of the few poems that will be familiar from our regular liturgy – wrote a long poem called The Crown of Glory (sometimes known as The Kingly Crown) about repentance. In it he contrasts human frality with God's eternal might:
My God, I am ashamed and confused as I stand in Your presence
For I know that compared to Your greatness I am so frail and weak
And compared to Your perfection I am so lacking.

For You are One, and You are true life, and You are mighty, and You remain firm
And You are great, and You are wise, and You are God.

And I am just a lump of earth, and a worm, dust from the ground,
A cup full of shame, a fleeting shadow, a breeze that goes and does not return.

What am I? What is my life? How strong am I? How righteous am I?


Here the poet is making an allusion to the prayer from Pesukei deZimra, the introductory section of the regular morning service: What are we? What is our life? What is our kindness? What is our justice? What is our salvation? What is our strength? What is our might?. And in that prayer the question is kind of rhetorical, because the answer is, everything is trivial. (Or everything is vanity, if you're used to the old-fashioned translation of Kohelet / Ecclesiastes.) It's interesting that the liturgy slightly softens that potentially nihilistic statement; in the Orthodox liturgy the prayer continues But we are Your people, the children of Your covenant..., whereas in the Reform liturgy it's not a but, rather an except: Everything is trivial except the pure soul which will one day be called to give its account and reckoning before your throne of glory – so very relevant when we're thinking about being judged.

But Ibn Gabirol changes this prayer, he puts it in the singular, and he's asking real questions, not just rhetorical ones. What am I? What is my life? What is my might? What is my justice? Perhaps those are questions that we might consider during this time of repentance and cheshbon nefesh, examination of the soul.

What am I? Who is the person you really want to be? What are your real values? What have you accomplished in the past year that was really the best you could have done? What are you going to do in the coming year that will really live up to who you could be, your best self? Who are you really when you're not just following habits that you don't feel good about? Sometimes it can be useful to start from the idea of who you should be as well as thinking of everything you aren't proud of.

What is my life? A big theme during the High Holy Days is that we're thinking about mortality. We're about to read the prayer Unetaneh Tokef which contains the famous paragraph where God sets who will live and who will die before the next new year. So that reminds us in a very direct way that we don't know how much time we have. If you knew this was the last year of your life, what would you do differently? Not necessarily practically, but morally and spiritually? And even if we don't die in the coming year – I hope we all live healthily to 120 and don't die by violence or disease before the end of our allotted span as the prayer mentions – we still have a limited amount of time. I read an article recently where the journalist had represented each year of his life as a square, and that helped him to think about what he had left. How many more times will you swim in the sea, how many more plays will you watch, how many more times will you see your dear friend who lives a bit too far away? And if you think like that, you can start to ask, how many more chances will you get to change and repent, to live up to your ideals, to do something holy?

What is my strength? There's a Talmudic proverb: Who is truly strong? One who overcomes the impulse to evil. As well as thinking about your sins and things you regret, think about times when you have been tempted to do the wrong thing, and have overcome that and done what you should anyway. There's an idea I've come across in medical education, where one way to help medical students and trainee doctors to really improve is to get them to think about a time when they did something really well, and to consider what they would need to be able to work at their peak all the time. What were the conditions that let them do the task well, what would they need to change or practise to do that consistently in future? I'm a bit of a Litvak really and I like the Musar idea that being an ethical person is a skill that needs regular practice. We should take the same attitude to living morally as to learning a profession or a skill like art or music. So I like the idea of applying concepts from training to ethical progress. So think about times when you were a hero, when you overcame, when you were victorious. When you did something you're really proud of, what would you need to be able to do that more often? Then you have an idea of what you're aiming for as you go through the process of teshuva.

And the final question, what is my justice? asks you to look outward, to think about your interaction with the world, not just introspection and self-examination. What is my righteousness? What can I personally do to increase the justice in the world? Remember of course that the word for giving money to charity is tzedakah, related to the word for justice. But justice is more than that, it's more than just giving money, it's acting to redress the balance for those who are suffering, and to make the world a better place. The conclusion of Unetaneh Tokef is that in spite of the fear of judgement and the reminder of mortality: repentance, prayer and righteous deeds will transform the evil decree. Repentance is what we're doing at the moment, during the month of Elul and even more intensely during the Ten Days. And there certainly is plenty of prayer, look at this great thick book with pages and hours worth of prayer for all the big services we have coming up! And the third leg of the stool is tzedakah, it's justice, it's committing to bringing justice into the world now and in the coming year. Justice, justice you shall pursue..

I haven't worked out yet what I'm going to talk about on Yom Kippur. I think maybe something about dealing with difficult texts and the possibility of arguing with God, when that's coming from a place of faith and not just rejection. Partly I'm thinking of it because last year several people asked me why we read Leviticus 18 (including the notorious abomination verse) on Yom Kippur, and I didn't have a very good answer.

Also for my own future reference and possible interest of people who are interested in this kind of thing, I read a couple of good articles about shofar in the run up to the festivals, so if I save them here I might have material for next year's RH sermon:

There was a thing going round on Twitter to the effect that maybe the Jews have the right idea, ending the year now, since 2016 / 5776 has been pretty tough in some ways. One thing I found helpful as I was looking back over the year and feeling discouraged was this sermon from R' Neil Janes, who's another youth movement contemporary of mine; he writes the kind of sermons I aspire to only he's much much better at it than me! I very much share R' Janes' view of what it was like to grow up in the optimistic time of the 90s and to feel that our world has become a worse place since then. And I like his advice: We must find a rejoinder to the pessimism of our global climate. We must hoist our flag in opposition to this and do it now.

Anyway. I was pretty shattered after the service; I had a fairly mediocre Italian meal since I wanted a treat but didn't have much energy to decide on anything more than the nearest and most convenient restaurant. And then I came home and was basically wiped out for the afternoon. Today, the second day of Rosh haShana, I was back at work and I'm enjoying the optimism of looking forward, my first session with the new first years right at the start of their medical training. And I'm wearing a lovely pendant that [livejournal.com profile] ghoti gave me so I would be able to make the blessing for new things today. Yes, I still have a lot of prep to do for YK but I feel as if I'm setting out and looking forward.
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
Good q. I thought about this a bunch when you asked, and I *think* I'm seeing it, but I'm not sure I completely have it right.

The new year in both calendars is at the start of a month, ie. a new moon. I assume we're ignoring "is the jewish calendar one day off from the astronomical sighting" for this, just referring to "are the new years on the same new moon".

Every Jewish leap month (every 2-3 years throughout the 19-year cycle, I think?) shifts the Jewish calendar one month out from the Islamic calendar. Then they retain the same offset, until the next leap month.

In 19 years, you get 7 leap months. You get 5 more leap months in another 14 years. That adds up to 33!

However, I think that's only if you're at the start of the cycle. I assume it will sometimes be 32 or 34 depending where in the 19 year cycle you are. I'm not sure if you walk through every possible start-month or not. Or if you get it two years on the trot when you *don't* have a leap month (?)

Another way to look at it is, the Islamic calendar drifts 11.25 days relative to purely solar dates each Islamic year. That translates to (I think?) approximately 33 years to drift all the way round and have the Islamic new year at the same time of year. That was the way I thought of it first because I'm used to the Gregorian calendar and introduced it where it wasn't needed. And the Jewish calendar is approximately sync'd up to the sun, so it makes sense they intersect approximately once in each iteration, but that doesn't make it clear if it's exactly once.
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
*hugs* Thank you.

I nearly went off to work out how often it will repeat, but decided that wouldn't be that productive.

It does look like it *syncs up* every 33 years, but may stay synchronised for multiple years -- I think 2017 and 2018 they're still the same, then the jewish NY leaps forward relative to the sun and the islamic NY keeps drifting back 11 days until the next approx-33-year coinciding.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-10-04 11:05 pm (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
I'm glad that the new year has been appropriately commemorated by and for you. Marking transitions adds so much significance and makes starting again work better.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-10-06 04:32 am (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
>> I'm always glad I do it. <<

That's excellent.

People brought holiday food to my work earlier this week, for everyone, and it was really nice. Apples, yum.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-10-05 01:40 am (UTC)
kass: apples and honey (apples)
From: [personal profile] kass
Best compliment to receive as shlicha tzibbur (service leader): I can't believe it's half past one already, the time went really quickly and that didn't drag at all.

That is indeed a lovely compliment. :-)

Your remarks are lovely, too. I like the way you work with those big questions -- who am I, what is my life, my strength, my justice. יישר כוחך.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-10-05 09:49 am (UTC)
sfred: (Default)
From: [personal profile] sfred
Happy new year! Thank you for writing about this.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-10-05 10:16 am (UTC)
sfred: (Default)
From: [personal profile] sfred
It feels to me a bit like reading French, in that I can understand it and find it interesting while knowing that I'm probably missing a lot on other layers.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-10-06 03:51 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
Great description!

(no subject)

Date: 2016-10-05 02:43 pm (UTC)
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
L'shana tova!

(no subject)

Date: 2016-10-05 04:48 pm (UTC)
zhelana: (Default)
From: [personal profile] zhelana
L'shanah tovah!

(no subject)

Date: 2016-10-05 08:13 pm (UTC)
zhelana: (Default)
From: [personal profile] zhelana

Thanks - I enjoy reading yours too. I don't go to the synagogue because it's expensive and I am broke. Maybe one day.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-10-05 07:59 pm (UTC)
kht: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kht
Happy New Year! And happy birthday, world!

I like your sermon. I need to think more about how to be my best self. And now is as good a time as any to start.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-10-06 07:14 am (UTC)
kht: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kht
Yes! And I like the phrasing "best self" - it's kind of inherently self-accepting at the same time as self-improving, which is important.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-10-06 02:39 pm (UTC)
asher553: (Default)
From: [personal profile] asher553
Thank you for sharing this inspiring piece. May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-10-06 04:00 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
Happy New Year!

(no subject)

Date: 2016-10-07 04:28 pm (UTC)
lethargic_man: Yellow smiley face, only with a neutral expression instead of the smile (Have a [gap] day)
From: [personal profile] lethargic_man
So I've made it to 5777, and successfully led the Rosh haShana services. Attendance was quite low; we had I think 8 people for the evening and just barely enough for a minyan on the day.

I led ma`ariv on the first day at Grassroots Jews; we had nineteen people as opposed to almost ten times that number the following morning. I said at the end that was the last service I was leading over yomtov, but ended up leading another two!

R' Miriam Berger, who was in youth movement with me, has written a really inspiring and heart-breaking sermon about refugees, including a really powerful midrashic tradition she had from R' Edward Feld about shofar that I didn't know previously: Teruah [is] the sound in the cry of Sisera’s mother. As she stood at the window in the realisation that he was not going to return she sobbed for her son and therefore the Teruah is the constantly broken note like her uncontrollable crying.

What a coincidence; I've just learned that this year.

I very much share R' Janes' view of what it was like to grow up in the optimistic time of the 90s and to feel that our world has become a worse place since then.

I've been saying that for years: The world might not have been a better place, but (unless you lived in former Yugoslavia or Rwanda) everything was becoming better; the only bad thing was the music.

I can't believe what's happening to my country these days. It's like I've fallen into an alternate universe. I was so proud of Britain for its long-entrenched democratic values; one reason I said I wanted to keep my British citizenship was because they aren't so entrenched here in Germany. But then I thought the Netherlands was a paragon of democracy too. Britain, it seems, is only following a few years behind it and much of the rest of Europe.

I suppose I should have paid more attention to the Milgrom and Zimbardo experiments; all it takes is the slightest hint of economic instability and every country turns in on itself and on the other. :-(

(no subject)

Date: 2016-11-14 08:39 am (UTC)
silveradept: A kodama with a trombone. The trombone is playing music, even though it is held in a rest position (Default)
From: [personal profile] silveradept
Coming very late to this, but I like it very much as a way for the new year, and with the eyes of after-election, the calls for both Justice and optimism are even more relevant.

I think the relevant blessing of the time right now is "may the deity find five righteous people in the town, and by their virtue spare all of us." (which, incidentally, might be useful in talking about arguing or bargaining with the deity.)

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Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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