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Rabbi Wittenberg's Weekly Message


Friday 4th September 2009
15th Elul 5769

Dear Community,
 
Late last night the sky was clear and the moon of Elul shone in its fullness. From now on it will diminish until the New Year. We may be less sensitive to this now, but for thousands of years the moon has been the symbol of human change and becoming. Metaphysics based on pre-Copernican astronomy divided the world into the eternal spheres above and the sublunary world of alteration and mortality below. We belong to the latter, and it is more than incidental that the way we measure time and determine the dates of our festivals follows the changes of the moon.
 
Changes are rarely easy. There is a major change taking place for our children over these very days right now; they’re going back to school. I overheard one not-so-very-little boy saying to his father in the street outside, ‘I’m scared’. I was moved by his honesty and I felt like stopping to say, ‘I’m often scared too’. I didn’t know if it was starting a new school, beginning the new year, or simply the end of the weeks safe at home in the holidays which was frightening this child. I do hope he, and all children, have a good year! But the truth is that our life, with all its excitement and fresh beginnings, is also a constant, relentless, ineluctable letting go.
 
I’ve always hated good-byes, even relatively small ones. If they, or I, are away for even a couple of days, I go to their rooms and bless the children. First of all, I miss them and want all to go well for them, for just those days. But more than that, - who knows? There are plenty of absences which last far longer than intended. I found myself thinking, as I left the family for a mere week, of Gilad Shalit. How does he prevent his lonely heart from being overwhelmed in the surge of powerless longing? We have all been asked to send him cards for Rosh Hashanah* and we should.
 
To return to our ordinary lives, every new beginning, every Rosh Hashanah, is also some form of ending. Often that matters little because our haphazard days simply carry us forward and deposit us in the future. Often, thank goodness, energy, enthusiasm and dreams carry us onwards. But sometimes we falter: Where am I going? What does this mean? Sometimes, too, our heart aches and ‘if only’ torments us to tears.
 
I love the words with which Psalm 27 begins (I think of it as ‘the Elul Psalm’ because we say it from the start of the month until the end of the High Holydays): ‘God is my light and my salvation’. The thirteenth century scholar and mystic, Nachmanides, extended this thought in a wonderful poem. ‘You are a candle by my foothold and a light upon my path’ he wrote, and the source of that illumination is your instruction, God: you teach me what matters and how to behave, with reverence, with justice and with compassion.
 
The deepest guidance we can find, in this world of letting go and travelling on, is not that which gives us programmatic instructions on precisely where to go, but rather that which teaches us how to be wherever we are.
 
Shabbat Shalom,
 
Jonathan Wittenberg
 
*Gilad Shalit Rosh Hashanah Appeal
On 25 June 2006, Gilad Shalit (aged just 19) was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists in a cross border raid from the Gaza Strip. He has been held hostage by Hamas ever since. During this Rosh Hashanah, Mercaz UK invite you to send your New Year Greetings to Gilad via www.gilad.org.uk, which they will pass on to the International Red Cross and ask them to help them pass these messages onto Gilad. They will also pass the wishes onto his parents, to show that the world is still thinking of them and Gilad, and praying for his release.