Elul Reflections 11 – September 2

Rabbi Stephen J. Einstein

I love artichoke hearts.  If I am looking over a restaurant menu and I see a salad that includes artichoke hearts, it will likely be my choice.  At home, we often include artichoke hearts in our salads, as ingredients in pasta dishes, etc.  You get the idea.

I have been asked the following question more times than I can count:  “Rabbi, why do High Holy Day services have to be so long?”

Years ago, Dr. Trude Weiss-Rosmarin, z’l, editor and publisher of the Jewish Spectator, made a radical suggestion.  She opined that since most people are not so fond of LONG High Holy Day services, why not offer a nice meaningful half-hour service and then have the congregation break up into small study groups for the rest of the day?  I don’t know if many rabbis took her up on the thought.  

Yes, there is an important place for study in Judaism, but prayer also is central to our way of life.  But…why so MANY prayers?

I have come up with an answer.  It is…the ARTICHOKE.

Don’t be thinking right now of the artichoke heart, but of the entire artichoke.

What is the PURPOSE of the High Holy Days?  It is to have a change of heart, leading to a change of behavior.

But, how do we enter the process?  With this conviction:  I am OK.  You may not be, but I surely am.  We humans are so adept at rationalizing our behavior.  We put up layers and layers of explanations and excuses.

How to cook an artichoke?  Steam it…for a LONG time.  Get the hard leaves to soften.  Then, you can peel them away…and get to the heart.

That’s it.  The LONG services are meant to soften the hard leaves of our rationalizations and our excuses.  Finally, with God’s help, we can get to the heart…change it, and move forward.


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