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Week 4: Acknowledging the Hungers Within Us

09/13/2020 09:00:55 AM


Cantor Sarah Beck-Berman

24 Elul 5780 / 13 September 2020

What are the things we want most in our lives? The answers are probably different for each one of us, but I suspect in many cases they fall into two general categories: “things that keep us alive” and “things that help us feel good.” Things that keep us alive in the immediate sense tend to be the same for all of us: health, sustenance, shelter, and safety. All very important things! The things that help us feel good, however, likely vary widely from person to person. Some (but by no means all!) of these things might include: happiness and other desirable emotions, companions and meeting our social needs, stories we tell and enjoy (from fish tales to films), beliefs and philosophies which are important to us, music that moves us, food we don’t just have to eat but WANT to eat, and so much more!
I’ll stop there though, because one very important aspect of our lives as Jews is our relationship with food! We mark the passage of time and the changing of the seasons with seasonal meals, we have our various comfort foods, and food has been a part of our hospitality customs since Abraham. And yet, food is complicated. We must eat for our health, not only for enjoyment. Sometimes that means eating more, sometimes less, things we want, things we don’t want…despite that the sustenance of food is a basic need we all share, our relationship to that need may vary widely from person to person.
Food is also a good metaphor for our ongoing Elul reflections. What things are we hungering for most at this time of year? Has that changed in this particular year? Perhaps many of us are hungering for things we took for granted at this time last year. How many of our hungers are being left unfulfilled, our emotional, mental, spiritual, or even physical tummies rumbling?
Much of this year has been like an extended fast, Yom Kippur writ large as we have endured separation and loss in both large and small ways. One of the explanations the Rabbis and Sages give for wearing white and fasting on Yom Kippur is that we are like angels, who do not need to eat and wear celestial robes. Another is that on Yom Kippur it is as though we are all spirits, unmoored from our bodies, hovering between life and death. We begin preparing for this in the month of Elul with s’lichot prayers. We continue on Rosh Hashanah with additional prayers like Avinu Malkeinu (our Parent, our Ruler) and the primal sound of the Shofar, both celestial and earthly at the same time. Then, on Yom Kippur, we hear the words from the Torah in Deuteronomy chapter 30, “Behold this day I place before you life and well-being, death and hardship.”
As we prepare ourselves to hear these words, let us consider what they are saying to us right now. In what ways have we experienced death and hardship? In what ways have we experienced life and well-being? What does it mean for us to “choose life” in the coming year? Not all our hungers can always be satisfied, for a variety of reasons. But we can learn to “choose life” in the way we respond to these challenges.
As we enter these High Holy Days together, may we be blessed with courage and strength, compassion and patience, and love for one another.
Shanah Tovah, 

Cantor Sarah Beck-Berman

Thu, December 3 2020 17 Kislev 5781