Rosh Hashanah Welcome: Through the Wall

Chag sameach. Gut yontiff. Welcome.

I want to congratulate you for showing up tonight, for whatever reason you did: because this is your lifelong custom or because it's a new engagement; because it moves you; because you're curious; or because you love someone who wanted to be here. These are all fine reasons. So mazeltov.

I know for many of us the transition into synagogue ritual can be difficult. There are many things about our tradition that are hard to buy into. I recently had the opportunity to pray in a community that was politically progressive but ritually conservative. They used an Orthodox prayerbook, and it was my first time using one in a long time. The entire service was in Hebrew. I know for many of you that would prove an obstacle. My problem was different. I understood all the Hebrew. And the content of what I was reading proved to be the great obstacle. So many things I couldn't buy into: severely gendered imagery, God-as-king, angry-God, judging God. I began to see the words, the Hebrew typeface we call block print, as actual bricks, walling me off and keeping me out. I felt myself fuming. I felt tears welling up.

But as I stared at this wall, my mind wandered to the Greek myth of Pyramus and Thisbe. Next door neighbors, lovers from feuding families. A chink in the wall was how they saw and heard each other, and how they carried on their love affair. The image suddenly allowed me to imagine a chink in the wall of liturgy, to see the space between our inherited words. Through this opening I saw, smiling at me, I don't know what: maybe our tradition, maybe the cosmos, maybe God. But something in the experience smiled back at me like a lover. I chuckled at the secret of our love affair, and felt my tense body relax. As I did, the opening grew and became a great gate and swung open for me at last. Pitchu li sha'arei tzedek as we will sing repeatedly over this holiday. "Open for me, ye gates."

So I invite you to find your own gate this holiday. The one that opens for you, to whatever mystery lies behind it. If your gate is music, may it open for you. If your gate is tradition, may it open for you. If your gate involves ignoring all the words and reflecting quietly or walking outside under the stars, may it open for you. If your gate involves God, may it open for you. If your gate involves replacing the word God with Universe, Being, Existence, Non-existence or Mystery every time it comes up in the book or issues from my mouth, may that gate open for you as well.

I ask your forgiveness in advance if this service turns out not to be exactly what you had wanted. But, as the sages famously said, "You can't always get what you want. No, you can't always get what you want. No, you can't always get what you want."

But if you try to find your own gate, you might just find you get what you need.

It is Rosh Hashanh. A time for turning - turning the calendar, turning a page, maybe turning over a new leaf, turning around, turning back. I am glad we are here together at this moment of turning, looking behind, looking ahead, looking inside.