Rabbi’s Corner: Breathing Our Way Into the New Year

In music, the breaths, rest notes, pauses, and the spaces between the notes are just as important as the musical notes themselves.  If there were no breaths, rests, pauses, or spaces, we would just have a jumble of non-stop music.  We wouldn’t understand the message that the composer was trying to convey.  We need those rests and pauses to give us time to reflect on the music being played.  The rests and pauses allow us to connect to the music, to understand it, to get caught up in its emotion.  The music speaks more loudly, strongly, and clearly when the breaths, pauses and rests are placed in just the right spots.

It is the same with Torah: the spaces between the words are just as important as the words themselves. Even if you don’t read Hebrew, you can see that the Torah text above is a poem, the Song at the Sea from Exodus 15, with the verses stacked like bricks. The spaces give us time to pause, reflect, internalize the ideas and notions expressed in the text while formulating our own understanding and response.

This is a metaphor for life: intentional pauses, rests, reflection are necessary for us to be healthy, productive and content. When we rush from one event, task, appointment, or meeting to the next we don’t have time to contemplate, consider, evaluate or absorb what is going on around us.

Shabbat is the great pause in our Jewish calendar each week. The word “Shabbat” itself means “to pause” or “to rest.” Our early sages were so wise in their understanding that humans need a weekly re-set in order to live our lives with meaning, value and productivity. Shabbat is a weekly time to express gratitude for what we have, and not to create anything new. Modern conveniences, technology, and schedules have made it difficult for us to take that pause in a manner that we would often like or would be most beneficial.

The High Holy Days (Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Shabbaton – The Sabbath of Sabbaths) and the month of Elul leading up to them reminds us to take this deep breath, to pause, to enable us to enter the New Year refreshed and renewed. The Hebrew word for “breath” is: “n’shimah.” It has the same root as the Hebrew word for soul, “n’shamah.” In Hebrew, breathing is directly connected to our soul, our spirit. If we don’t take time to breath, our souls will not be sustained.

This weekend, TBS is providing two unique opportunities for that communal and personal breath, pause, and spiritual renewal:

First, tonight we’ll be using a special prayerbook for our Erev Shabbat worship (6:00 pm). Mishkan HaLev is full of beautiful readings, poetry, meditations, commentary, and translations to ready the heart and the mind to enter the High Holy Days.

Second, tomorrow beginning at 7 pm, we have a wonderful multi-part Selichot program, beginning with wine, cheese and dessert. We’ll use poetry, music and mindfulness (sitting in a chair or standing) to help us take that pause for reflection and contemplation so we can enter the upcoming Days of Awe with refreshed, renewed, and with full intention of heart, mind and spirit.

Kol ha’n’shamah t’ha’leil Yah, hal’lu’yah!

Let all my soul (alternatively: all that breathes) praise God, Halleluya! (Psalm 150:6)


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