From Tisha B'Av to Rosh Hashanah: A Message from our Rabbinic Director

Rabbi Daniel Siegel

From Tisha B'Av to Rosh Hashanah:
A Message from our Rabbinic Director

Daniel Siegel

The Shabbat before Tish'a b'Av, the ninth day of Av on which both our temples were destroyed, is called Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat of Vision. It is called that because we read the first chapter of Isaiah which begins with the word chazon, "the vision of Isaiah." I volunteered to chant that haftarah at my local shul, largely because it is read mostly in the mode of Aychah, the Book of Lamentations, and I wanted to be sure it was done "correctly."

Normally, I don't practice a haftarah in advance, but this time I did. The trope, the chant, changes back and forth between the haftarah mode and Lamentations and I wanted to be sure I could switch smoothly. As I practiced, I noticed that the haftarah mode was more plaintive and cajoling; the Aychah mode more despairing. Wherever the prophet was saying that there was still hope to avert the disaster, I used the haftarah trope (e.g.. Verses 16-19; 26-27); the rest, in which the prophet condemns us as hopeless, I chanted in the mode of Aychah.

Then, I began to notice the message in the hopeful verses, "devote [ourselves] to justice, aid the wronged..." and Isaiah was now speaking to me. I heard that the practice of rituals without an ethical base, however much they may be commanded, was empty.

I realized how hard it is for us to remember and respond to the ethical imperatives which flow from the experience of the unity of all in God that we had in Egypt, at the sea, and at Sinai and which I know from my own experience to be true. Spiritual life, the life of prayer and meditation, must be connected to ethical living. And an ethical life connected to prayer is strengthened by prayer's effect on consciousness. Jewish renewal was born in this awareness and it is deeply woven into the fabric of who we are.

People ask me who speaks for ALEPH on social issues and, in particular, on the Middle East. My answer is that those who speak for ALEPH are the ones who give clearest expression to the depth of anguish over the brokenness of this world, to the necessity of hearing the call to change our lives, and who show a way for others.

Thus, no one person can speak the "correct" answer for ALEPH. There are people who remind us of the voice we know is calling in the depths of our own souls and to which we often fail to respond. My hope is that we go beyond argument, beyond agreement and disagreement, to the place where we are listening to how the voice calls within us and to how that voice is calling from within others. My desire is that we put our meditation and prayer into practice by listening as well as speaking, by seeking common ground, by remembering that we are all imperfect vessels each holding some part of truth and the answer.

On the practical level, I call your attention to this issue of New Menorah which, in addition to our now regular features, contains a series of articles about the current situation in the Middle East. Great efforts were made by the editor to ensure balance and a wide range of opinion within Jewish renewal.

In addition, we held an interesting and powerful evening program at the Kallah on this subject. Instructions for ordering the tape of that panel, which included Rabbis Arthur Waskow, Naomi Oren, Mordechai Gafni, and rabbinical student Eyal Levenson, can be found elsewhere in this issue.

ALEPH itself is trying to broaden the sources of inspiration and advice. Our latest effort is the Spiritual Advisory Council, which met with the ALEPH board for the first time at the end of the last Kallah. The council consists of:

  • Rabbi Leah Novick of California, founder of the west coast retreat program called Ru'ach Ha'arets and a former ALEPH pathfinder;
  • Rabbi Shefa Gold of New Mexico, the founding director of ALEPH's newest project, The Center for Devotional, Energy and Ecstatic Practice and a former ALEPH pathfinder;
  • Rabbi Marcia Prager, spiritual leader of P'nai Or in Philadelphia and Princeton, the dean of the ALEPH Rabbinical Program and a former ALEPH pathfinder;
  • Rabbi David Zaslow, spiritual leader of Havurah Shir Hadash in Ashland, OR and the author of the siddur, Ivdu et Hashem b'Simcha;
  • Rabbi Ayla Grafstein, spiritual leader of Ru'ach HaMidbar in Phoenix, AZ and videographer extraordinaire;
  • Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, founding rabbi of the Jewish Renewal Community of Boulder and director of the Center for Engaged Jewish Study.

The ALEPH board expects to expand the Spiritual Advisory Council in the near future and welcomes nominations from you.

I want to close by calling down a blessing on all of us for this new year.
May we continue to renew our beloved Judaism with joy, a sense of connectedness to one another, a deep and loving commitment to bringing and being peace in the world, and a conscious effort to lighten our footprints on the delicate web which is the life of our planet.