United Hebrew Congregation, 13788 Conway Road, St. Louis, MO 63141 | 314-469-0700

September 18, 2020

Shabbat Message from Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg

The Talmud, in Tractate Rosh Hashanah, tell us that on Rosh Hashanah, God inscribes everyone’s names in to one of three books – the Book of Life, the Book of Death, and an intermediate book where it is assumed that most of us go because we are neither all good nor all bad and therefore the period of the holy days, Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur gives us the opportunity to do everything possible to do what we need to do in order for our name to be written in the Book of Life at the end of Yom Kippur.
The imagery of our liturgy, “On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die;” can be scary but it does get our attention. The liturgy is there to wake us up and remind us that what we do really does matter; that our actions have consequences. The liturgy and the imagery of the season reminds us that as a new year begins, we have the opportunity to begin again, to rewrite our story.
This holy season for so many of us will look and feel different. This year we can’t just show up, listen to the words and the melodies of our prayers, and leave feeling like we’ve done what we needed to do. Instead, each of us is now the driver of our holiday experience. We must take ownership of what we want our holiday experience to be. Will you set a festive dinner table, light the candles, and enjoy a glass of wine and some challah? Maybe you won’t put on “synagogue” clothes, but will you dress up a little, so you get into the spirit of the season? Will you tune into services, so that you hear the words and the melodies of the prayers? Will you spend the day reflecting, perhaps writing or coloring, thinking about the New Year and what’s to come? UH has provided many options for you – from services, to inspirational coloring books (on our Facebook page) and recipes to create treats for your holiday celebration – it is now up to you. These holydays have always been about personal accountability and reflection, we’ve just always been able to do it in community, which sometimes makes the work much easier. Again, how will you celebrate? How will you make these days count?
Tonight, we not only welcome in Rosh Hashanah but so, too is it Shabbat. A day of rest, of reflection, of renewal, of peace! It is hard to imagine doing such important work on Shabbat, the work of teshuvah, but it is necessary, as teshuvah allows us the ability to look back, to reflect, and then to decide how we will move forward into a new year that is filled with possibility.
As we think back to those three books, opened before God, I share with you a story for this very special Shabbat.
One year, Rosh Hashanah fell on Shabbat, and Rabbi Levi Yitzhak went to the front of the synagogue to lead the congregation in prayer. Before beginning, he looked heavenward and said: “God, today is Shabbat. You taught us in Your holy Torah that Shabbat may only be broken in order to save a life. I demand that you keep the laws which You gave us. Since writing is a prohibited act on Shabbat, You have no right to record anybody in the Book of Death. You may only break Shabbat to record all of mankind in the Book of Life!
May this holy season be one to remember, not because of what we can’t do, but instead because we recognize that we, have the ability to create meaningful, holy moments for ourselves, that connect us with God and the unbroken chain of Jewish tradition.
May this Rosh Hashanah and Shabbat be just what we need to inspire us and encourage us, as we welcome a new year filled with possibility and hope.
Shabbat Shalom and L’ Shana Tova Tikatevu v Techatamu
May you be written and sealed in the Book of Life.