The period of seven weeks, from Tisha B’Av to Rosh Hashanah, is the time allotted to us to rebuild and start anew. This year is different. Even the rock bottom of Tisha B’Av is still wobbling and not stable enough on which to build. Perhaps this is the meaning of the opening of Psalm 24: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that it holds, the world and its inhabitants. For He founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.” Like many rabbis, I decided to dedicate these seven weeks to preparing for the High Holidays and to talking about them to my students and congregants. So what message is appropriate for this year?
Rosh Hashanah is naturally associated with the beginning – the first covenant, with Abraham. This gave birth to the idea of dedicating each of the seven weekly Lunch and Learn sessions to one of the three patriarchs or four matriarchs — Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. Perhaps we can find a message there. What guided each of them and propelled them to perpetuate their relationship with God and to build the Jewish people?
So far we’ve discussed Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac. One of the clues about their journey is that they lived their lives with a sense of mission. They, and therefore we, believe in a destination — going from one point to another. Even if that point is allusive, we continue forward. Furthermore, our forbearers teach us that, as each of them, each of us has a unique covenant, a unique conversation with God. It is up to each of us to trod our own mysterious path.
As we begin the month of Elul, the month of repentance — Teshuvah — “I return to My beloved, and My beloved returns to me.” As we read in Isaiah 54, the Haftarah for the fourth week of consolation leading to Rosh Hashanah: “For the mountains may move and the hills be shaken, but my loyalty shall never move from you, nor My covenant of friendship be shaken — said the Lord, who takes you back in love.” Basically, the covenant with God is a marriage that may experience a period of separation but will never result in the breaking of the matrimony.
In the next four weeks, we will continue to explore the paths of the matriarchs and patriarchs, to study the contribution each offers to the Jewish continuum and, moreover, how each shows us how to view our own individual contributions. Once a year, we see an ingathering of all types of Jews — the Abrahams, the Sarahs, the Isaacs, the Rebeccas, the Jacobs, the Leahs, and the Rachels. We welcome them all.
This year, we will celebrate the holidays mainly online. With the help of God and Zoom, we will overcome the inherent obstacles, and enjoy the benefits of expanding our space. And although we will meet differently, we will still meet to affirm our covenants — all of them.
Looking forward to seeing all of you with us in the new year — 5781.
—Rabbi Gadi Capela