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Rosh Hashanah Day Two: “The Old shall be Renewed, and the New shall be made Holy”

Rabbi Neil Schuman

Day Two: “The Old shall be Renewed, and the New shall be made Holy”
David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine Monk, writes “Religion is like an erupting volcano: the lava flowing down the sides of the mountain is fiery, powerful, dangerous, gushing forth red hot from the depths of mystical consciousness. But the stream of lava quickly cools off. A couple hundred years pass (or in our case, a thousand years pass), and what was once alive is now dead rock, devoid of all traces of life. All are layers of ash deposits and volcanic rock that separate us from the fiery magma deep down below.”
Year after year, we come back to the synagogue on the High Holidays and say the same prayers and hum the same melodies. Of course, there’s tremendous wisdom and inspiration in these words. But at one time, they were fresh and new, and resonated perfectly with their generation.
Does it make sense that one or two thousand years later, when we live, behave and believe so differently, that we should be moved by the same words?
Here’s a translation of Psalm 42 written over 3000 years ago by King David:
“Like a gazelle yearning, thirsting for water, so, too, my soul— she longs, my God, for You. My soul thirsts for You, God, the Living God. When, O when, will I get to come, to see my God’s face? My tears were my bread day and night. My oppressors taunted me constantly— “[ Your Temple is destroyed!] So where is your God?” I pour out my soul![1]
Beautiful, but some of the metaphors are outdated. Let’s hear a modern singer’s take on yearning for God. This is King Without a Crown by Matisyahu
“You’re all that I have and you’re all that I need
Each and every day I pray to get to know you please
I want to be close to you, yes I’m so hungry
You’re like water for my soul when it gets thirsty
Without you there’s no me
You’re the air that I breathe
Sometimes the world is dark and I just can’t see
With these, demons surround, all around to bring me down to negativity
But I believe, yes I believe, I said I believe”
Look how Matisyahu replaces tormentors and oppressors with figurative demons and the concept of negativity.
“Said, thank you to my God, now I finally got it right
And I’ll fight with all of my heart, and all a’ my soul, and all a’ my might
What’s this feeling?
My love will rip a hole in the ceiling
Givin’ myself to you from the essence of my being
Sing to my god all these songs of love and healing”
These words are contemporary and inspire us, and not just Jews, in fact Matisyahu almost won the Grammy for this song.
Heschel’s complains about the prayers of his time (the 1960’s, I assume), “they are offered plenty of responsive reading, but there is little responsiveness to what they read. No one knows how to shed a tear. No one is ready to invest a sigh. Is there no tear in their souls?”
Today we are endeavoring to create a service that forges responsiveness. One that fulfills Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kooks vision: “The old shall be renewed, and the new shall be made holy.”
[1] Schachter-Shalomi, Zalman (2014-06-16). Psalms in a Translation for Praying (Kindle Locations 1421-1428). ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal. Kindle Edition.

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