Strength in Fragility
With the summer’s end, my hands will no longer be gritty from tucking tangled roots into the soil, from weeding out invaders and doling out compost. The Jewish tradition now asks me to engage in a process of self-reckoning that takes stock of my deeds and questions even my innermost desires. The New Year is the time to meditate on our fate and on our personal worthiness to alter or fulfill it.
Exceptionally, Rosh Hashanah is not an agriculture-based holiday. Disconnected from fertility rhythms, this High Holiday calls for a more abstract moral inventory. Reflexively, I shift into a state of existential anxiety.
As the summer edges away, we are asked to adopt what I call "please God" language once again. We are reminded that even though our repentance, prayer, and good deeds can tip the scales of judgment in our favor, it is up to the Almighty to adjudicate who shall live and who shall die. Lest we forget that central teaching, we read the sobering story of the Akedah.
Come the holiday, we ingather with a swollen-to-capacity community of worshippers. Yet, I know well that there are many among us those who are as alienated as was the biblical Sarah from the commandeering God. Though the music is transporting, the poetry profound, when it comes to submission to the judgment of He Who Dwells On High, we have deep inner pools of doubt. A recent study shows that of all the Abrahamic faiths, Jews score lowest when it comes to certainty about a transcendent God.
I look around me at the ingathered, particularly the many women with whom I have laughed and cried throughout the year, with whom I have studied and argued, greeted new life and buried the dead. I nod to women who, like me, have found whole new ways of generating income when spouses or old ways have failed us. What matters is our mutual support and shared willingness to recreate ourselves anew. I know the many ways, both in spirit and in deed, that we struggle to live with the radical uncertainty, which cost foremother Sarah her life.
On Rosh Hashanah we surrender to the special brand of spiritual strength that is conceived in fragility. The coming together of women is a powerful act in a world where, as Sarah knew, every minute is a case of almost...almost. This is the sanctity of our prayer, the stuff of our self generation into the new year, the grassroots of our faith.
It does not matter who else we might be addressing.