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Finding the “High” In the High Holidays

Rabbi Waxman rightly points out some of the cognitive dissonance we confront in the High Holiday liturgy that makes it hard to get the most from services.

Largely written in the Middle Ages for a population who viscerally understood their vulnerability and dependence upon the whims of a powerful lord or sovereign, the liturgy speaks of God as a king who wields life and death, and therefore whom we hope to please out of fear, but also as a loving father who wants our well-being, and therefore of whom we hope to please out of love.

There is another cognitive dissonance as well. I gave up calling God “He” long ago. Yet substitute language seems inadequate. Somehow God as our parent, and sovereign seems too impersonal. God as our mother and queen sounds too pagan to my ears.

Nevertheless, I love the melody for “Avinu Malkeinu,” which is Hebrew for “Our Father, our King.” Something happens within me when we sing it. My rational and source-critical mind quiets and something else moves me to tears as I chant the words, “Forgive us…write us in the book of a good life…have pity on us and on our children…answer us, save us…”

Rabbi Waxman is right that there is power in community. I feel the community praying, weeping with me, from the depths of their hearts. Such power comes not only from sharing the emotions, the vulnerability. That power is not only psychological. It is also spiritual, an energy that, when released, uplifts us.

It is that energy, ruach (spirit), that is the spiritual high that the High Holiday liturgy was created to offer. It is transformational. When we reach that place, our priorities shift. For a moment, we become clear, deep in our souls, about who God intended us to be; who we want to be. Such highs come when we open ourselves to that experience, accepting that music and mood can overwhelm our rationality to transport and transfix us.

I agree with Rabbi Waxman that hope and fear combined with community can be a powerful incentive for lasting change. But there is also another element. The ethereal connection our soul has with its Maker.

When we allow our souls, rather than our over-functioning intellects, to direct our High Holiday experience, we may find the real high in the High Holidays, the transformational high, we desperately seek.

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posted September 21, 2006 at 8:08 am

I still don’t get u? why? why not believe in Jesus? is it really that hard? no u r just stuborn!

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posted September 21, 2006 at 1:44 pm

But at least she can spell.

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posted September 21, 2006 at 2:18 pm

Jethro, LOL!! Dear Kaleb, I could present you with quite a treatise on why we don’t believe in Jesus, or could boil it down to simpler explanations, like we consider it idolatry to pray to a man; Jesus did not fulfill the prophecies, etc. Why do you believe in Jesus? It’s a rhetorical question. You don’t have to answer…

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posted September 21, 2006 at 5:23 pm

I’ve said it beofre, and I’ll say it again that people like kaleb, who are NOT jewish have no business posting in blogs when the subject is personal(if you treat the community like a person) rather than public(more general concepts. That said, I agree at some level with Rabbis Grossman and Waxman, there is an inherent problem with some of the “god language” which all but alienates a larger segment of our community. Maybe I got into the reading but I tend to think on the lines of the religious Existentialists, Like M. Buber, Rav Kook, and Rabbi A.J. Heschel, with the Holy one as a friend, or as a guardian/protector. Sometimes its a matter of remembering that we all have a place in the fabric of the universe, and our mission(that we have to accept) is to figure out what that place is and how we fit into the universe.

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posted September 21, 2006 at 8:30 pm

Tvzi, If I understand what you mean (and apolgies if I get wrong), do you mean that the segment of the community alienated is the non-Jewish community? If so, the Torah is only binding on Jews, although it would certainly seem that others are free to live by our laws should they so choose.

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posted September 22, 2006 at 10:17 pm

eastcoastlady, its not about living the life,its more the annoyance when non jews who have NO concept of jewish living/belief post(like kaleb’s post that started this thread, or the ones from the non jews in the threads about the prayers being in hebrew or not). The Holidays are about transforming the self, transcending what we are to see a glimpse of what we could become. and these people fail tpo show what is even the begining of what is possible.

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Helen Dailey

posted September 23, 2006 at 10:24 pm

Your thoughts are refreshing to me. I agree.I’ve been through the press this year. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned this year is that our finite minds cannot accept the glorious plans that God has for those that love Him,are ready and willing to do what He has been preparing us for all our lives. We find our place by crying out from all your heart and soul to Father God until you experience relief[letting go],then you wait for the answers,like David did in the Psalms. [to be continued]

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Helen Dailey

posted September 23, 2006 at 10:55 pm

Accepting,changing,becoming,they’re all a lifetime process. Don’t get stuck on your understanding or any experience you’ve had.

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Helen Dailey

posted September 23, 2006 at 11:10 pm

Why do we always have to argue our differences? I’ve learned more from acceptance and agreement[even to disagree]. More times than not the differences either mean I need to grow some more or didn’t really matter at all.

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Helen Dailey

posted September 23, 2006 at 11:23 pm

Thank you for this moment of agreement and the Hebrew song is awesome. I have a CD with the lyrics in Hebrew and English that never ceases to bless me. How wonderful this song would be in both.

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posted September 27, 2006 at 6:48 pm

Rabbi Grossman, It is understandable from your post why God places the woman in the position of bringing in the Sabbath. I for one thank God that I am a woman and have seemingly more of a ‘sensitive’ leaning towards spiritual matters. God’s words say that in order to worship Him, we must worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. Your spirit, being that of a woman lends you to feeling God’s presence through songs and prayers. May God continue to open your heart to what His Spirit is saying in Truth. Shalom.

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