Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Holidays were great and whew, they're over

Whew, holidays are over. All that prayer – all that rejoicing …

Wait … did you rejoice? Did you pray?

I hope so.

Yeah, it gets tiring. All those intense holidays bunched up in one short month. You’d fire an event planner for that.

But God is the event planner… Torah itself spells out the holidays. Why? Doesn’t He know that we can only stand so much prayer?... We can only cope with so much synagogue time?

That’s a crass way to put it. But isn’t that how it feels?

Let’s go back to the days of the Bible … before synagogues, when we only had the Temple in Jerusalem.

People were only expected to go to the Temple for three holidays a year. Shavuot, Sukkot. Keep in mind, two of those holidays last several days.

We assume it was easier for them back in “the day.” However, consider this:
We have jobs – so did they. Many of them were farmers. There was no such thing as a day off.
We get tired. I suspect, so did they. However, part of their prep included schlepping sacrificial animals to Jerusalem.
And the schlepping.  We are so lucky to live here in Green Bay where a long trip is anything over ten minutes. Now, think about our forebears. Some of them lived in Jerusalem, many did not. Jews travelled long distances – mostly on foot.  Further, the trip to Jerusalem is uphill.

The Talmud describes their travel:
The Israelites decorated and brought their sacrificial animals.
They traveled in groups - and other pilgrims joined them on the way.
The best of all, they gaily sang psalms as they traveled...

Is this description true? Who knows. It surely was for some.

The real takeaway from this story: We should aspire to treat all our holidays in this manner -- to meet them in joy.

Note: I said aspire. It is hard. The world doesn't go away.

Now that we've described the way God wants us to greet our holidays, let's go back to the month of Tishri - including Shabbatot, this month is almost all holiday!We are still left with the question: why did God plan it this way?
It becomes obvious when we realize that Tishrei is the seventh month in the Jewish calendar.  And, it's a month that is almost all Shabbat.

We looked at two sides of holiday celebration.
The ideal is to meet them with joy and longing.
But we live in the world. This ideal IS difficult to maintain. It has always been so, even for our ancestors. I feel reasonably certain that their observance and celebration was as imperfect as ours today.

And here's the real question: How did we do as a synagogue?...

We did great, even though...
We didn't have minyanim for every service - but given our size, we did great!
Nor did we schedule all the services we might have done.
Personally ... I try very hard to stay within halachah on the holidays. And that is a joy. I'm lucky to have a job that makes it easy. And if rabbis don't do this, who will?

 BUT ... I wrote this sermon on Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. Ideally, I should have done this between last Saturday night and before sundown Wednesday. After all, just as we don't write on Shabbat, we don't write on holidays.

I really wanted to write this.  I needed to write this. My own observance is hardly perfect.

True celebration and worship is a worthy aspiration. We should try as hard as we can to celebrate with full hearts.

We also recognize our limits.

Our task: every year, do our best to transcend those limits. Who knows, it might be easier than we think!

The more heart we put into our holidays, the more joy we'll reap!

Finally, why did I say that our holidays were great ... despite the limitations I mentioned?
People working together to make things happen.
Lots of warmth.
Best of all, lots of smiles!

Thank you.

Shabbat shalom

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