A High Holiday greeting from Rabbi Michael Friedland, Sinai Synagogue
Every Elul we prepare liturgically for the new year by reciting Psalm 27 in morning and evening worship services.
Why Psalm 27? The rabbis tell us that the opening phrase of the psalm: “The Lord is my light and my salvation” is a veiled reference to Rosh HaShanah, when God sheds light on our lives and brings us to justice, and Yom Kippur, when God saves us by pardoning our sins.
The psalm speaks of faith in God’s compassion and grace, of finding haven in that faith; even when those dearest to one depart, God is steadfast.
The psalm also evokes the spiritual individual’s deepest yearnings: to draw near to God. To sense the Divine presence so close that it is as if we reside in God’s palace.
The psalmist asks “One thing I ask from the Lord, of this I yearn: To dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold his beauty, l’vaker in his sanctuary. The word l’vaker can mean to ‘seek’, it is related to the word boker as in morning according to the medieval scholar Dunash Ibn Labrat. Both understandings suggest the desire of the psalmist to seek out God continuously, to be near every morning.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin offers another translation of the word l’vaker which is most appropriate for the highly differentiated spiritual pursuits of our day. He likens the word l’vaker to its modern usage of ‘visiting’. The psalmist seems to speak to two different groups of seekers. One type wishes “To dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life” -- These are individuals who strive to draw near God regularly through daily worship, through study of Torah, through acts of kindness and compassion. But there is a second group, who hope “to behold God’s beauty, to visit in God’s sanctuary.” -- those who only wish to visit, who may enter a synagogue occasionally, just on the High Holy days. Even such individuals can make their annual visit a holy spiritual pilgrimage.
At this time of year as we prepare ourselves for this spiritual journey we look forward to sharing with the perpetual dwellers and the occasional guests. May we learn to appreciate the uniqueness of each individual search for God’s Presence and we pray that those who seek only to visit be granted the opportunity to behold God’s beauty in order that their stays become more commonplace.
Shanah Tovah to all our Jewish community from Lizzie and myself.
Rabbi Michael Friedland