A New Year Begins, Reflection, Return, and Ingathering,

It was such a blessing to share the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe) again with all of you and with such joy and commitment gather-in for the many celebrations of Sukkot. We have had a wonderful diversity of new and prospective members joining and exploring their spiritual and identity journeys with us.

I pray that something has stirred for you during the Holy Days and that the harvesting of Sukkot  will spur you to action in the year ahead. I encourage you to get involved in Mishkan Shalom in new ways.  We established a Brit Mishkan as part of every member household’s volunteer contribution to our community as we want to define membership as more than an exchange of financial resources. We must also be generous and committed with our resources, as many of you have, to be sustainable in the long run.

The Festival of Sukkot invited us into a relationship with both time and space. Through ushpizin, the tradition of welcoming in the spiritual presence of ancestors along with our family, friends and community, we reached across time and connected with the rhythms of the earth and seasons to locate ourselves together in space. The temporary dwelling reminds us of impermanence and the preciousness of each moment and place.

How do we build on all the good will, relationship-building and spiritual and social activism we have set as our kavanah for the year ahead? Having come off last year’s SHMITA study, practice and action around ecological, social, economic and spiritual re-imagining and renewal, we now move into the conscious six year cycle ahead. The SHMITA year actually ended in biblical times with a grand convocation at the end of Sukkot.

There was/is profound PURPOSE in הַקְהֵלDevarim 31:10-12 – hakel, “assemble the people every seven years – young and old, native and immigrant – to hear & discuss the Torah”.  The Torah we focused on at these past High Holy Days and Sukkot, and in the year ahead is the both ancient/contemporary theme of “Elu v’Elu” or “both/and- VAV consciousness.” This “State of Being” as I understand it, is a framework for mindful and activist Jewish living. I truly believe is how we can both do tikkun and rebalance within and in this precious fragile and powerful planet we swirl in.

This “AND” consciousness, our ability to hold multiple perspectives and realities as part of a sacred whole is not just a cute word-play or gemmatria (Hebrew Numerology) but a profound stance and state of being that I invite you to engage with. We will need this not only for our own individual and communal sake, but to address the core challenges to our lives, to the racial, economic, environmental, class and social justice we passionately pursue.

We as a People evolved over centuries in the face of relocation, location and dislocation to examine multiple truths at the same time, whether in communal debate or within our own hearts and minds.  In the classic statement of this core Jewish value in Tractate Eruvin (13b) of the Babylonian Talmud, we learn:

For three years there was a dispute between Bet Shammai and “The halachah is in agreement with our views.”  Then a bat kol, a heavenly voice announced:  ‘Elu v’elu divrei Elohim hayim, these and these -- the teachings of both groups -- are the words of the living God.’

VAV consciousness stands in contrast to the in/out, with us/against us polarities of much of the religious, political and cultural discourse that dominates our world today, including our own Jewish community. It is a gateway to mutual understanding, our own healing and the well-being and sustainability of our planet.

Rabbi Marc Margolius stated in a sermon from 2014: “Recognizing and holding multiple truths doesn’t preclude staking out a moral stand. No doubt there are moral issues which are beyond the pale and may not require much reflection. But even here, remaining open to questions and doubts allows is to take a more powerful position because we are standing in a place of greater wisdom.”

We will need this wisdom to remain open-hearted AND not feel complacent in our opinions or stories about another person or people, or even our own community or remain on the side-lines. We will need this resolve to keep open to change AND stay rooted in our mission. We will need this passion to grow our own community AND do so with an unwavering commitment to the ecological wellbeing of our planet, those seeking asylum across the world, and those who still fight for the right to racial justice and healing in our own backyard.

What if we were to drop the habit of saying “yes, but” and adopt instead the spiritual practice of saying “yes, this is true – AND so is this.” This is entering the state of being of “VAV consciousness”

Yehudah Amichai, the great Israeli poet, expressed this beautifully in this short and profound poem, “The Place Where We Are Right:”

From the place where we are right

flowers will never grow

in the Spring.

The place where we are right

is hard and trampled

like a yard.

But doubts and loves

dig up the world

like a mole, a plough.

And a whisper will be heard in the place

where the ruined

house once stood.


To this I add a great Sufi Poet’s Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi - 13th c, prayer: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing, there is a field. I'll meet you there.”

Let us go forward in this truth together in the year, and years, ahead.

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