Vulnerability Makes Us Human
On Rosh Hashanah, we ask ourselves: Am I the type of person I really want to be? Am I treating my loved ones with empathy and respect? What about those outside of my close-knit group of friends and family — who am I to them? How can I be better, stronger, kinder, more present?
Most of our introspection during the holidays involves relationships — relationships with God, yes, but perhaps more importantly, relationships with others. When we delve deep inside ourselves to consider how we can improve in the year to come, I’d venture to bet that most of those painful pangs of regret are about how we acted in the relationships that are important to us.
Think about the best memories you’ve had all year — a great meal out with your friends, a family vacation up north, a quiet moment putting your child to bed, a wonderful phone call with someone you hadn’t spoken to in months. And the worst memories — missing a birthday party because of a last-minute work obligation, speaking harsh words to a loved one that you instantly regretted, feeling rejected or judged by someone you look up to.
Relationship-making and connecting with others is at the heart of so much of what sustains us, both for pleasure and in the context of our professional lives. It can also be a source of great pain to us, as it requires us to be vulnerable to truly open ourselves up to the possibilities of connecting more deeply with others.
In her recent book, Daring Greatly, Dr. Brene Brown discovered something odd while researching the subject of vulnerability. She asked her patients for a list of the things that made them feel the most vulnerable. At first, they answered in the obvious ways, citing things like sickness, loss of a loved one, loss of a job and divorce.
But when pushed harder, this is what she found:
• Standing over a sleeping child
• Loving my job
• Spending time with my parents
• Going into remission
• Getting promoted
• Falling in love
This is it, everyone. This is what matters. This sense of vulnerability is what makes us human. It’s what makes us real. It’s what makes us Jewish. As we head into the New Year, may we find new ways to be with each other, to be there for each other and to truly see each other. And, in this way, may it be for each of us a year of love and life.
Jennifer Lader is a rabbi at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield.
Happy Thanksgiving! Yes, you read correctly. As we enter the period of the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, where should our focus be? Of course, this is a time for prayer and introspection; it is certainly important that we are able to spend time with family and friends. It is also a time for thanksgiving.
Giving thanks is not often associated with Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, but there is a very important connection.
The rabbis of the Midrash asked whether sacrifices and prayer would be offered during the Messianic Age. Their answer is found in the Midrash known as the Pesikta D’Rav Kahana.
“Rabbi Pinchas, Rabbi Levi and Rabbi Yochanan cite in the name of Rabbi Menachem: ‘In the time to come, all sacrifices will cease except the Thanksgiving offering; all prayers will cease, except the prayer of Thanksgiving, which will never cease.’” (Piska 9:12)
This is an incredible statement given the vast body of prayers we have. Instead of choosing a prayer such as the Shema, Aleinu, Ashrei or the Kedushah, they chose the prayer of Thanksgiving. We can find a blessing of Thanksgiving, the “Modim” blessing, as part of every Amidah, which we recite daily in the morning, afternoon and evening. The blessing is found as part of every Amidah throughout the year and helps form the core of our prayer services.
As part of the blessing we say, “We thank You and sing Your praises — for our lives that are in Your hands, for our souls that are under Your care, for Your miracles that accompany us each moment …” (from Siddur Lev Shalem).
The lesson the sages are teaching is clear: The most important aspect of Jewish prayer, and therefore one of the most important aspects of being Jewish, is gratitude. We should never take for granted the blessings in our lives and especially the source of all blessing in life, the Holy Blessed One.
Whether it is at work, home or with friends, we should take time to express our gratitude for the blessings we receive and the blessings we are able to bestow on others. As we enter the High Holy Days, this is a time for prayer and introspection; it is certainly important that we are able to spend time with family and friends, if possible. It is also a time for thanksgiving. Shanah tova u’metuka — May we all be blessed with a sweet, happy and healthy New Year filled with moments to be thankful for.
Robert Gamer is a rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom in Oak Park.
The Wake-Up Call
Mother: “Come on, Victor, you have to get out of bed or you’ll be late for school.”
Victor: “Mom, do I have to? All the teachers hate me, and all the students hate me, too.”
Mother: “Yes, you do.”
Victor: “Give me one good reason.”
Mother: “Because you’re 47 years old and you’re the principal.”
How did you wake up this morning? Who woke you up? What woke you up? Were you ready to wake up? Did you want to wake up?
Compare these two scenarios:
An inmate in a Russian gulag is rudely awoken by the nachalnik before dawn. The inmate will spend the day in hard labor without proper clothing and adequate nutrition. There is nothing for him to look forward to, nevertheless he jumps out of bed and gets ready as fast as he possibly can. He is motivated by fear; if he doesn’t get up, he will be severely punished.
A young girl living in a warm home in a safe neighborhood is gently awoken by her mother. It’s really early, but her mother tells her that she must wake up. The whole family is going to the airport to catch an early flight to Orlando. The girl jumps out of bed and gets ready as fast as she possibly can. She is motivated by joy, she is going to spend a week in Disney World with her family!
Maimonides in the Laws of Teshuva states: Although the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a Torah decree, there is an allusion in it as well. It says: “Be roused, sleepers, from your sleep, and slumberers, wake from your slumber; search your deeds and return in teshuvah …”
How does the Shofar awake you? Is it a soft and gentle call coming from a loving and caring source? Is it a harsh and rude awakening coming from a punishing and controlling source?
Is the call of the shofar a terrifying reminder of how bad you have acted or an encouraging and supportive reminder of how awesome you can be? Is the shofar just telling you what you ought to do, or is it also cheering you on, telling you that you can do?
This Rosh Hashanah, whether you make it to synagogue or not, seek a way to fulfill the mitzvah of hearing the shofar. When you do, I wish for you that you can hear a sound of hope and encouragement coming to you from Above. I bless you that you feel as excited to tackle the year ahead as a little girl that was just woken up to go on her dream vacation. I pray that you be granted a sweet New Year 5778.
Yisrael Pinson is the rabbi of Chabad of Greater Downtown Detroit.
Another World Is Possible
The number 50 is on my mind. It is a tender and powerful moment in Detroit as we commemorate the 50th year of the Rebellion. Fifty years is jubilee — a time of radical renewal. The shofar is a well-known symbol of the High Holidays, but it is on the jubilee we also blow the shofar.
Tradition teaches that 10 things were created bein hashmashot, on the eve of the first sabbath at twilight. In this liminal moment, on the cusp of the days of struggle and the day of peace, God creates the ram. Why the ram?
When God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son, it seems inevitable — Abraham can see no other way. It isn’t until his child is bound on the altar that he looks up to see a ram, caught in the thicket. Not just any ram — the primordial ram! The ram that was always there, if he would only see it.
The shofar announcing the 50th year calls us back to that moment of seeing — of realization that there is another way. We are not bound to a fate outside of our control. The ram was always there, hiding — just out of sight.
There is an alternative, a better ending, a new beginning, a chance to change course.
One thing that is clear from the learning I have done in honor of this anniversary is that the conditions that led to the crisis, such as “urban renewal,” segregation, unemployment and redlining, are not things of the past — far from it. They may look slightly different in 2017 than 1967, but failing public schools, police brutality, disproportionate asthma and water shutoffs are symptoms of the same lethal cocktail of racism and public policy. It is hard to look seriously at this reality and not believe we are doomed to make the same mistakes — forever.
But if we can remember to look up, we will see the ram. We will see the truth that we have agency. There is nothing natural about these systems — nothing ordained by God. We sound the shofar to cry: There is another way! We can join hands with communities throughout Metro Detroit to build a future of security, dignity and equity for all of us.
The Prophet Isaiah calls to us: “Cry out full-throated, don’t hold back; lift your voice like a shofar” — we cry out that another world is possible. In this new year, may we be blessed to help bring it about.
Alana Alpert is the rabbi for Detroit Jews for Justice and Congregation T’chiyah.