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  • Writer's picturerabbijonathanf

Flying High on Rosh Hashanah

Many of us have childhood memories of a scary scene from a movie. In mine, the hero is trapped in a room with metal walls, and a suddenly the walls start moving in. The hero of the film tries to block them, but to no avail. He realizes they he is going to be crushed to death, and as I child I had a vivid sensation the terror of being in the room. (It seems my memory is from the originial Batman series made for TV). The fear of being trapped in tiny spaces has never left me. I felt it as a birthright madrich when forty students and I crawled through a tiny tunnel entrance of the bar kochba caves. As Israel goes into another lockdown, there is an impending feeling of the walls closing in, and of being constricted. Stores and public life will shut down, and we will be restricted to within a 500-meter radius of our homes. (This is an improvement over the 100-meter radius of the Passover lockdown, but not by much.)

For many people, having our lives limited and upended by Coronavirus has been going on for months, and we are not sure we have the inner resources to deal with any more. It is particularly trying for elderly who cannot go to public spaces, singles who are isolated, families that are crowded together at home with zoom school and work, and for the millions out of work. Israel is beginning its latest shutdown for the holidays, and in the US Jewish schools opened only to have many of them close again due to rising Corona cases.

The obvious challenge for us in Israel and the Jewish community currently, is navigating the High Holidays in times of Corona. Synagogues have to limit their attendees and many will be praying at home. Rosh Hashanah is normally family time, it is a time to gather with community in synagogue, in Israel Sukkot is filled with day trips and the outdoors. This year we are wondering how do we find a way to connect to the holidays with so much of communal life disrupted?

I would like to suggest that it is precisely pondering the themes of Rosh Hashanah that can help get us through this challenging time in our lives and in the world. Rosh Hashanah is a time to strengthen our emunah, our trust in the Almighty. It is a time of finding renewed spiritual strength by reconnecting to our spiritual core and to the Almighty. By doing so we can find greater internal resources to get through these trying times.

The Slonamer Rebbe in his inspiring work, Nesivos Shalom in his teaching on the month of Elul says that sometimes we have a constriction of our thoughts and of our hearts. As we approach the High Holidays, we tend to focus on our faults and weaknesses, because it is a time of teshuva, of repentance when we make amends for our past mistakes. He compares this to a person who is walking and encounters all sorts of obstacles on the ground like rocks, thorns, and holes. The solution is not to remove all the obstacles, because they are endless. The solution is to rise above them, like someone flying in a plane. If we elevate our thoughts to the Almighty, and focus on the positive in our lives, the Rebbe says, then our hearts will open to Him as well. This is the goal of the High Holidays, to focus on a higher plane; the themes of Rosh Hashanah can elevate us to a higher level. Here are some themes to think about:

-An awareness of the Almighty as our Creator, who loves us and takes care of us.

-A strengthening of our Emunah: our belief in the Almighty, which can take us out of the worry mode in the face of all the uncertainty in our lives and the world, as we give it over to G-d.

-An optimism generated by a greater level of trust in the Almighty that we will come out of this challenge and be able to advance in our lives.

-An acceptance that these are our circumstances today, and the ability to see how we can make the most out of a difficult situation.

-A rededication to prayer as a path to connect to the Almighty and as means to ask for our needs for the coming year. We are instructed to place our prayers for others, our loved ones, family, friends, our community, our people, and the entire world before our own needs.

There are many ways to rise above the mundane. David Baine, an illusionist, and extreme performer had a childhood dream of grabbing on to a cluster of balloons and flying off into the clouds. Not one to be restrained by human limitations, this year he decided he would realize his dream. Sure enough two weeks ago he sailed up 24,000 feet, the cruising height of a jet airplane by holding on to a group of balloons. (Actually it was not as spontaneous as it sounds, there were months of planning and a whole team of experts and scientists). I am not suggesting we attempt to repeat David Blane’s stunt, but we can use it as a visualization exercise. Picture ourselves grabbing onto the balloons and flying up out of our worries, and towards our goals and dreams. The balloons are the Almighty who ‘lifts us out of the dust’, the strings are the mitzvoth, the Torah and the High Holiday services and experience. This Rosh Hashanah let’s lift ourselves out of our world of worries and uncertainties, and hold onto the things in our lives which we know are eternal.

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