September is here, and before too long we’ll be wishing each other a sweet new year. The coming High Holy Days will, undoubtedly, feel unusual. Just as zoom has found its way to so many aspects of our lives — that will be true for Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur. Last week, Sharona, Zohar and I took the laptop and microphone into the big sanctuary. We connected one of Ian Altman’s cameras, along with another microphone, into the new space, and we’re hoping to somehow capture the feeling of our shul’s beautiful sanctuary. And what does this description of equipment have to do with the title of this article?
I’ll tell you. When I’m not timing and noting the duration of prayers, listening to pre-recorded sections of Torah chanting, or wrestling with the necessary and draconian edits to a traditional High Holy Day service — I’m struggling with issues that loom larger than the minutiae that consume my preparations. I know that each family in our congregation is navigating an altered landscape in which our work lives, schooling, and leisure have been upended. Our relationships are tested by this upheaval. Do people have the time or emotional bandwidth to explore their spiritual lives in the midst of all this? Six months into this pandemic — many of us have shared in a bar mitzvah, wedding, funeral, and shiva on zoom or some other online platform. A tougher question: Is zoom up to all this?
I’ve been looking at recent remarks from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks labeled #Elul. He launches into the topic of doubt — I’m thinking that is because of the approach of the Days of Awe, the notions of Judgement, meditating upon our fragility, resolving to do the inner work of teshuva. Here’s what he says: “The place of doubt in Judaism is very interesting because most people define faith as certainty. I define faith as the courage to live with uncertainty. The truth is that you can look at the world and find it meaningless; you can look at the world and find it meaningful. If you’re looking for a life without doubt, without risk, and without uncertainty, stop living because you cannot really live without taking risks.”
There’s plenty to chew on here, especially in these times of global as well as personal upheaval. To be blunt, Rabbi Sacks essentially writes off certainty as a fantasy. In our real world, doubt and risk come with the blessings and perils of real life. Elul — this time of taking stock — is also about embracing the doubts and the hardships, trusting that there is a way forward. These words help me rally my spirit, and I pray that the days ahead can be a path of renewal and resolve for all of us.