As we are now a week into the second month of the Jewish calendar - a period that is without holy days save for Shabbat - I am reflecting on my personal Tishrei journey and its litmus test for my resilience in this new phase of my life. As I shared in a guest talk at my congregation, where I preached for a quarter of a century and continue to daven and interact with the membership, Tishrei was a dreaded mark on the horizon of my summer relaxation, for so many years; all of my plans had to factor in that I would be spending the last weeks of beach and pool season in thinking, drafting, and planning for the barrage of sermons, celebrations, and programming that would accompany Selichot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah, and more.
I witnessed both the flow of inspiration and vulnerability at this time of year; those leaders who have a plan can be incredibly inspirational and powerful, while those without one can be overwhelmed and exhausted even by thinking about the chagim.
Through the lens of my study and re-framing during these past two Tishrei installments, I saw different colors. While there was a part of me that missed the prestige of standing before attentive congregational audiences (which was mitigated in part by a one-day pulpit stint in Trinidad, Colorado - thank you Temple Aaron!), the distance from the stress of being “on” afforded me more of a close read of all the sacredness and poetry offered by the prayers and customs of Tishrei. From the valley of vulnerability and humility traversed while reciting penitential prayers and prostrating literally and emotionally, I climbed through sitting in my Sukkah (which was, for some reason, not so easy to construct and keep intact this year) to the heights of revelry through rejoicing with the Torah - and felt myself doing the soulful work of revisioning all throughout.
Indeed, Tishrei was for me a vast spiritual orchard of opportunity in which to find our “flight plan” for the New Year, and it tested the mettle of our resolve through the “sweet and sour” notes of the celebrations.
My teacher, Prof. Marcus O’Donnell, stresses that we need resilience in our everyday lives, not just when we confront major traumas, and I would add, especially during our season of highs and lows that bring into play all kinds of different dietary and social habits that impact our daily rhythm. It takes toughness, mindfulness to get through the expectations we place upon ourselves for showing up, eating up, and dancing up.
Another difference this year was explaining all of the holidays to my team at work, none of whom are Jewish and all of whom were concerned when they noticed my consistent absences on Mondays and Tuesdays. As I put it to the kind colleague who agreed to trade shifts on Erev Yom Kippur so that I could be home in time for dinner and then the fast (on Tuesdays, I usually work until 8:00pm), it is mind-boggling how much we modern Jews need to redesign our lives in order to comply with the classical design of our Tradition. I think she got it then, but now understands it better when she observes my pronounced, even keel, now that I have been restored to five-day work weeks. That’s resilience for you!