As has been her custom over the last few years, Rabbi Hannah invited members of the community to share thoughts on the three special sections of the Rosh Hashanah Musaf Service: Malchuyot – God’s Majesty, Zichronot – God’s Memory, and Shofarot – the call of the Shofar. Here are this year’s thoughts.
By Karen November
I’m standing in a digital exhibit titled, “What a Loving and Beautiful World” at the Museum of Anthropology. The room is dark; the entire wall is a screen accompanied by a soundtrack; harp, flute and piano. Butterflies, birds travel across the wall. I see a rainbow and Japanese letters float by. A guard shows us if we reach to touch the calligraphy that the letters will disappear. I’m stunned, amazed at this synthetic natural world. Is this malchuyot? I would change the letters to Hebrew and the floating celestial matter should travel upwards. I’ve had the same feeling in a James Turrell installation. Turrell plays with light; viewers are wrapped in a cloud of color and the transparency shifts to opaque and changes again as the light reflects a new color. This is what it will be like when you die I explain to my friends. I move from art to the written word and one sentence from Marc Chagall sends me soaring; All colors are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites.
Very simply, malchuyot is about G-d as King or Creator and as Michael Strassfeld translates malchuyot means our ability to act. If you look at a map of the body and the sefirot, malchut is at our feet; linking action to walking or moving forward. We’re not dwelling in our crown but we’re in motion, transacting. Strassfeld concludes by saying we all have a choice; we can be a co-creator or a co-destroyer. I continue to search and wrestle with these concepts. I remember an article I read on awe in Psychology Today. The “awe” psychologist, Charles Leahy, explains that the opposite of awe is rumination and we can view awe as clearing inner turmoil. He goes on to say that when we experience awe we’re able to let go of the need to control our situation. I’d never paired fear, anxiety and the need to control with co-destroying and awe and wonder with co-creating. The article went on to list criteria that help us experience awe: Do you seek out experiences that challenge your understanding of the world; Do you seek opportunities to see the beauty of nature; Do you look for patterns in the objects and encounters around you (I added encounters); Do you feel awe; Do you see beauty all around you and Do you feel wonder almost every day? I don’t think we need to define anxiety and inner turmoil.
This psychological framework makes sense to me. When I let go; I’m closer to G-d and my energy spirals upward. Holding close; the anxiety circles. This dance of holding close and letting go is the motor that drives our relationships. In his Rosh Hashanah notes Reb Zalman describes a bird of prayer; one wing representing awe and the other love. After preparing for this moment I want to rename the “love wing”, it’s malchuyot.
Zichronot (Rememberances) or “Does the Past have a Future?”
by Hal Siden
Thank you Reb Hanna for the honour of speaking today to the community. And thank you as well for giving me the opportunity to cram an enormous subject into “no more than 4 minutes”. The title of my talk is “Zichronot (Rememberances) or Does the Past have a Future?”
There are, of course, many interpretations of what Zichronot means. In a traditional view it revolves around G-d remembering. Remembering what exactly? Many of the readings we encounter tell us about G-d remembering the Covenant, or remembering our positive deeds this year or even “everything that has occurred throughout the history of creation that may stand in our good stead”.
However, this is not the remembering that I want to present to you today. I am looking at a more human, a more personal reflection. Remembrance is within us at an individual’s level; at an inter-personal, social level; and finally at a communal level.
Is Remembrance the same as Memory? Does G-d remember everything? Help us answer deep questions such as Who holds the record for career batting average (Ty Cobb)?; What 3 films all won 11 Oscars (Ben-Hur; Titanic; Lord of the Rings)?; and the all-time winner, “Where are the heck are my car keys?, they were just here!”
Memory is the vehicle. Remembrance is the journey. It brings the event into a considered image. Remembrance may live within our bodies – as a scar, physical or emotional. Remembrance comes through the objects we surround ourselves with, the stacks of letters, the files, the books, the photographs, the favourite piece clothing that we can’t imagine throwing out because some day we will want to look at them again, or better yet imagine that our children or our grandchildren will not just want, but we will need to look at them, see them as valuable, a link to us. We hope that we can plant the Remembrance right into the object and it will carry some part of our spirit forward even when we bodies are gone. The physicalness, the tangible nature of Remembrance.
Zichronot – to us the Covenant is a somewhat abstract idea, words in the Machzor. Let’s make it real. Think for a moment about the man named Avraham, who for days had scratches on his legs from climbing the rough mountain path, who could still feel the heft of his knife as he lifted it above his son, and still had the gnawing pit deep in his gut as he thought about what he had agreed to do. That would be a real Remembrance.
Remembrance, memory, is not just entirely personal – it is also social, relational. We see a familiar face on the street “Don’t you remember me?” they say. “Of course!” we responded in a blatant lie, as we rack our brains. We want to remember them, as we in turn want to be remembered. It is a sorrow of our modern that many of us have loved ones who are losing their memories. It is also our constant nagging fear, that we will lose ours. And without memories, will we be remembered? Will we disappear? Will we count?
Je me souviens “I remember” it says on the Quebec license plates. “Never forget” we say in Holocaust remembrance. Remembrance is also political, it is communal, and may be key to our survival.
Will technology change our remembrance? Does the past have a future? We rely now on our handheld devices, tablets, smartphones. Whether it’s finding out who won those 11 Oscars (it’s Ben Hur, Titanic and Lord of the Rings) or looking for photographs of our vacation, we now rely on something called the Cloud. In 2015 it was estimated that 1 trillion photographs were shared on the web each year. Do we look at those photos? Do we remember them? Will Remembrance reside in a Cloud? During the Renaissance G-d was painted residing high amongst the Clouds; is G-d, our Remembrance, now the same as the Cloud?
Our personal memories may be ephemeral. Our social memories may no longer belong to us but to the Network. How will remembrance then look in the future?
Let us look to the past; the caves in the French Dordogne were in continuous use by humans from 24,000 BC to 18000 BC. Archeology has shown that the images in the caves were continuously touched up and restored by the cave’s users over that time – the same images, but the paint freshened up. Over 6000 years – what else can we think of that humans have done continuously in the same place for six millennia?
This gives me hope. It may not be in our personal story, or in our social story, that remembrance lives on. It may be rather, ‘le dor le dor’ from generation to generation, whereby we recite, repeat, and re-enliven the knowledge that our ancestors possessed. Our celebrations and practices, whether it is The High Holidays or the weekly rituals of Shabbat are thousands of years old. We are in a line, receiving then passing the baton. Perhaps the practices that we share are the bridge between personal memory and the ineffable Remembrance. It is one more way for us to say that a memory is a blessing, and one that will sustain us.
May your Remembrances for this coming year be good ones. Shanah Tovah
by David Kauffman
When my father and I were looking for the words to engrave on the headstone of my mother Esther (zichrona letovah), what arose for us is the expression “a gutte neshoma” – a Yiddish phrase that means “a good soul”. That inspired our eventual choice “A Kind Neshama.” It raised the question in me then, “What does Nesahama mean?”
Neshama means “soul,” and etemologically, it is related to the Hebrew word for breath, “neshimah (נְשִׁימָה).” When God breathed into Adam, God gave him a soul. (Bereisheet Ch 2, v7)
וַיִּפַּ֥ח בְּאַפָּ֖יו נִשְׁמַ֣ת חַיִּ֑ים וַיְהִ֥י הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה:
Vayipach b’apav nishmat chayim vay’hi ha-adam lanephesh chaya. My translation – Hashem puffed into his nose the breath of life and then Adam had a living soul.
Each morning we daven the 150th Psalm, “Kol ha-neshama tehalel ya, haelleuyah” – Every soul, or all who breath, or every breath praises You (God); Halleluyah!”
As Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai says in the Zohar “Neshama” is the name of the 3rd level of the soul, which ascends in 5 levels of consciousness or “worlds of being” from Nefesh – the physicality of all living things, to Ruach, Neshama, Chaya, and finally Yechida, or total unity with the divine.
Neshama sits in the middle, 3rd of the five levels, balanced between the breath that animates all life, and the ein sof, the endless one-ness of the universe.
So Neshamah means breath and neshama means soul.
Having recently returned to playing a wind instrument after a 40 year hiatus, I deeply feel the intimacy of musical expression that comes from breathing into and through an instrument that is otherwise just a shell of material. Last week I played Kol Nidre on clarinet for Selichot and I could feel the unity of how my breath was what transformed the kavanah I had in my heart into the sound that filled the room, and I felt the intimacy of connection that makes with the congregation.
My Grade 1 teacher Miss Gershon, told us that every neshamah is a good neshama, and I understand now how true that is, how traumas of this life and past can cloud and hide a person’s neshama, making it seem that their soul is less than pure.
But the sound of the shofar reminds us of the goodness, of the purity of all our souls, and as we breathe together, we con-spire with the shofar blower to shatter whatever shell prevents our own neshama from being clear, so we all return to our purest selves, our purest souls.