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236 Kane Street / Brooklyn, NY 11231 / 718 875-1550

High Holiday Message 5777

L’Fi Dati: As I See It

A message from Rabbi Weintraub
Elul 5776/Tishrei 5777 September-October 2016

There was such a lovely feeling in services last Shabbat, Shabbat Re’eh (September 3). We had about eighty daveners (worshippers), with a fair number of children, even though it was Labor Day weekend, a peak time to get away. The singing was robust, the study animated, and the kahal (congregation) stayed engaged as about eight lay leaders chanted a difficult Torah reading.

How to account for the great attendance and high spirits? Of course, there is a special warmth and intimacy in our summer prayers in the social hall. It was the last Shabbat of the “official” summer season, with its reflective, bitter sweet feeling. And I suppose there was need for connection on that most social of American holiday weekend.

But it was also Rosh Chodesh Elul, the start of the month of Elul, and so the beginning of a forty day period of repentance and renewal culminating in Yom Kippur. Something very special happens in these forty days. That something is larger and much older than any of us. In the Rabbis’ imagery, G-d comes down a little lower, and we are raised higher, so that we can more readily meet. In this hopeful period, we intuit around and inside us the possibility of teshuva, of positive change.

Teshuva was a favorite subject of one of my heroes, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), an influential philosopher, Kabbalist, and Halachist (legal scholar), and also the first Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine. Rabbi Kook was the product of strict Latvian and Lithuanian Yeshivot, but he eventually developed a universal world view. He sought to combine Orthodoxy, Zionism, and liberalism. As a community leader in Palestine, and in moves which infuriated many isolationist Orthodox, he even embraced the anti-religious, secular Zionists, who he regarded as part of G-d’s scheme for human redemption.

He was a gifted writer, and his most popular book was Orot HaT’shuva, The Lights of Penitence. In it, Rabbi Kook girds repentance in the basic Jewish idea of brit, or covenant. He sees the relationship of G-d and human beings as primarily ethical, with both working as shutafim, partners to redeem the world.

As Kook scholar Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser observed “In Rabbi Kook’s world of thought, the love of G-d carried with it a love for all of G-d’s creatures, an openness to all ideas, and a continued passion to perfect life through reconciliation, harmony and peace.”

Rabbi Kook believed that the drive for self-perfection was natural, part of life itself. Human beings desire enlightenment, even if that passion can be easily sidetracked or corrupted. So, Rabbi Kook understood penitence as much deeper than the conventional notion of remorse and atonement for individual transgressions. Rather, in teshuva, human beings express elemental dissatisfaction with their deficiencies and their quest to live more firmly and nobly.

Rabbi Kook spoke of three kinds of repentance. There is repentance of the individual, repentance of Knesset Yisrael, the community of Israel, and repentance of all humankind. Each of these inspire and reinforce the others. When we elevate ourselves, we elevate all of existence.

These coming High Holidays, and this coming year, at Kane Street, we will be re-dedicating ourselves to teshuva, to renewal of ourselves, of our people and of humankind.

We have planned many inspired spiritual and educational programs for our households, and here especially welcome the leadership of Rabbi Jason Gitlin, our new Director of Engagement, who will be serving mostly young families.

We continue our multi-faceted focus on Israel, through study of Israeli literature in our Beit Midrash, through speakers about the triumphs and challenges of the Jewish state, and through our continued involvement with Israel Brooklyn, a wonderful, UJA-sponsored multi-Synagogue coalition. We especially welcome Omer Lev from Givat Sh’muel (near Tel Aviv), our new, eighteen year old “shinshin,” who will live and teach in our community this year, and our new community Shaliach Noam Willner from Ein Chemed (near Jerusalem) who will mentor Omer and five other shinshinim assigned to Brownstone Brooklyn.

We will also resuscitate our community’s commitment to Tikkun Olam, social justice, especially through participation in the “Welcome Campaign” of HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) to support refugees and to urge US leadership to take bolder action. Please mark on your calendars the evening of Wednesday, October 19, when we will be kicking off our Campaign in a special Sukkot dinner and program featuring HIAS Vice President Jennie Rosenn.

“I love everybody” Rabbi Kook wrote, “…It is impossible for me not to love all people, all nations. With all the depth of my being, I desire to see them grow toward beauty, toward perfection. My love for the Jewish people is with more ardor, more depth. But my inner desire reaches out with a mighty love towards all. There is really no need for me to force this feeling of love. It flows directly from the holy depths of wisdom, from the Divine soul. “ (Arpl’lei Tohar)

May we all be zoche privileged to study his wisdom and follow his example in a New Year of health and security for us, for Israel and for all humankind.

Amen.

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