What a send-off you gave me for the summer! From a Shabbat evening with our seniors (otherwise known as Learned And Wise, or “LAW”!) to a Shabbat morning celebration including dancing with both of our Torahs as we officially welcomed and dedicated our Canadian Scroll (with thanks again to Karen Schwartz and her family), to a Shabbat afternoon hang-out and Havdallah with our teens—learning their interests, summer plans, and wish lists for a temple youth program—to dessert with the first of what our president Rick Grabish and I hope will be many havurot (small gatherings of members based on shared interests or social connections) meant to enrich and strengthen our relationships with one another, eventually encompassing our entire membership—and finally concluding with a Sunday morning chat under the blue sky, green leaves and fresh breezes at City Park; it was a beautiful, joyful, meaningful way to mark the end of a very busy year.
You have entrusted me, in short order, with so much of yourselves: your hospitality, your Jewish passion and curiosity, your personal stories, trials, and dreams. For that I thank you deeply, and I pray that our association may grow and continue. Alec, with the help of many of you, continues his search for an appropriate position in the Northern Colorado/Southeastern Wyoming area, and you will be among the first to know when he finds something to enable our family to move to your neighborhood. In the meantime, we continue to feel blessed by your support, generosity, and welcoming embrace. Thank you!
My next visit will be for Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Days of Awe, but there is much preparation to be made, much to contemplate and observe in the meantime, and I hope we will be able to engage in some of that together in spite of the physical distance between us.
Tuesday, July 16th, marks Tisha B’Av this year, the Ninth of Av, the date on the Hebrew calendar that marks the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem (in 586 B.C.E. and 70 C.E., respectively), and many other calamities since then. Unbeknownst to many liberal Jews, it is a traditional day of fasting and mourning, but in addition it marks the end of a three-week stretch in which we mark other catastrophic moments in Jewish history, and the beginning of a seven-week period, called the Shabbatot (Sabbaths) of Consolation, that brings us to the eve of Rosh Hashanah. It represents a turning point, from the depths of despair to the rekindling of hope.
I’ve always loved the way in which the cycles of nature and even our American culture match up with this part of the Hebrew calendar. Summertime—whether due to the heat, school vacations, or the sudden deluge of blockbuster films—always seems like a time of spiritual, intellectual, and sometimes physical dissipation. For better or worse, we move more slowly, more leisurely. If we’re lucky, we vacation. We lose some of our discipline, and certainly many of us lose much of our routine. In the West, fires rage. Along the coasts, hurricanes begin brewing. Crime rates go up. Daylight lasts longer, we stay out later. Daily things loom large: we become preoccupied with entertainments and sensations, with the latest curiosity or catastrophe to visit our corner of the world. We lose perspective.
Later, as temperatures fall, as days grow shorter, as end of summer approaches and our minds return to matters at school or work, we endeavor to regain our strength and our focus. If we plan it right, the break from our usual priorities refreshes, and we come back at life’s challenges with renewed vigor. But sometimes it disorients or depletes us. We speak of the need for “a vacation to recover from our vacation.”
This seven-week period beginning mid-month is Judaism’s way of helping us avoid the latter fate. It is an open invitation to start grappling with life’s Big Questions, well in advance of the spiritual marathon that begins on the first of the month of Tishrei and culminates at nightfall on Yom Kippur. But before that, before we begin the really heavy lifting—what have we lost? what goals have we neglected? where have we failed our own potential?—there is consolation.
“Comfort, O comfort My people!” cries the prophet Isaiah. We are human. We are not machines. We cannot expect top performance or discipline at all times, even given a regular break for Shabbat. Perhaps a little summer wreckage is to be expected. Perhaps it is the only way to properly appreciate, by contrast, the spiritual peaks we will scale later. Just when things threaten to fall apart, Judaism gives us hope that we can change. Once more I marvel at the wisdom of our tradition.