Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

We’re on the runway: the Days of Awe are approaching. We’ve entered the Limbering Up time.

Runway to the Days of Awe 5784: Tisha b'Av; 7 Weeks / Limbering Up; Rosh Hashanah; 10 Days of Teshuvah; Yom Kippur; Sukkot.
Late last month we gathered for Tisha b ‘Av, the spiritual low point of our communal year. It’s also the beginning of our journey toward the new. Our tradition teaches that descent can be for the sake of ascent. In every life there are times of feeling low. as individuals and as a community. When we allow ourselves to feel what is, the energy of what we’re feeling can help us to lift up, to turn mourning into dancing, and despair into the actions of renewed hope.

We’re in the Seven Weeks between Tisha b’Av and Rosh Hashanah, sometimes called the Seven Weeks of Comfort (or Consolation). I think of these seven weeks as a time for spiritual limbering-up, a time to practice some of the qualities we want to bring to bear on the new year. The Days of Awe are a time of deep introspection, a time when we recommit ourselves to who we most aspire to be. And like anything else, that inner work benefits from regular practice.

Charles H. Spurgeon, a Christian preacher who died in 1892, famously taught that we should “begin as we mean to go on.” What qualities do we want to characterize the new year 5784? The first answers that arose for me are integrity, connectedness, compassion and care for others, and justice. Each of us could make our own list, and I suspect there would be a lot of overlap. I would love to see a word cloud of all the qualities we want the new year to be.

A word cloud of some of the middot, or spiritual qualities, that we might seek.

I understand Spurgeon’s quote to mean: whatever qualities we want our new year to hold, we should enact them as the year begins. Begin the year with integrity and connectedness, with compassion and justice, with care for others… and the grooves of habit that we will carve through that beginning will help us to carry those qualities forward. And, of course, if we want to be ready to live these qualities on day one, it couldn’t hurt if we begin trying to do so now.

None of these are “one-and-done.” Integrity is a life’s work. Connectedness — with community; with each other; with our traditions; with our Source — is a lifetime practice. Compassion and care for others is a lifetime practice. Acting justly and upholding justice is too. The same is true of all of the middot, the spiritual qualities and Jewish values enumerated in our tradition. Community-mindedness. Giving each other the benefit of the doubt. Perseverance. Hope…

We’re on the seven-week runway to the Days of Awe. What better time to start limbering up, to start stretching our spiritual and emotional muscles, so that we can begin 5784 as we mean to go on? And if you have your own list of the qualities you’d like to embody in the new year, or the qualities you’d like to see our community embody in the new year, send them along. Together we’ll all do what we can to help our community live into our highest ideals in the year to come.

Blessings to all,

— Rabbi Rachel