Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, August 31, 2018 / 20 Elul 5778
Summary: Rabbi Kosak provides a final reminder of some high holiday events and links to services. This material is all italicized. In the body of his Oasis Songs, he explains how Washington DC, the early Israelite nation and Neveh Shalom all use a similar technique to communicate values and ideals. At the very bottom of the page here, he includes a meditation from the ongoing series, Jewels of Elul.
This will be the final planned Oasis Songs until after our Days of Awe. Given that, I want to personally invite your to our Two Worlds: A Rock and Soul Selichot Experience this Saturday evening, September 1st.
Wine and cheese reception at 8 pm in the Isaak Foyer
Selichot service at 8:30 in the Stampfer Chapel.
As a reminder, this year on Rosh Hashanah, we will all be joining together in the Main Sanctuary for one service for Pesukei D’Zimrah and Shacharit (the early services). This will be led by our teens and lay leaders.
At the conclusion of Shacharit, we will then take a break for coffee and honey cake in the atrium outside of Birnbach. Torah service and Musaf will then continue in both the Main Sanctuary and Birnbach Hall.
These new opportunities to be together have required a change in the start of service time.
Combined Shacharit Service begins at 8:30 AM
Coffee Break at 9:45 AM in the Atrium
Torah Service and Musaf in Main Sanctuary and Birnbach Hall at 10:00 AM
ALS Interpretation: Please not that for the first time this year, if even one person requests it, we will be providing an ASL Interpreter in the main sanctuary. If you know people in the deaf community, please have them RSVP to: Michelle Iimori-Goldenberg MS, CI/CT: firstname.lastname@example.org, 503-317-9815 (V, Text). Michelle is our lead interpreter.
Lulav and etrog sets: When Rosh Hashanah draws near, Sukkot can’t be far after. The mitzvah of waving the lulav (a bundle of four species of trees) is primal and moving. The aroma of the etrog (citron) is something I await all year long. Order deadlines have been extended thanks to our capable vendor. Sets are $48.
Service streaming: I am quite pleased that our services in the main sanctuary will be available for shut-ins and our far-flung friends. It’s been a priority of mine since getting here and like so many other things, it just took some time to roll out. Thanks to Ed Kraus and our leadership for securing the equipment funding. Previously, only 5 people could call in—now any number of individuals can join us virtually. Let’s just add a small prayer that the technology will remain stable throughout the holidays! Check our e-blast and the website home page for the necessary link.
ETCETERA, ETCETERA: Please go to our website or click here for service times, family and youth programming and service times and everything else you need to know for the holidays.
A Declaration of Interdependence
On the East Coast, a class trip to Washington, DC was a rite of passage for many students. At least for those school districts who could afford it, exposing our youth to our nation’s capital was practically a mandate. It was a case of abstract civics made concrete. Anyone who has studied the architecture of Washington, DC understands that it was designed to convey a series of messages to those who walked its paths. For example, the Capitol Building is situated higher than the White House to visually emphasize for the fledgling democratic nation that the power of the people should remain elevated above any single person, even a president.
The master planner of the city, Pierre L’Enfant, also designed Washington to reflect deep underlying mathematical principals that repeatedly occur in nature. Presumably, such repetitions were a sign of God’s handiwork, and L’Enfant’s goal was to unite heaven and earth. By utilizing patterns such as the golden mean, pi and the Fibonacci sequence, he was hinting that America’s work was to raise up the imperfect mortal realm below so that it could better mesh with the perfect realm above. For those interested, Nicholas Mann wrote the definitive book on DC’s design, entitled “The Sacred Geometry of Washington, DC.”
As a boy, such advanced concepts were beyond my grasp. But what wasn’t was the Declaration of Independence itself. In those days, gift shops sold reproductions of it on amber paper designed to look like the aged vellum parchment of the original document. I was intrigued by the color and the burnt-looking edges, and because of that fascination, I ended up reading it numerous times. There was actually a period when I folded it back up into its envelope and carried it with me to and from school.
These ideas, of sacred geometry and the abiding presence of a nation’s values, were hardly new to America. In this week’s Torah reading, Ki Tavo, we encounter a lesser-known commandment. When our ancestors entered the land of Israel, they were commanded:
“You shall set up large stones. Coat them with plaster and inscribe upon them all the words of this Teaching. When you cross over to enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall set up these stones…” (Deuteronomy 27:1-4)
In other words, at the boundary of the new nation, its central values, as codified in the Torah, would be on display for all who entered. The premise is clear. If we post our civics at the gates, we will be reminded of our goals, our mission, our destiny. That alone won’t make the ideal society, but it is an essential part in forming a caring country.
Here at Neveh Shalom, as I mentioned at Back to Shul, we have embraced this biblical and national mandate. Inscribed on the Leah and Marvin Nepom Gates is the opening verse from our beloved ashrey prayer:
Blessed are they who dwell in Your house
They shall praise you forever
Blessed the people who are so favored
blessed the people whose God is Adonai.
Contained within these lines, I hear so many of our values. We come to Neveh Shalom for a sacred purpose—to express a sense of gratitude and to experience the blessings of being together. We understand that in community there are countless blessings. We know from both science and personal observation that in general, participants in religious communities score better in health, friendship, well-being and a sense of happiness than those who do not belong.
I also discern less obvious lessons. The human is not as readily wired for praise and gratitude as we are for complaining and finding fault. Those latter qualities are essential for physical survival from threat, and to improve conditions, but not as useful for enjoyment of life and a reduction in stress. So we have to develop and deepen our practice of gratitude and praise to counter-balance that other, equally useful tendency. Thus the emphasis on praise.
Finally, and after the destruction of the Temple, what does it mean to dwell in God’s house for us today? After all, the prophet Isaiah said, “m’lo kol ha’aretz kvodo,” the entire world is filled with God’s glory. That’s true. But just because God is everywhere doesn’t mean that we are open to experiencing moments of awe and transcendence in any place. Moreover, religion is the study and practice of how humans can relate to God, and what that teaches them about how to relate to other people and the world. Even while the Temple stood, the archaeological record shows that we also built, gathered and prayed in synagogues—little homes of God.
Soon we will all enter into our synagogue for these high holidays and pass through those Nepom Gates into our many prayer spaces. Like the urban design of Washington DC, and like the borders of Biblical Israel, it’s good to reflect on the values we share, those we aspire to and the community with whom we do this sacred work of becoming better humans.
It is my sincere hope that this will be a year of health and growth for us all, a year of contentment and blessing, of challenges encountered and answered.
Shabbat Table Talk
- What has been your biggest struggle this past year? Have you learned anything in that encounter?
- Have you decided on your primary goal for this coming year? Do you have a plan to reach it?
- Can you remember the most fun you had? Joy is important.
- What is your biggest regret from last year?
- What has been your most meaningful accomplishment?
If you’d like to continue this discussion, follow this link to CNS’s Facebook page to share your own perspectives on the topics raised in this week’s Oasis Songs. Comments will be moderated as necessary.
In Place of Torah Sparks Commentary This Week
For the last 14 years, Jewish musician Craig Taubman has published a reflection a day during the month of Elul to help us prepare. The insight for the 20th day of Elul is written by Eric Bazilian, a singer-songwriter made famous by his song “One of Us.” The chorus “what is God was one of us, just a stranger on the bus trying to make his way home.” (Joan Osborne song this hit to the top of the charts)
In 1994 I wrote a song that asked “what if god was one of us”. Twenty four years later I have no answers, only questions.
What if the worst was true? What if the best was true? What if neither, what if both? What if some random electron decides to inhabit that remote section of its Quantum Probability Curve resulting in total collapse of the universe we know? What if The Big Bang was really a Slow Burn?
What if Lee Harvey Oswald shot JR? What if Coke really is The Real Thing? What if Tide really does get your whites whiter than white?
What if I stay in bed? What if I get up and have some coffee? What if I call home and no one answers? What if they do? What if your doctor was right, what if your doctor was wrong? What if Mick still can’t get no satisfaction?
What if I really am he as you are me but we really are not all together? What if we are? What if all things really must pass? What if they don’t?
What if Mary’s little lamb’s fleece was not white as snow?
What if I forget to brush my teeth this morning and brush them tonight instead?
What if ‘what if’ is nothing more than a wormhole created by the unknowably random and complex network of neurons we call the Human Mind?
What if all of this matters, and what if none of it does?