top of page
  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

Awaken | September 17, 2023 Rev Dr. Dorsey Blake

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

I give thanks for Rosh Hashana and its awakening ritual and power through the sounding of the shofar. Its unimpeded blasts startle me to attention. Prioritizing the things occupying me at the moment, it awakens my soul declaring that the Jewish New Year Holy Day of Rosh Hashana has begun. Rosh Hashana began Friday evening initiating the High Holy Days culminating in Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the year marked by fasting. The Jewish scholar Maimonides said the sounding of the shofar says: “Sleeping ones! Awaken from your sleep! Slumbering ones! Awaken from your slumber! Examine your deeds. Remember your Creator . . .” The sound of the shofar pierces all the layers that cover my identities and deeds and settles in my heart asking, “What are you doing?” It commemorates the beginning of the world, the creation of the universe. This is not recognition of the scientific beginning but the spiritual beginning of conscious human existence. Sleep no more it says. Do not hit the snooze button. Rabbi Arthur Waskow wrote: The Shofar: Awake! Sob! Breathe! Transform. What an arresting combination of emotions and actions is embodied in that powerful statement.

Jewish or not, these High Holy Days prove a time and forum for reflection, celebration, and action. They call me to check on how I have lived my ideals, how we have represented essential virtues for the continuing enterprise of creative, sustainable, ever-precious creation. They afford the opportunity and command that we take our lives seriously, not merely for our own sakes, but also for the soul of the world, the cosmic grandeur, and the universal endowment.

Waskow invites us to: Face our mistakes, our misdeeds, the ways in which we have aimed the arrows of our actions toward lives of justice, peace, and healing but have missed the mark – and turn ourselves in a new direction that, deep within us, is the “old” direction – love. That goes for us as individuals and also as members of a society. When a whole society turns in an unloving direction, we call it a systemic failure – systemic racism, systemic militarism, systemic materialism, . . . When we recite our misdeeds on these holy days, we deliberately say “We.” “We have slandered, we have cheated, we have stolen, we have murdered.” I myself have not done all these things, but as a member of society, I have been complicit in them all. This year, as the new year begins, we are hearing the Shofar-note of “Awake!” more deeply than for generations. We can hear the grinding, clashing sounds of a chasm in American society, one that has been widening and sharpening for years but has been made far more visible and audible . . .. And it is not only Americans who face that chasm, but all human communities and all the life-forms on our planet. It is not enough for me to merely condemn the atrocities of our nation. I am complicit and therefore have the responsibility to intervene.

Although not being Jewish, there is a gnawing urgency today to personally set my life against the tide of this systemic failure. It is a failure that is evil, stands against God, and eventually will fail. The comprehensive and devastating assault on the poor, immigrants, racial/ethnic communities, LGBTQIA+ communities must be halted. The assaults on a woman’s right to choose and the all-out attacks to extinguish transgender individuals and the trans community are hatred walking on earth. The work over the years that has caused the nation to come closer to implementing policies and developing structures that promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of fullness to future generations, as well as the present one, must be strengthened. Economist Richard Wolff says that the sickness that we currently experience is the system itself. For him, the concept of returning to “normal” is a failed concept and “the normal” is greatly responsible for the ills we currently embody.

Yes, it is so easy to walk with routine behavior as though that is the best we can do, to flow with the comfortable as if that is our purpose in living. Hundreds of years ago Pelagius dissented from such a notion: We contradict the Lord to his face when we say: It is hard, it is difficult; we cannot, we are men; we are encompassed with fragile flesh. O blind madness! O unholy audacity! We charge the God of all knowledge with a twofold ignorance, that he does not seem to know what he has made nor what he has commanded, as though, forgetting the human weakness of which he is himself the author, he imposed laws upon man which he cannot endure. Still, too often we accept standard narratives as inviolable, and “best practices” as standard, refusing to recognize diversity as the salvation of humanity and the earth. Diversity is the most awe-inspiring gift of the Creator that is seen throughout creation.

We must take our time together in this worship space as holy time and ensure that our worship is not merely the repetition of dogmas and ideas unfit for the needs of today. It was Rabbi Abraham Joshua who said that "a Jew never worships as an isolated individual but as a part of the community of Israel. Yet it is within the heart of every individual that prayer takes place. . .. for every act of worship is an act of participating in an eternal service, in the service of all souls of all ages.” Wow! What power there must be, what sense of community, and peoplehood must arise when realizing that Jews from around the world are praying at the same time for forgiveness, for a new lease on life, for continued support as they journey forth. I am in awe when millions of Muslims march around the Kaʿbah in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Is this what worship is supposed to be? Is it supposed to embody interconnection with comrades around the world, helping the individual understand that indeed she is not alone? That there is a spirit abroad, just like the one that brought creation into being that still connects, strengthens, and emboldens. Is worship a reality that lifts and imbues the worshippers with a sense of co-creating the future, and an understanding that the conflicts, the anxieties, the stresses, and contradictions do not last always, that they are not final, ultimate, or the essence of the earthly sojourn. Or must it be reinforcement of our shared essence. Ralph Waldo Emerson suggested that “we should be careful what we worship, for what we are worshiping we are becoming.”

Worship should undercut the divisions and barriers that guide our day-to-day existence. It should be a re-binding to the God of Life, to the Creator and Creation. It should always be a return to and nurturing of the soul. For in the soul, there is identity and power to recreate ourselves and create our tomorrow.

Rabbi Hillel told us not to “separate ourselves from our community." By that, I do not think that he meant the Jewish community alone. He also said that the essence of Torah is to care for our fellow human beings and “That which is hateful to you, do not do to another. That is the whole Law. The rest is commentary. Now go and learn.” We are divided. Our souls are divided. That is why it is critical to learn how to center down, to quiet the competing calls, so that we may discern the call of God amidst so many other claims on our lives.

Rabbi Heschel taught: “It is not by the rare act of greatness that character is determined but by everyday actions, by a constant effort to rend our callousness. It is constancy that sanctifies. Judaism is an attempt to place all of life under the glory of ultimate significance, to relate all scattered actions to the One. Through the constant rhythm of prayers, disciplines, reminders, and joys, humanity is taught not to forfeit its grandeur.”

Judaism is based on the concept of one God, and the hineni response (I am here!) shows us a path to wholeness. The inherent message here is that we, as humans, cannot bind the future. Even if our attempts to control the future are based in obedience to God. We must, however, try to influence the future. Facing a host of pressing problems including racism, environmental damage, international conflicts, poverty, and destruction of life and freedom by tyrannical powers, we have an urgent responsibility to eliminate or alleviate these problems for the sake of a better future. But we simply cannot bind the future. On Rosh Hashanah, I am called into action trusting the coming year as awesome and full of amazing possibilities. I reclaim my hopes for the future and our responsibilities toward unfolding it.

Rabbi Harold Kushner has said that “Judaism is less about believing and more about belonging.” Familiarity with the prayers and the pattern of the service assures us that we belong, connecting us with Jews around the world and throughout history. This connection helps us face the impressive moment of confronting God, the ultimate other, and accepting God’s amazing gift to us of a new year.

Worship, as Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman emphasizes, “is a creative act. Thus, we should not expect to receive meaning passively. We ourselves must create meaning out of the words and patterns in the worship service. Each individual will create a meaning that is personal to her or to him, but within a sense of community that in itself constitutes an essential dimension of worship. We become a kehillah kedosha, a holy community, when “I am here” becomes “we are here,” and together we praise the source of life, celebrate our collective energy, affirm our common values, and ask for help to confront our challenges. Moments of this kind of unity, when hearts are attuned to our community and simultaneously full of personal joy, pain, and hope, are fleeting but profound. When we are fully present, experiencing our own thoughts and feelings and attuned to the thoughts and feelings of others, that is when worship is most like theater—a purposeful and powerful merging of energies in which everyone plays a part and in which there truly are no small parts. As a kehillah kedosha, we realize our complete purpose when worship troubles us and in this way serves as a springboard to action in the world outside the sanctuary. As we hear the shofar and consider the year ahead, we cannot know for sure where our response will lead. We do not know what opportunities and challenges the new year will bring, but renewal through the sharing of tradition and values strengthens and inspires us to embark on the journey without knowing exactly where it will end.”

Rosh Hashanah begins the High Holy Days in Judaism, a time of coming before the God of one's life and assessing one’s journey, commitment, attitude, behavior, with great expectation for the new year. Each day then advocates for resurrection and nurturing trust in life and hope for its dawning anew in the depths of our being.

The Rt. Rev. Phillips Brooks stated: that the essential power of a new beginning is that “it recalls and freshens the principle and fundamental motive under which a work is done, and so keeps it from degenerating into mechanical routine.” … when a person starts afresh, either with the newness of a new day, or with the stimulus of altered circumstances, or with the inspiration of a new work, what this new start ought to do . . . is to refresh the deepest principles by which one lives. …So in a new beginning people ought to feel, and in some new way who they are and what great powers are at work upon them, as they do not ordinarily feel these things in common times.

Howard Thurman writes: In whatever sense this year is a New Year for you, may the moment find you eager and unafraid, ready to take it by the hand with joy and with gratitude.

29 views0 comments


bottom of page