by Rabbi Miriam Berger
Witnessing the frenetic atmosphere of the kosher butcher just before the Shabbat leading into Rosh Hashanah led me to ask the question: “For whom are the High Holy days more stressful – the rabbis or the kosher butchers?”
“Definitely the butchers,” he retorted without missing a beat. “There are no expectations of the rabbis, they trot out the same thing year after year. But me… I’m meant to reinvent the Friday night dinner every week so it doesn’t get boring, be in control of portion size and sell better products more cheaply than my competitors. I have to be a magician, the rabbi just has to do whatever he did last year – they’ll come to shul whatever.”
Did you get more from your rabbi than your butcher during the High Holy days? Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman has identified three profound ways in which we make ourselves present, three modes of human consciousness. It is each of these that should have been tapped into during the High Holy day period to ensure one doesn’t come away from these services unmoved, unchanged and unfulfilled.
These modes are believing, behaving, ritualising.
Believing: Perhaps the one our pragmatic religion shies away from so easily. Liturgy might be something we rattle through but prayer should not be. Diane Elliott writes:
“The Hebrew root l’hitpallel, which we translate as ‘pray’…comes from an Arabic root meaning ‘to tear oneself open in worship’. Did the liturgy pierce your heart and allow you to tear yourself open in prayer or did it remain liturgy, merely words to be recited?
Behaving: Were you encouraged to think beyond the Jewish practice to ensure it influenced the way you think and behave?
Jews flocking to their synagogues for The High Holy days is the most incredible opportunity to be called to action. With the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War, were you called to “love the stranger, for you were a stranger in the land”?
Ritual: Were the rituals of this time just part of the chain of tradition or did they “make outrageous ideas believable”? If you answered no to these questions perhaps you’d be better off at the butcher’s! And don’t get me started on the queue at the bakery…
• Miriam Berger is rabbi at Finchley Reform Synagogue