Fear and Trembling

In the Jewish tradition we are taught to face the High Holidays, the Yamim Nora’im, with fear and trembling as we evaluate our actions and failings. Elul, the month before Rosh Hashanah is a time of spiritual preparation for the High Holidays.

For rabbis, Elul is also a time of preparation, both spiritual and logistical. It is our busy season, during which we are preparing what expected to be our four (or five) best sermons of the year, at least five distinct services, not to mention the logistics associated with that (facility setup, making sure the various committees are ready to do their thing, etc.).

For me, this year, I’m also organizing a new congregation, which means figuring out things like opening up a bank account, initial meetings with potential members, finding insurance, creating marketing materials, borrowing machzors, and desperately wondering what else I’ve forgotten. All in all, it’s a somewhat daunting prospect.

Which brings me back to fear and trembling. This year, I’m awfully close to outright panic.

Hineini: My High Holiday Theme

Many rabbis come up with a theme for the high holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), some idea which ties together all of the sermons to be delivered. Usually, I make do without such a theme and deliver sermons which are relatively unrelated. ThisĀ  year, I’m not delivering any sermons, but have a theme for myself, nonetheless.

It all began when someone put a post on ravelry asking what would be an appropriate word or phrase to crochet into a kippah (yamuke) for the high holidays. Which I thought was a great question. What would I want on the kippah I wore throughout the High Holidays?

I finally came up with one word: Hineini (here I am). It is the response which many biblical figures give to God when addressed by the Divine. It is a statement of readiness to perform the Divine work. It is an affirmation that one is fully present to the world which surrounds us.

This year, during the High Holidays and beyond, I’m planning to work on being more fully present in my life and my work. To think more about what I can be doing to make the Divine manifest in the world through my actions. My goal is to lead life more intentionally, and less by accepting the default options set before me.

It is easy to do things which come naturally to us. It is the tasks which are difficult, challenging or scary which require us to respond, “Hineini.” Too often I pass up those tasks which are difficult or challenging, staying in the nice safe realm of things I am good at and enjoy. But to do good work in the world, it is necessary to step outside of our comfort zone. To be present to opportunities and challenges, rather than simply coasting through and doing the things which we always do, the things which we do easily.

This year, and this High Holiday season, I will try to answer, “Hineini.” I will try to be present during congregational prayer, of course. But I will also try to be present in all of my interactions with people at CubeSpace. I will try to bring my full attention to everything I do. And in so doing, perhaps I will help make the world a somewhat better place for those with whom I interact.