Once Upon a Time: Rosh Hashanah Sermon 5776

Delivered on Rosh Hashanah Morning at Congregation Beth Emeth in Wilmington, DE.

Once upon a time…

Once upon a time, the Baal Shem-Tov, would go to a certain part of a certain forest to meditate, when he saw a threat of misfortune for the people. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune was averted.

Later, when his disciple, the Magid of Mezritch, also faced a threat, he too wished to intercede with heaven.  So he would go to the same place in the forest and say: “Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer,” and again the miracle would be accomplished.

Still a generation later, Rabbi Moshe-Leib of Sasov, in order to save the people once more, would go into the forest and say: “I do not know how to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, but I know the place and this must be sufficient.” It was sufficient and the miracle was accomplished.

Then, in the next generation, it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: “I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient.” And it was sufficient.

Elie Wiesel, in his telling of this story, adds a profound postscript: God made man because he loves stories.

Despite the gender-non-neutrality of the statement, it is a brilliant comment.  In fact, because of the non-neutral, “he,” which could be modifying either God or man.  Its ambiguity offers 2 equally true concepts, that God loves stories and that we love stories.

On the one hand, he offers this idea that God loves stories and so created humans so that we will provide them through our living.

Dr Stephen Crites, the late religious scholar and teacher of moral science, wrote in an article titled, “The Narrative Quality of Experience,” that “the formal quality of experience through time is inherently narrative.”  The idea that humanity exists in order to live and so tell the story of humanity is compelling.  That there is a sense of cosmic joy because of by simply living, we become a story.  We are the story of the universe.

And, on the other hand, this equally compelling idea: that God created humans because of our own love for stories.  And, truly, we love stories.  I saw how you all sat up a little straighter, moved forward in your seats, cocked your heads up slightly at the words, “once upon a time.” Those words mean that there is a story coming.  And we, naturally, want to hear it.  It is a vital aspect of human nature—this desire to hear stories and to tell them.   And, truly, people are the only ones who can tell stories.  Perhaps, because of that, God created us—and, perhaps, the ability to tell and retell and enjoy stories is not just a human desire, but is our purpose.  Our mandate.

It is not only what we always have done, but also what we must do.  And perhaps the joy of stories, the love of stories, between God and humanity is symbiotic.  The universe maybe needs stories as much as we do.

We need stories because they teach us.  They inform us.  They provide a lens through which to see and understand the world—and a way through which we can offer new ideas to others.  They have real power for us and whether they are factual or not, they possess a reality that is beyond fact.  Whether or not they accurately describe something that happened—they contain their own truth.  In some way, all stories are true.  Even the ones born by another’s imagination.

Driving this summer in my move from San Antonio, TX to Wilmington, Delaware, I certainly found myself in need of stories to fill the endless hours in the car.  Upon the recommendation of several friends, I found myself listening to “Welcome to Night Vale,” a quirky, independent podcast, which tells the story of the town of Night Vale, somewhere in America, through a fictional community radio broadcast.  The town of Night Vale is somewhat akin to Lake Wobegon from Prairie Home Companion meets Sisely, Alaska from Northern Exposure meets Twin Peaks with a dose of the X-Files thrown in.  During my drive, part way through Arkansas, I became hooked and listened to the whole thing—the podcast is interesting and entertaining and thought provoking—it is good story telling.

Sermon inspiration, by the way, sometimes comes at unexpected moments and from unlikely sources, as was the case when I listened to a recent episode of the podcast, which articulated this idea of the power of stories and our need for them.  Cecil, the narrator of the show, comments:

Before everything, before even humans, there were stories. A creature at a fire conjuring a world with nothing but its voice and a listener’s imagination. And now, me, and thousands like me, in little booths and rooms and mics and screens all over the world, doing the same for a family of listeners, connected as all families are, primarily by the stories we tell each other.

And after, after fire, and death, or whatever happens next, after the wiping clean or the gradual decay, after the after…when there are only a few creatures left, there will be one at a fire, telling a story to what family it has left. It was the first thing, and it will be the last.

Stay tuned next for more stories being told to you all of the time – whether you are aware of them or not. And from whatever fiction it is that we happen to be living together tonight, goodnight.

Life is full of stories—whether we recognize them or not.  They are all around us and we take them in.  And we share them.  And we tell them.  And they become truths that belong to all of us.

And stories exist in a timeless, almost eternal way.  I remember when my high school English teacher taught us that we should always write about fiction in the present tense—because in reality, all parts of of a work of fiction exist as present.  We cannot say that a character died—because if we start the story over at the beginning, that character is still alive.  Stories exist outside of time, and yet are a vital part of the fabric of our own time.  Each story we hear helps to create each moment of our own lives.

And whether or not we are aware that our own, individual stories are a piece of the of the universal tale that is told, we constantly come across the stories of others, even as we tell our own. And even when the stories of others become our own.  Even when stories are shared by a group—passed on from generation to generation—so that even if we weren’t there, it’s almost as if it has become part of our own memory.  The story becomes ours.

And even if we can’t remember the place in the forest, we still tell the story—generations later.  And the real power exists not in the forest, or the fire, or the prayer—but in the story itself.  And that story becomes part of who we are, as we constantly write and rewrite the Book of Life.

These High Holy Days give us the chance to consider those stories—and how we will write the next chapters.  “Days are like scrolls, write on them only what you want remembered,” wrote Bachya ibn Pakuda in the 11th century.  And while scrolls have become pages have become screens—the essence of this idea remains true and relevant, that each day we live, we tell our story.  And that story unfolds throughout our lives—sometimes with unexpected plot twists, but always with the opportunity to ourselves change the narrative.

As Rabbi Laura Geller writes:

Our book of life doesn’t begin today. It began when you were born. Some of the chapters were written by other people: your parents, siblings and teachers. But the message of Rosh Hashana is that everything can be made new again, that much of your book is written every day – by the choices you make. The book is not written and sealed, you get to edit it, decide what parts you want to emphasize and remember, and maybe even which parts you want to leave behind. Shana Tova means a good year and a good change. Today you can change your life. It is never too late.

Indeed, we can change our lives, change our stories.  And we can change the way we hear stories.

Sometimes, that change is possible because of a new lens through which we come to view a story that once seemed familiar.  Just like reading a beloved childhood book as a teenager or an adult gives an entirely new understanding of it (for better or for worse), the same is true of life.  Experience filters the stories we hear.  Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur offer us the opportunity to consider that lens.

Rabbi Alan Lew of sacred memory tells a story of hiking with his son, in which a storm suddenly came, causing them to take shelter from the rain in a shack. While the rabbi looked out the window at the view outside, his son looked at the window itself, and all the life forms that were crawling around there. He compares this to the act of Teshuva, of turning within to create change within ourselves: “…It is a shifting of our gaze from the world itself to the window through which we see it, because that window, the screen of consciousness, is not just a blank, transparent medium.  Rather it is a world unto itself, a world teeming with life, and that life affects what we see.”

The window of our minds determines how we hear stories—what we take from them and learn from them.

And this is equally true for the stories that we tell ourselves.  Sometimes, we need to change the negatives scripts that run through our minds, or reframe truths that we once believed.

We need to continually reframe the stories we hear—to examine not just the view, but the window.  To refocus the stories that we hear from others and also that exist for us alone, the ones we tell ourselves—the stories of our minds.  And, perhaps, to come to change the way we retell them, to others and especially to ourselves.

And this idea, by the way, exists in a real way.  Memories are essentially stories.  In a recent study, scientists at Northwestern University demonstrated that our memories have a life of their own. We have long informally known that human memory is notoriously fallible—but what these scientists demonstrated is that when we remember something from our past, we are actually remembering the memory—not the event itself.  So that those events that we have remembered the most, are actually the memories that have been shaped by our present experience and the way that we have recalled the past.  Our brain edits and reframes our memories in order to fit into our current reality each time we recall them.  The more we tell a story, the more true it becomes.

And so, during this High Holy Day season, may we become more aware of this power we possess—the power to tell stories that shape reality—for ourselves and for those around us.  Let us consider: What is the story that we want to tell, in order to make change within ourselves and in order to influence the change we wish to see in this world.

Once upon a time, Moses told the Israelites a story—it was the story of freedom. His story helped them to envision a reality that was different from the only one they knew.  It was with this story that Moses was able to part the waters of the Sea of Reeds, and inspire the people to move forward—to march into freedom.

Moses told the people this story and inspired them—they passed it on to their children and on and on through the generations. The story of having been strangers, that calls us to create better lives for all people.

Once upon a time, a couple got married.  When one spouse died in a different state, the other wanted to be recognized as the legal spouse on the death certificate—so that the story of public record matched the story of reality. As a result, the Supreme Court ruled that it was legal for couples to get married, regardless of gender.  The story of equality.

Once upon a time, a few dozen rabbis raised $1,132,959 for childhood cancer research.  We did that because of a powerful story.  And while shaving our heads was an interesting sub-plot, what truly made our accomplishment possible was the story of a little boy with cancer, and his parents that told their family’s story not just to their friends and colleagues, but also to the world.  Inspiring so many of us, and inspiring so many others to support us.  The story of a future of superheroes who win in the end.

Once upon a time, and still today, we hear stories, too many stories, that tell us that there is so much change that must happen in this world.  Stories of people.  Stories of Syrian refugees, who just want to find a place to live and be safe.  Stories of a teenager in Israel being killed because she was supporting her friends.  Stories of a Palestinian family burned in their home.  Stories of women gathering defiantly to pray at the kotel, despite being threatened and even arrested.  Stories of anti-Semitic graffiti being painted on synagogues in San Antonio, and of the community that rallied around them.  Stories of black youth being targeted for walking through a neighborhood or attending a pool party.  Or of a black woman dying in a jail cell after being pulled over for failure to use a turn signal. Stories that must inspire us.  The stories of a world yet to be repaired.

Once upon a time, right now, we hear the story of the journey for justice, organized by the NAACP and the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism—a march from Selma to Washington this summer. Hundreds of rabbis have been carrying a Torah, on each step of the trip, remembering the stories told by the photos and the legacies and the stories of those who came before: Abraham Joshua Heschel walking beside Martin Luther King, as if his legs were praying; Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, then President of the Reform Movement, a man described by Social Justice leader Al Vorspan as, “…a disturber of sleep who brought discomfort to the comfortable,” who stood with King at a demonstration at Arlington National Cemetery, and himself carried a Torah; the 15 rabbis who spent the night in jail with King in St Augustine, FL for praying in an integrated group and sitting down at a table at a restaurant, who went because, as they themselves wrote, “They could not stay away.”  Stories of Chaney and Goodman and Schwerner….so many stories.

Those who are marching this summer have heard these stories and told them and retold them and have strived to out these ideals themselves.

Members of both groups have been educating and sharing wisdom and learning from and inspiring each other—with stories. The stories of history and hope.

Once upon a time, just a few days ago, we heard the story of Middle Passage, a disabled veteran who joined this Journey of Justice from the very beginning and carried an American flag, determined to march the entire way from Selma to Washington.  We heard how he took that name for himself to remember the route by which his forefathers were brought to this country.  And even though only connected through hearing about him, so many of us have been truly saddened to hear that he died of a heart attack after 922 miles.  Perhaps our collective sadness is a tribute to the power of stories—and his story has only strengthened the collective resolve to finish the journey.  The story of determination.[1]

On Wednesday, Rabbi Robinson and I will join in the final steps of this march.  Some of our teen leaders will be joining us, and I hope others of you will consider joining us, as well.  As we take a final step for justice and use the stories we’ve heard in order to create stories of our own.  The stories of trying to see ourselves as if we, too, were strangers in Egypt and marched towards freedom.

Because that’s what we do: we create stories. And we tell stories.

Once upon a time, Moses freed the slaves through tales of freedom. And once upon a time from generation to generation, we’ve told and retold that story so that we can continue to inspire more freedom in this world. And maybe, once upon a time in the future, we’ll know a world where no one is treated as the stranger.  In the meantime, we’ll tell the stories that can help to bring us there.

That’s the power of stories.  And that’s the responsibility of having heard them.

And so I invite you.  Consider the stories that you want to tell.  Consider their power and how you want to use them.  Consider the stories that are in your own mind that you want to change.  Consider the stories you want to tell through your life.  And consider how you will tell them. And how you will hear new stories. And how the story of the world will unfold.

Once upon a time, we heard a story.  And it inspired us to do something, and that inspired us to do something else, and somewhere along the way, we gained a new story.  And then we started to tell and retell it.  And it was sufficient.

As we enter this new year: may your life be holy, may your stories be sacred, and may you tell and retell your story, even as you rewrite it.  And may we remember that it is by not just telling our stories, but by living them and retelling them, that they begin to become reality.  And that it is by telling stories, that we are able to create selves that are better, and a world that is better.

And, through that, may we all live happily ever after.

[1] I did not end up using this paragraph in the spoken version of the sermon, but am keeping it in the printed text.

Sermon Anthem:

#BlogElul 20: #Dare I even consider that?

During this time of teshuvah, internal turning towards considering and reconsidering our lives and our choices, we talk a lot about forgiveness.  About how to offer it and what that means.  And about how to ask for it and really mean it.  We are taught that after asking for forgiveness from another 3 times, you are absolved from trying to gain that person’s forgiveness–it’s a symbolic understanding that they are not ready to forgive, which is on them–once you have given the sincere attempt to apologize (really apologize), then you are permitted to move on.  I think this is a brilliant construct which recognizes so much about human nature and our need to forgive and our need to move forward, sometimes despite the fact that others cannot yet move forward themselves.

But what do we do when the person to whom we want to apologize has expressly told us that they never want to hear from us again?

What do we do when there has been a situation in which we want to recognize our part–and express that to the other individual–but that person said things that are hurtful and hateful, so that it wouldn’t be good for us to communicate with that person again?

What do we do then?

How do we find forgiveness from those who have blocked themselves off from letting us offer our sincere words of, “I’m sorry”? It would seem unfair of us to go against their express wishes.  And yet, do we dare try? Or do we step back and know that it would hurt them more for us to make that attempt.

Is this one of those cases in which we need to forgive ourselves and forgive the other person, in order to ourselves move on, knowing that opening the conversation would likely lead to more hurt on both sides?

I’m not sure what the answer is.  But I know that sometimes, it is hard to let go, of situations, of hurt, of having hurt.  And it can be hard to admit that sometimes, the other person is so broken, that they couldn’t help what they did, and that anything we say–no matter how sincere and meant–won’t matter.

And so, we try our best.  And make hard decisions about when to ignore someone’s plea to not speak to them.  And when to honor that request and know it is best for everyone.

Because, in the end, we all deserve wholeness.  And that personal shleimut is the goal of us all during these days.

#BlogElul 15: Change is Hard, but Change is Good

Today, I had the pleasure of leading the opening faculty meeting for the teachers in our Religious School.  Being new to this position, I’m making some changes. Some because they just make sense to me, some because they are the right choice for this moment in this religious school.  I’m really excited about some of these changes and really hope to see great results.  Even though the changes at the outset are small, I think they are significant.  I truly believe it is an exciting time for our school and our lifelong learning community.

But I also know that change isn’t easy–for us as individuals or in terms of communal change.  Change can be painful and challenging.  Change brings us out of our comfort zone.  Change means that the patterns we are used to look different.  Change means we need to be conscious of the world in a different way.

But change is necessary over time–evolution happens.  And sometimes, the opportunity offered by what looks like a difficult situation becomes the chance to try something entirely new.  And that might feel uncomfortable at first.  But that might also become exciting and wonderful.

And it is a little bit scary to implement change.  For ourselves, absolutely, but also when we are in a position to make change that has an impact on others.  And so, when we have that chance, we do so carefully.  But, we also know that sometimes we are the only ones that can make that change happen.

And sometimes, the change that happens–whether it is change that we influence or change that influences us–causes a shift in our thinking.  And helps us to shape many of our thoughts in new ways.

#BlogElul 11: Trust

I know I’m behind in blogging.  A busy schedule and a summer cold got the best of my writing schedule.  But I’m back!!

One of my favorite aspects of the rabbinate is bringing new people into Judaism.  Working with people who are on a journey of discovery and, with many of them, helping them find their place among the Jewish people. I love being there through the process through which an individual realizes that they are ready for conversion.  At their moment of relief upon finishing the Beit Din (ritual court–a panel of educated Jews, usually clergy, who officially recognize a conversion candidate’s readiness to enter the covenant of Judaism).  At the holy time of immersion in the mikveh.  At the sacred second that they embrace the Torah scroll and receive their Hebrew name and officially become a member of the Jewish people.  I love it.  It brings me so much meaning.

Right now, several individuals in the community I just left are finishing that process and are in the midst of becoming Jews–talking with the beit din, visiting the mikveh, and next week they will have their official ceremony together.  I am so proud of them and so honored to have been there for the start of their journeys.  I’ll watch their ceremony via technology–but I’m sad that I’m not there in person.  But my personal emotion of the moment is just as evocative as if I were.  The hugs I’ll give them may be virtual, but they’re just as real.

And thinking of the end of their journeys brings me back to the very first moment that each of these individuals started their journeys.  For some of them, I remember the first time they came to services.  But mostly I remember the first time they sat in my office, to have a conversation, to begin the exploration, to start themselves on this path towards becoming Jewish.  Even those folks that didn’t finish the path with the choice to become Jewish–even that exploration is a holy journey.

I’m a little bit awed by the trust of those moments.  The trust that they needed to have in me, to guide them and to hear their story and to accept them.  The trust that I had in each of them to believe their intention and to help them to enter the process.  The trust of that first step.  For all of us.

I love helping someone take that step, as much as I love watching them take that final step.  In whatever journeys I take in my own life, I hope that I am blessed with such trust along each step.  And I look forward to watching each step that these new Jews take once they step out of the mikveh and off of the bimah.  I’ve been lucky enough to be there for so many along the steps getting there and the steps after that.  I am so thankful for their trust.  And so glad that I trusted them to take those steps along the journey.

#BlogElul 7 Be: Free to Be ME

One of the harder lessons of life, that I’m still learning, is to be me.  To not try to be someone else.  To not try to live up to standards that have been set by another.  To not try to satisfy the scripts that often run through my brain.  One of my favorite albums as a kid was Free to Be You and Me.  Perhaps I got even then that I needed the lesson:

I have learned to be me and to love me: to love my life and my body and my self and my ideas and my thought process.  But it’s not always easy.  There are so many voices out there offering to change all that for, what they assume, is for the better.  “Let me help you lose weight,” “How can I help you find a boyfriend,” “so you’re doing education–can I help you find a job as a rabbi,” etc.  And really, no.  I have chosen my life and I like my life.

I get that people want to help.  But what if we all learned to accept each others’ lives for what they are and assume that the person beside has made the choice to have that life, unless they tell us differently.

My life might not look like yours.  My life might not look like I may have imagined it would be in childhood.  But it’s what I embrace.  I not only accept it, but I love it and embrace it and choose it.  I choose to be my life.

What if this were a year in which we all were able to be in our own selves…and in which we were all able to not try to impose our own ideas onto the selves that others have embraced. Can we all be and let be?

#BlogElul 6: I Know Things Now

This past winter, I was delighted to watch the new movie version of Into the Woods, long one of my favorite musicals.  I thought the movie did an overall good job with the material, although there were some editorial changes that I wouldn’t have made.  But I especially liked their portrayal of Little Red Riding Hood.  The character of Little Red in the musical as a whole makes overt the metaphoric and moralizing nature of the original Perrault telling of the story: don’t stray off the path, big bad wolf, life is better with granny, don’t go talking to strangers and walking in the woods, red is not a color for proper young ladies, etc.  The musical, of course, sort of turns it on its head, as it does with all of the fairy tales involved, but makes clear that she is symbolic of the early adolescent struggle of losing one’s innocence as one gains experience.

The song she sings right after the wolf incident, is, appropriately called, “I Know Things Now.”  From the original Broadway production:

And as portrayed in the movie:

To me, by casting an actress in the role is of the approximate age that Little Red is supposed to be, the message is powerful.  The recognition of the reality that young people live on that brink between the excitement of new experience and the need to be protected.  Between the fear of unfamiliar feelings and the comfort of what we knew before.  And they are trying to figure out what they like and sometimes have mixed feelings about their experiences. And of the fact that as adults, we cannot entirely protect children.

But the most powerful tool we have to offer is knowledge.  It’s the most powerful tool that any of us have, really.  The more we know, the more aware we are of our world and ourselves, the more ready we are for anything that the world throws in our direction.

As I get our synagogue ready for this new year of learning, that’s the most important question I keep returning to: What are the most important things that I want others to know?

#BlogElul 5 Accept: These Things I Know

I accept that religious school starts exactly 1 month from today.

I accept that Rosh Hashanah is even sooner.

I accept that the first day of school will not look exactly the way I envision it.

I accept that some of those small ideas that I have come up with will not be in place by then.

I accept that there will be challenges that I have not yet imagined.

I accept that some of the challenges I perceive will actually be easy moments.

I accept that some of the things I try will not work and will go poorly.

I accept that there will be ideas that arise that will be better than I imagine.

I accept that there will be people who will not like me–not matter what.

I accept that there will be people who love me–no matter what.

I accept that there will be criticism.

I accept that there will be praise.

I accept that I will make mistakes.

I accept that all of the people around me will also make mistakes.

I accept that it will all be good.

I accept that I will be successful.

I accept that all of these ideas that can be hard to accept–but that they are true.

And I accept that sometimes I need to remember all this.

#BlogElul 4: Understanding and Empathy

Today, I stopped for coffee on the way to work, as I often do, at the local coffee chain (it’s a local chain, not a national conglomerate–it’s the kind of place that still has a local feel.  There was a sign on the door as I walked in that they were taking cash only, due to computer problems.  “Fine,” I thought to myself.  “I’m pretty sure I have cash on me.”  Alas–while I was in line, I noticed that I only had a large bill (not a normal occurrence, by the way, but I had been going through a purse that I hadn’t used for a while and found it in a side pocket just the other day–I hadn’t yet gotten to an ATM to deposit it.

Perhaps, I was meant to come across it in that moment, so I could have the moment this morning.  Sometimes, the universe gives us the messages we need.  If we choose to interpret the universe that way.

I got to the front of the line and ordered my drink.  And apologized as I handed my bill over to the man working the register, because I’ve worked registers and I know it’s a pain to make change for large bills.  He told me that he couldn’t take it.  I looked at him with a look of I’m not sure what feeling my look conveyed…my early morning thoughts were something like, “but….coffee…need…only money I have….” As another woman behind the counter went to take the bill to bring it to the management, as an act of kindness, when the woman behind me in line spoke up.  “Let me pay for it.”

Maybe she was in a rush and didn’t want to wait, but I choose to believe that it’s because she had a moment of understanding.  Of having been there.  Of knowing that I needed something at that moment (a first world problem kind of need, but at that moment, a need) and couldn’t get it and probably having been there in some way.  A moment of empathy.

And a moment that made me smile.  The woman behind me in line gave me the espresso over ice that I needed.  But she also gave me a smile.  And a feeling of having been understood.  And it’s that feeling that I think is what we all truly need in the world: to be understood.

It is up to us to figure out how to understand those around us.  To help them get what they need, whatever it is.  To help them to be heard and understood.  And then to give that feeling, that smile, to another.

#BlogElul 5775 2: Acting through emotions…sometimes

There is so much pressure on us to always act like we are ok.  To smile despite inward turmoil.  To grin, even when we are hurting–mentally, physically, emotionally.  To pretend that we are doing just fine–even when we feel anything but fine.

And yes, that can be helpful.  Sometimes, by choosing happiness we are able to experience happiness.  But, sometimes, it should be ok to not be ok.  To admit that we’re worried or stressed or sad or in pain.  To let people know that today, we aren’t really doing all that well.  We shouldn’t have to always pretend.

It is ok to be in our feelings–to admit to pain that we feel.  To allow ourselves to feel it.  We don’t have to smush it down and pretend it doesn’t exist–that doesn’t make it go away.  And it doesn’t mean that we are automagically ok.  We can hurt sometimes–it’s part of life.  It’s part of the human experience.

I find at those moments when I admit to those with whom I’m close enough to admit these things, that they are grateful to learn that they aren’t the only ones.  And, even though we might put on a public face of being ok–and act like the world is all full of only the wonderful–it’s important to recognize the face that is underneath, as well.  And to know that the person we are looking at–they may be acting, as well.

#BlogElul 1 5775: Prepare to be unprepared

I feel as if all I do these days is prepare.  Having just moved and started a new position, my life is full of preparing: unpacking boxes to prepare a new home and a new office, preparing for High Holy Day worship, preparing a sermon, preparing for a new school year.  There’s a lot of logistics.  My brain is somewhat full of them.

And there are moments at which I am terrified that it won’t all be ready.  That the classrooms won’t have the right numbers of the right books.  That the teachers won’t have the right supplies.  That my sermon won’t be exactly as I envision it.  That the first day of school assembly won’t have everything in place.

And then I realize that, well, in al likelihood, I’m right, to a degree.  It won’t be all ready and it won’t all be perfect–because it never is.  It will be enough.  And it will be good.  And no one else will know that it wasn’t exactly how it was meant to be.  Because that’s how life goes.

Perhaps, if we take this same attitude in preparing ourselves–recognizing that we won’t get it all 100% perfectly right next year, either, we can forgive ourselves ahead of time for being human.  And know that what we are really preparing for is to do our best.  And prepare as much as we can, so that when the unknown happens, we know that all the other pieces are in place.