Monday, August 31, 2009

Taking Woodsock to Elul


The recent release of Taking Woodstock, a semi-true film about Elliot Tiber, a nice Jewish boy, and the infamous 1969 music festival he helped orchestrate, got me thinking about the month of Elul.
Woodstock was the three-day concert that defined a generation. It has become so legendary now, that just about anyone who is anyone claims to have been there during those exciting and extremely wet days listening to thirty-two acts including Joan Baez, Santana, the Grateful Dead, CCR, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and the late, great Jimi Hendrix.
Approximately 500,000 people came to hear the music and celebrate youth and hippie culture in a way that has never been seen before or since.
The reason why the Woodstock got me thinking about Elul is because of the very transformative nature of the event. The sense of social harmony attained at Woodstock, in particular, has been a desired goal at gatherings large and small ever since.
Personal and social harmony really are two of most significant underlying goals of teshuvah. We seek forgiveness from ourselves, our friends, our families, and from God, all with the hope of finding inner and outer peace. Fortunately teshuvah doesn't require a seismic cultural shift to help us in this journey. Nor do we need to gather together in the fields of upstate New York. Instead when the shofar beckons us, like a loud guitar riff (yes I did just compare the shofar to a guitar riff), we can feel the awesome nature of what holiness truly means.
May Elul be for you a time to forgive, a time to reconcile, and a time to listen. All with the goal of finding harmony and peace in your own lives and the larger world as well.
I just have one small favor to ask: please no tie-dye at the High Holidays, unless you are also wearing bell-bottoms.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Full Moon


A couple of weeks ago, our nation celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the lunar landing. The success of the Apollo missions marked not only a triumph for all of humankind, but also reconnected us with the central figure of the night sky, the moon.
Being a solar powered people, we tend not to pay too much attention to this celestial body, without which, some scientists feel life as we know it could exist. According to this theory, the gravitational pull of the moon is a central force helping sustain the dynamic nature of the earth. It is this dynamic earth that enabled life to exist and continue to exist, unlike some of our other inner-planetary brethren.
But there is another piece, a Jewish piece to the moon that should be noted as well. For though the origins of several of our key festivals are agricultural in nature; our calendar, and by extension, our observances are inexorably tied to the moon.
So important is the moon to Jewish life, that the Sanhedrin, the full rabbinic court needed two witnesses to testify as to when it was a new moon in order to start the month. Only upon cross examination could the new month begin.
Also our days begin in the evening. This comes from the book of Genesis “and there was evening, and there was morning.” But even still, evening is the territory of the moon’s constant wanderings.
So in a way, our days, our nights, our festivals, and our celebrations, are all in one way or another, bound to the moon.
Thus when we celebrate humanity’s achievements in reaching the moon, in a way, we are also reminded not just of humans touching the moon, but of how the moon continues to touch our lives as well.