Kol Ami — The Northern Virginia Reconstructionist Community
Greetings! It’s mid-July as I’m writing, but my thoughts are turning to the High Holidays in late September. What a different year we’ve had than anyone expected. A war in Ukraine. The reversal of Roe v. Wade. Inflation at 9.1 percent. The shocking truth of an attempted coup in 2020, laid out in hearing after hearing. The oncoming crisis of a climate out of control.
If High Holidays are a time for reflecting on the previous year, this year certainly feels like a low point. But we are advised not only to reflect on the negative, but to call to mind the good as well. In each of our own individual lives, I am certain that much that is good has been accomplished over the past year. In our community, we have come together in new and meaningful ways to both celebrate and mourn, to learn and explore. Across the country, we have returned to semi-normalcy amid many fits and starts in our pandemic responses. And in the world at large, vast progress has been made, decade after decade, in combatting poverty and ending hunger, curtailing genocides and reducing the risks of war.
The good things may or may not outweigh the bad; in our tradition, such a judgment is so difficult that it is reserved for God alone. Our rabbis imagined God on Rosh Hashanah weighing the negative each of us has done and the positive; for most of us average people who have done some of each, God tilts the scales to make our good deeds predominate and keep us moving forward in life.
The metaphor of judgment is instructive. The point of calculating the good and the bad is not to come up with a cold evaluation — a kind of annual performance review — but to tilt the scales to the side of forgiveness and compassion. Indeed, says the Talmud, anyone who foregoes a reckoning on the wrongs done to him or her, receives a pass for all of his or her own sins.
So the purpose of High Holidays is to press that reset button. To see if we can make up for our wrongs or omissions by foregoing resentment or extending compassion to others. To become more patient with ourselves and with others. To remain hopeful that the balance can tilt to the side of goodness, that our actions and energies can be directed to improve ourselves and the world, day by day, year by year.
Our theme for this High Holiday season is, “We fall down, we get back up.” It’s based on a beautiful song by Joey Newcombe using the traditional melody of the Bratslav Hasidim. The song is “You Fall Down, You Get Back Up,” and I hope you’ll take a moment to listen to it. Rebbe Nachman, the leader of the Bratslav Hasidim, suffered from depression and lived in a challenging (to say the least) time in European history. Yet he famously wrote: Ein shum yei-ush ba-olam, klal. There can be no despair in this world. None.
We’ll be studying some of Rebbe Nachman’s writings in September as we prepare ourselves for the High Holidays. Meanwhile, in whatever you’re doing or working on over the next couple of months, you can do worse than take this mantra to heart: There can be no despair. Neither as individuals, nor as a people, nor as a country, nor as a planet. We fall down, we get back up.
Rabbi Gilah Langner