What do you do the day after you thought the world was going to end?
We made it through. We’re on the other side of the High Holy Days. Look around. Now is when the real work starts. We always are told to live each day like we are dying, But is that really what we should be doing? My mother told me a story she learned from Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann, about a man who was 60 years old and wanted to learn the violin. At age 60, if he were to live like it was his last day, why learn the violin? It takes years to perfect. But he began that day, and by the time he died at age 99, he was a magnificent violin player.
Live like today is the beginning! Tomorrow is the first Shabbat after the holidays. Our first opportunity to sing, to chant, to pray, since we left the Divine Holy Court. Jews sing all the time, but there is something particularly special about getting to sing together on Shabbat. The word in Hebrew for a song is “Shir”, but a song we sing on Shabbat is called a “Zemer”. Hebrew words and letters hold holy and mystical significance. Words were formed with intention, and can be reformed and reinterpreted to deepen meaning. Zemer, read backwards, is Remez, which means “hint”. A shir is a song that we sing anytime, but a Zemer on Shabbat hints at something more. It hints at the Divine Presence, at the comfort and love of Shabbat. Yah Ribon is a zemer.
Taking time to be in Shabbat gives us the strength to continue the work we need to do in this world. Sing your way into Shabbat with this zemer, Yah Ribon. Sing it with friends. Sing it with family. Sing it in your heart.
May the voices which chant and pray on this Shabbat be voices of kindness and truth at all times. May we deepen our concern for all your children, and renew our devotion to our people and our faith. On this Shabbat which we share together, help us to feel your presence, O Source of Life and Love.
After months of work and collaboration with very dear friends, and with the support of so many of you, I am proud to share the first track off of my new album, “Chaverai Nevarech.” Every two weeks, I’ll share a new piece of music, along with a teaching to accompany it. All of the videos will be available on my website, along with sheet music, chords, and other resources to share with your communities.
So here is some Rosh Hashanah Torah for the first song, “Emet.”
Rosh Hashanah is not only the birth of a new year, it is the birthday of the entire world. When God began to create the world, all of the angels began to argue with each other. The angel of Chesed (loving-kindness) said, “Holy One! You should create humankind, as they are filled with loving-kindness!” The angel of Truth said, “O Holy One! Do not create humankind, as they are filled with lies!” What did God do? God lifted up the angel of Truth and threw it to down the Earth, as it is written, “And Truth was hurled to the ground (Daniel 8:12).” The angels immediately began shouting, “Holy One! What have you done? You have thrown your holy seal of Truth to the ground!” And the Holy One replied, “Truth springs up from the Earth (Psalms 85:12).”
There is no such thing as absolute truth; inflexible, unalterable. Truth does not come from on high. Ever since the moment that God threw Truth to the ground, truth must be found in humanity. Which means it is up to us to recognize truth and to use it for good. This is a huge responsibility, and the Holy One knew that it was the right to give this responsibility to humanity. After God created humans, God looked and said “v’hinei tov me’od,” “and it was very good.” What is it that is very good? What is it that is tov me’od? It is Adam. The letters Mem Aleph, Daled (Me’od), also spell Adam (Aleph, Daled, Mem). The hidden truth is that there is goodness, very goodness in fact, in each one of us. And the goal of this season of repentance and introspection is to see it in ourselves and find it in each other.
This is what it means to seek out truth. To bring out the tov me’od in ourselves and in those around us, and strive to fill the world with a little more emet, and a little more tov me’od. May 5779 bring us more of both.
(Adapted from Bereishit Rabbah 8:5)