Happy New Year, To Our Crooked Hearts

As I boarded the plane in Los Angeles to fly to Cape Town for the High Holy Days, I paused, touched the side of the open plane and said to myself, “b’yado afkid ruchi,” in Your hand I place my spirit. This line from Adon Olam is my “all aboard” ritual and prayer. 

Well my new friends, it’s time. What’s that in the background? I hear an announcement over the loudspeaker: “Jews, your plane is boarding. Ready your travel documents and step up to gate.” We have officially entered a New Year, 5776.
Today’s message is two fold. 1. It’s time to get ready. 2. We’ll never be fully ready.

First, on getting ready. Just because Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur have passed does not mean we are off the hook to talk with those with whom we have strife and struggle. In fact, these conversations are more urgent than ever. Let’s look at our planners. How can we spend true quality time with those we love? Have we told them today how much we love them? Or, if we have hurt them, how deeply sorry we are to have let them down? Let’s speak from our hearts and let go of the need to be right. I repeat for all of us to hear again: let’s train in letting go of the need to be right. Most likely none of us are fully right anyway. Frankly, the bottom line for me is, if I die tomorrow, how do I live today. What really matters?   

To point two: We’ll never fully be ready. 

Yehuda Amichai, one of Israel’s great poets came to Jerusalem with his family when he was 11. He fought in the Sinai War and the Yom Kippur War. He is often called a “philosopher-poet in search of a post-theological humanism.” I love the way his poetry is deeply devout and rebellious at the same time. 

His poem, A Man In His Life, is critical to our curriculum for on-going spiritual refinement. The poem, introduced to me by Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, is a riff on Ecclesiastes, or Kohelet, the sacred scroll we read during Sukkot. Ecclesiastes claims, “to everything there is a season.” Pete Seeger and the Byrds made this idea famous with their hit song: “Turn! Turn! Turn!” Amichai responds and highlights the irony: 


A man doesn't have time in his life
to have time for everything.
He doesn't have seasons enough to have
a season for every purpose. Ecclesiastes
was wrong about that.

A man needs to love and to hate at the same moment,
to laugh and cry with the same eyes,
with the same hands to throw stones and to gather them,
to make love in war and war in love.
And to hate and forgive and remember and forget,
to arrange and confuse, to eat and to digest
what history
takes years and years to do. …

Friends, our plane is aloft. The New Year is gliding on and already there is so much unresolved, tangled and cramped. This is life. There will never be a time for every season. Seasons overlap and we love people and they hurt us. We do our best, and we disappoint people. 

Over the High Holidays the shofar tried persistently to clear out the dust and open the airways. It tried to blast through what got stuck last year and is timid to reemerge. It’s time to boldly walk towards our enemies and realize that what is likely so upsetting is how much they remind us of ourselves, or parts of ourselves that we work so hard to refine. 

This year, let us step up to our own complexity and share our humility, our questions, concerns and fears. W.H. Auden in One Evening offers a poignant visual: 

O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbor
With your crooked heart.

While the King is no longer “in the field” as is our tradition’s way of describing G-d’s close proximity during Elul, G-d is always available. So in these newest days of the New Year, I invite each of us to stand at the window, or even better, go outside.  Stand in the breeze. Pretend you are about to embark life-transforming journey. Before you board, have that brave conversation with your uncle who long since passed away, your spouse, your son or daughter or your friend who you haven’t spoken with in 20 years. Or, perhaps throw your hands up and call out to G-d (when you’re not getting cut off on the road). 

Whoever we can “reach,” let us reach out to them today. It is time to love our crooked neighbors with our crooked hearts. After all, before we know it, it will be Rosh Hashana once again.