Days of Awe

Before the Gates Close

There is a midrash about Nachshon, the first person who stepped into the Red Sea at the end of the Exodus story. When the Israelites stood on the banks of the Red Sea, it did not automatically part. They were scared and full of despair, convinced that the Egyptians would catch up and drag them back into slavery. Nachshon stepped into the sea and began walking until the water came up to his nose. It was at that moment when the sea parted and the Israelites were able to begin their journey.

I went to services this past Friday and I deliberately waited until ten minutes after it started before actually going in. I was not (and am still not, if I’m being honest) up to schmoozing or really any sort of human contact. It was the end of a very long week that had beaten me down and I just wanted to be left alone so I didn’t feel like I had to monitor my emotions. You see, I broke down into tears frequently last week (and this week) and picked fights with my mom for no reason other than I didn’t know how else to direct my anger and sadness and I just wanted to sit in the back of Stern Chapel alone. I cried a lot during the service and was grateful that I didn’t need to explain myself or feel like I was disrupting someone’s Shabbat.

Rabbi Stern’s sermon centered on the midrash regarding Nachshon. I can’t articulate it as well as he did, but the point of the story was that when it seems like we’re drowning in a sea of despair, we should try not to lose sight of the fact that the sea will eventually part. My gut reaction to this?

“And what if the sea never parts?”

I know that probably comes off as dramatic, but the truth is that the last time I remember feeling this despondent and hopeless was when I was in high school and in the midst of the worst episode of depression I’ve ever experienced. That terrifies me. My patience has worn thin and I don’t want anyone to tell me it’s going to be okay eventually, to think positively, to think of the good things because I have been trying and continue to do so. So, every time someone admonishes me for not being upbeat, I feel like an utter failure. I share a lot on this blog, but that doesn’t mean I’ve shared everything and no one, aside from my mom, knows all of the circumstances surrounding this situation.

Despite this, I haven’t completely given up. Deep down, I know that things will eventually begin to get better, even if it takes a long time. I know my mom and I will get through this. I know that I have a lot of support, even if I have a hard time asking for help.

But I am also allowed to be sad. I am allowed to be devastated about the mountains of change that have happened in my life and I am allowed to mourn the certainty I once had. I am allowed to be angry with God and the universe and this awful situation.

Rabbi Angela Buchdahl of Central Synagogue gave a particularly moving Rosh Hashanah sermon last week. She talked about the laws of lost objects and the Even HaToen, a Stone of Lost Objects.

Legend has it that during Temple times, in the center of Jerusalem,
there stood an Even HaToen, a Stone of Lost Objects. 
Archeologists imagined it to be like a large pyramid
with wide platform steps.
During festivals, like Rosh Hashanah,
when the entire community made pilgrimage to the holy city,
they would gather at its center and
anyone who had found an object brought it with them to the stone.
Anyone who lost an object came looking there
It was a giant, communal Lost and Found!

All Is Not Lost: Return To The Stone, Rabbi Angela Buchdahl

The end of her sermon had me in tears. I’ll admit that I’ve been much more prone to crying the last few weeks and have broken down about things that normally wouldn’t have made me cry, including, but not limited to, watching a British reality tv show called Don’t Tell The Bride, not being able to find a new dress for the holidays, misplacing my tallit, and reading poems in the siddur. Still, her words resonated deeply for me.

And you, who feel like you’ve lost so much
–and I am not minimizing loss for a moment–
our tradition asks you to resist despair.
Don’t give up hope on finding those things
that are most beloved to you.
Fight for them. 
And they will return in unexpected and meaningful ways.

Gather with me around the stone.
After the isolating days of this relentless pandemic
we return to this place,
and we say:
I have lost something precious —
can you help me find it?

I have found something wonderful —
tell me if you need it.

You are not alone.
We are here with you.

We return. And return again, to each other.

All Is Not Lost: Return To The Stone, Rabbi Angela Buchdahl

I think this explains why I went to services last Friday, even though I didn’t want to talk to anyone, and why I find so much comfort in simply being at Temple. I suspect that when I walk into Olan Sanctuary tonight for Kol Nidre, I will still try to avoid talking to anyone for fear of breaking down for the umpteenth time, and I will definitely cry throughout the service. But I will be comforted by the familiar space and melodies and being with community. Most importantly, I know I’m not alone.

G’mar chatimah tovah, may you be inscribed and sealed for a new year.

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