The Month of Tishrei - From Metaphor to Practice

As we move into September and the Jewish month of Tishrei, we enter into our most liturgically intensive time of the Jewish year. This can be a dizzying few weeks, moving from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to Sukkot and Simchat Torah. This is a movement also from the solemnity and humility of the Yamim Noraim (the awe-filled days) to the celebration of the joyfulness and abundance of Sukkoth and Simchat Torah.

Our ancestors’ metaphors for the Divine at these different moments seem to shift as well. On Rosh Hashanah, God is envisioned as sovereign and judge,

a power beyond measure that has the ability to affect our fates for the year. On Yom Kippur, our ancestors call up the image of God as the forgiver, the granter of second chances, who we petition with open and broken hearts. We shift quickly after that to the Divine as immanent presence, a power of regeneration we can sense through the fertility of the earth and through our opening up to our vulnerability as we eat our meals under the starry “roof” of the Sukkah. And finally, we end this cycle by connecting on Simchat Torah to the Divine as the black fire on white fire of Torah, the God who inspires us through our connection to our Torah and its commentaries.

Perhaps, as Reconstructionists, we are not as surprised by the changing metaphors for God. Our Kol Haneshama siddur abounds on every page with Joel Rosenberg’s beautiful translation of the unpronounceable
Hebrew Tetragrammaton vuvh (Yod Hey Vav Hey) into a plethora of English names ranging from THE ETERNAL, THE INFINITE, THE KEEPER, THE OASIS, THE ALL-MERCIFUL, THE ONE, and many more. The siddur calls us to never settle on one way to conceptualize God.

The ways in which we relate to the metaphors of the divine during this period may offer us some insight for our own process of self-reflection and improvement during this month. The Tetragrammaton vuvh (YHVH) connotes the idea of change and possibility; the root of the word means being and becoming. Just as the siddur never settles on a specific translation of vuvh (YHVH), perhaps we also can be open during this period to new possibilities of being and becoming in how we see ourselves and others. If we feel stuck in a particular narrative of ourselves as limited or broken, perhaps we can remember that we too, like our siddur, are reflections of the many divine names, full of possibility, potential, and change. We can tap into our divine core and remember that we have the potential to be expansive and compassionate at any moment.

Additionally, these holiday moments also call on us to connect to specific metaphors of God through a collective spiritual practice. As we call out to vuvh as a sovereign power in our Rosh Hashanah liturgy, can we, in turn, call upon ourselves to cultivate humility, to work to keep our egos and judgments in check? Can we allow our hearts to crack open a bit more before the God of forgiveness and atonement as we recite the confessional liturgies on Yom Kippur? And can we truly open ourselves to the joy of abundance on Sukkot, even if we are feeling stung by the pain of the world?The work of the month of Tishrei is therefore really a blend of individual and collective spiritual practice, which hopefully will ground us for the year ahead. Can we take the time during this month to truly see ourselves as the many divine names, as infinite possibility, so that we don’t limit our potential for transformation? And, can we work as a community to cultivate humility, regret, joy, and abundance, as a way of developing our collective spiritual muscle to become even more a kehillah Kedosha, a holy community?

Tapuach bedvash2This month of Tishrei, may we all be blessed with the strength and courage to engage in this important work together. May we be transformed in ways we do not yet realize or know. And may we emerge together as a more loving and compassionate community.

Wishes to all for a healthy and sweet new year.