Malchuyot, Zichronot, Shofarot – 5779

From Our Rosh Hashanah Musaf Service, 5779

By Alycia Fridkin

Aveinu malkeinu. Our father, our king. Our parent, our ruler. Our creator, our majesty.

I have been increasingly troubled by the pervasiveness of regal metaphors for Gd in our liturgy. In fact, most of the time, when someone stands up in front of me and starts to talk about Gd, I tune out. I think to myself, why are we still using these tired constructions of Gd with his majestic presence, on his throne of glory, his kingship reigning over all.

I mean, I appreciate our emerging communal efforts to replace these kingly depictions of gd into a more queenly, earthly spirit, but I am still left with frustration and anger at needing to constantly, actively resist this everpresent dominant force of masculine power as I’m trying to engage in holy inner work.

I reject this kingly notion of gd, crown, throne, and all. To be honest, I find it hard to even hear the word gd without rejecting the entire notion of gd altogether. Sometimes I feel a bit “in the closet” about how problematic and unrelatable Gd has become for me. And then I look around at my peers – queer people, generation y folk, and perhaps you – and I sense that I am not alone in this feeling.

So where does that leave us? Where does that leave those wrestling with these constructions of gd, when we are supposed to be preparing ourselves to bow low and prostrate ourselves before gd’s majesty in the upcoming aleinu?

We are, what Rabbi Benay Lappe would call, in a crash. This construction of gd as an all knowing kingly ruler is not working for us anymore.

So what do we do? According to Benay Lappe, we have three choices:

Option 1) we hold tight to our master story, in this case our master story is the image of gd as majesty. We say the prayer, we bow, we do not question.

Option 2) we reject the master story entirely. We do not bow. Maybe we don’t say aleinu. Maybe we leave the room.

Option 3) we take what is meaningful for us from this tradition, we leave the rest, and we make it our own. This is where Benay Lappe encourages us to go.

So what does option 3 look like? It might mean saying aleinu, hearing words like melech and contemplating what gd as majesty means to you. It means leaving behind the divine patriarchal monarchy of our ancestors, and focusing on the majestic forces that inspire a sense of awe and wonder in you.

For me, I think about the oneness of the universe, the mysterious depths of the oceans, the infinite space beyond the stars, and the intensity of love in my heart. I see gd as neither a king, nor queen, nor any kind of gendered, anthropomorphicized ruler, but as a transcendent connective force across time and space that brings me closer to myself, closer to others and to the earth.

As we say aleinu on this Rosh hashanah, let’s give ourselves permission to let go of what’s irrelevant, unrelatable, or troubling, and when we bow, if we choose to, let’s bow before what truly fills us with awe.

By Yael Heffer

In Hebrew, the word Zichronot – memories – comes from the root Zain, Chaf, Reish – Zachar, which means ‘male’. I don’t think that is a coincidence… Historically, this makes sense: Human history has, after all, been written and recorded across our globe by men, and from a traditional male perspective. History has been HIS-STORY: Stories of wars and conquering and victories over others. Stories of the dominant discourse. And so much has been lost in the way of collective memory of our human story because of this, because of the missing voices. This is the lamentable reality of human memory, which I think has made our existence smaller than it could be, and our remembering, narrower. But how does the Divine memory work? I can only imagine…

As I envision Divine memory, I want to invoke the holiness of All-is-One in its fullest: The Divine as male – Elohim – and female – Shechina – and the unending celestial space of possibilities in between. What would such remembering look like? Perhaps – since Zachar, the male voice, is already present in memory, in Zichronot – perhaps then we can include the Hebrew word for female, Nekeva. The word’s root is Nun Kuf Vet, which, as it happens, is also the root of the word Nakbuviot, meaning pores, or openings. Maybe this inclusion can offer us a remembrance that is more spacious.

It is so that I imagine Divine memory – as a porous, breathing membrane, through which all our lives and voices flow, and an abundance of stars shine their light on all our lived realities, all our narratives, all our truths. 

I imagine Divine remembering less as an Eye that sees and an Ear that hears, with all my deeds inscribed in a book, but as a gentle voice rising from under the wings of the Shechina that says: I see you. I am witnessing you. 

I hear the Eternal whispering to us: I see you trying every day. You are vaster than your past, your fears, your insecurities and resentments, and more than your firmly-held beliefs and opinions. I remember when I birthed you into being, with sighs and murmurs of infinite love. You were so much more than all of these when you took your first breath on Earth. I remember, my beloved, and ask you remember, too, that you are made of stardust, that you are not small. Remember that you are the embodiment of possibility and of choice.

Life shapes us. Our lived lives, our embodied selves, are shaped by where and how and when we were raised. By virtue of developing a sense of self and a voice of our own, we discard other possibilities of being. In some ways this is just inherent to the process of becoming. But friends, look around you. Each one of us embodies a self that is stardust shaped into a story. A story that is inevitably smaller than what it could be and imperfect because of our humanity, a story that says ‘I am doing the best I can’.

When we look at our fellow humans this upcoming week leading to Yom Kippur, imagine what it might be like to take just a moment, in between the reflex of opinions and judgments and criticisms of one another, to take a breath as if it were our first, and see the one in front of us through the lens of Divine remembrance, the lens through which we can see the potential goodness of the other, their trying, their complexities, their humanity.

What might the start of your year’s journey look like if you choose to embody Divine memory this way? What might we look like as a holy community? What voices and possibilities will we create openings for if we look at one another and manifest the whisper of Divine remembrance that says “I see you. I am witnessing you. I know you are trying your best”? I can only imagine…

Shana Tova.

By Shira Weidenbaum 

These reflections are brought to you by the letters shin, fay, and resh.

Shhh… enjoy the silence.
Forget everything that is not immediate and present and
Reverberate with the vibrating air

Shin, fay, resh
Obviously it spells shofar.
Shofar, the ram’s horn, a synecdoche for the sound. It is more than air and breath. It’s the shofar blower’s own vibrations, those buzzing lips that make the sound.

Shin, fay, resh
More than a shofar
What else is contained in those letters and in the sound of the shofar?

Shin, fay, resh
shafar שָׁפַר  – to be good, pleasing
shiper שִׁפֵּר – to improve, to beautify
hishtaper הִשְׁתַפֵּר – to become better
shefer שֶׁפֶר – beauty 

May the sound of the shofar be pleasing to our ears, may it motivate change and self-improvement. May the echoes of the shofar uncover beauty in this year.

The sounds of the shofar unsettle, knock things out of order.

Shin, resh, fay – well, sin actually – sin, resh, fay
Saraph שָֹרַף – a troublesome thought, a fiery serpent or angel
Sereipha שְֹרֵפָה – burning, fire, conflagration

Resh, shin, fay
Resheph רֶשֶׁף  – flame, spark, fever

The vibrations stir up troublesome thoughts, the friction becomes fire. Our feverish minds burn our souls. But the flames can purify too and relieve us of dead weight. What’s left after the conflagration? What new spark now has room to illuminate a new angle of our lives?

What’s on the other side of so much turmoil? Will it be better or just different?

Resh, fay, shin
Rephesh רֶפֶשׁ  – mud, dirt, mire
Raphash רָפַשׁ – to trample, to pollute

Pay, shin, resh
Pashar פָּשַׁר – to melt, to be lukewarm

The shofar is of this world. It is not a heavenly sound, from the ether. We hear the human effort. We know the horn came from an animal. In this world we get muddy, our way of life visibly and invisibly tramples on beings around us; are we only lukewarm in our desire to change?

The same letters give us hope
Pay, shin, resh
Pisher פִּשֵׁר – to compromise, arbitrate
Pesher פֵּשֶׁר – interpretation, solution

As the vibrations unsettle, may they open us up to new perspectives and interpretations that lead to solutions for balance and healthy compromise, and bring us round again to shefer, beauty and goodness.

Shin, fay, resh
Shhhhh… enjoy the silence.