Joy comes from renewal, and [at the end of High Holidays], the renewal is constant. Thus, it is called “the Season of Our Joy.” The sukkah [an outdoor celebration booth] appears to be stationary due to a continual flow of lightwaves of joy. One wave surges, then immediately, it breaks and the next wave rushes forth, a new wave even brighter and more joyful. Thus, it appears to be one sukkah; but in fact, each second and each moment, there is truly a new sukkah.Rav Kook, “Silver from the Land of Israel”
September is always the busiest month in our family: the start of the schoolyear for our kids and me, 2 birthdays, my husband and my anniversary, and, of course, the full slate of Jewish High Holidays – the most intense annual cluster of religious observances. This September, I’m also back on campus, for the first time since December 2019, re-learning the routines of teaching in-person, rather than in the Zoomland. No wonder I long for the settling in of the fall, for the peace and renewal it should bring.
My main spiritual practice has been to mindfully manage things at work and at home as they come in. It reminds me of what I shared previously in BTS from the mujerista theology, something many of my students at LACC can relate to – managing a chaotic load of responsibilities, keeping the tide under control. There is grace in just mindfully surviving.
I begin this newsletter with a quote from Rav Kook not only because it’s a metaphor for renewal during this time of year.
Rav Kook has been my major influence. I’ve taken classes on his teachings, use the Rav Kook Siddur as my prayerbook, and consult his often mystical commentaries on the weekly Torah portions. Last month, Applied Jewish Spirituality published my book review of Rav Kook’s biography that came out recently with Yale U Press.
Writing that review was harder than writing an original piece. The tricky part was to encapsulate a rich, publicly lived life, and give it a comprehensive overview without giving away too many spoilers about the controversies and the inner conflicts he faced. You’re welcome to take a look.
As mentioned in the review, I toured Rav Kook’s historical home in Jerusalem this summer. I have now dedicated one page on this website to the photos from my visit, paired with a short bibliography of his writings available in English with comments about each.
In the Jewish tradition, High Holidays are the annual time of repentance and renewal, when we atone for all the wrongs we have done and wish for a good year written and sealed for us.
In the Soto Zen tradition, there is a similar monthly ceremony called fusatsu.
Thich Nhat Hahn, too, developed his own weekly repentance and renewal practice, called Beginning Anew – a refreshing take on the same ideas.
Going back to the seals – spiritual and physical ones. I’ve been fascinated with a variety of clay bullae (seals) from 2,500-2,900 years ago recently unearthed near Temple Mount in Jerusalem:
Multiple seals of court officials of the ancient Kingdom of Israel
The royal seal of King Hezekiah
And a 1-centimeter “find of Biblical portions” – reputedly, the seal of Prophet Isaiah.
Could it be true? You be the judge. But meanwhile, may you be sealed for a year of joy and new beginnings!