A growing number of people are beginning to discover the need and the urgency of regular spiritual dialogue. More now are basking in the warmth and color of a vibrant religious way of life. More are appreciating the enrichment of family life that participation in the synagogue and church experience and the performance of home rituals offer. More are attending continuing education programs, having their eyes opened to the profundity and fascination of deeper study of religious texts.
But there are still too many of us who do not participate, for a variety of reasons. Yet even those of us who find ourselves distant from our faith communities are reluctant to cut the umbilical cord — we still instinctively retain a deep connection.
When the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidic Judaism, had special prayers to make, he would retreat to a particular place in the forest, light a fire, and meditate in prayer. His prayer was answered. A generation later, when his disciple the Maggid, the preacher of Mezeritch, had petitions to make, he would go to the same place in the forest, and would say: “Lord, we can no longer light the fire, nor do we know the secret meditations that underlie the prayers; but we do know the precise place in this forest where it was once performed. And that must surely be sufficient!” And it was.
A generation later, the great rabbi, Israel of Rishiv, was called upon to perform the same task. He sat down on his special throne in his dynastic center, and said: “We cannot light the fire; we cannot recite the meditations and prayers; we do not even know the precise place in the forest where it was performed. But we can tell the story of how it was done.” And the story he told had the same effect as the actions of the other two!
The Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are, for many of us, the sole time we make our presence felt in congregations. Just as churches see their pews overflowing during the Easter period, many synagogues have to rent outside facilities to handle the needs of community.
There are many who come to worship, who, like the Baal Shem Tov, are blessed with knowing how to light the fire — the fire of enthusiasm that spiritually warms and nourishes ourselves and our children. We certainly know the place in the forest, are familiar with the prayers and meditations that well up naturally from our hearts and emotions to their lips. There are others who can not light the fire or recite the prayers and meditations but who, nevertheless, “know the place in the forest.” We come to services fairly regularly, observe other festivals, and are committed to giving our children a better religious education than we perhaps had.
But there is a large majority of us who find ourselves unable to even locate the place in the forest, who are not even inclined to search for the place, who do not even know that there is a forest, inside of which there is a place of unique exaltedness. And yet, for all that, we do engage in the basic exercise. We tell the story! We tell it by our presence. We affirm that it is, after all, our story, and may it be a glorious, rich and ongoing story that is gathering momentum, spiritual power and interest as it unfolds in our age.
You are invited: Temple Beth Ami will be celebrating high holidays, and is offering complimentary seatting for high holidays to striking members of the Writers Guild, SAG-AFTRA and all those working in the entertainment industry impacted by this ongoing crisis. Rosh Hashanah on Saturday, Yom Kippur Sept. 24-25. Contact Temple Beth Ami at [email protected] or 661-255-6410.
Rabbi Mark Blazer is the rabbi of Temple Beth Ami in Santa Clarita.