Rabbi Siemers – September 2016
The High Holidays are late in the solar cycle this year, so at the beginning of September we are just starting the month of Elul. But the High Holidays are more than the three big days, they are a season with richness that is apparent when we live them fully. Its duration is defined by the reading of Psalm 27, morning and evening, beginning on the first of Elul and ending on Hoshana Rabbah at the climax of Sukkot.
Adonai my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
Adonai is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
Our sages understand “my light” to refer to Rosh Hashana and “my salvation” to refer to Yom Kippur. On Rosh Hashana we are enlightened with the knowledge of what love of God requires and enables, and on Yom Kippur we believe that our desire to change is accepted. After our divine encounter we do not have to fear mortals anymore – if we can stand before the Creator we can stand before the creation. It is a heavy lift for just those two dates, so we start reciting the psalm a month ahead of time in Elul to remind us to begin the work. The psalm continues:
He shall hide me in His tent;
In the secret place of His tabernacle
He shall hide me;
He shall set me high upon a rock.
The Hebrew word for tent here is Sukkah, and the idea taken from this is that reward of a good Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a good Sukkah – a chance to celebrate in the outside air and share one of the most joyous times of the year with family and friends. For it is not three days in shul, but a full season.
I hope of course to see you in shul on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And I look forward to seeing you outside for the festival of Sukkot. And to spending Elul together as we begin the work that takes a full season. Wherever you spend the holidays, we wish you a safe, prosperous and peaceful New Year. May each of us be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a blessing.
Rabbi Bill Siemers