High Holy Days 5775/2014

In addition to the traditional themes of turning and renewal, we will focus this year on the theme –

Shalom, Large and small.

Reb Elliot shares his vision of this year’s theme:

“The word shalom is a prime example of the rabbinic notion of the small thing or the simple word that contains multitudes—whole worlds of meaning and possibility. On the one hand, shalom in Hebrew is “small”: a compact expression of well-wishing when two meet or when one person takes leave of the other. Yet even here the small can loom large: think of the shalom of parting lovers, or the goodbye at a beloved’s deathbed.

Shalom is both a verbal and an embodied greeting, a turning towards the Other in love, and if not in love than at least in civility and caring: signaling that I wish you only well, not harm. While often translated as peace or    well-being, the word shalom etymologically connotes “wholeness,” shelemut. This can be a simple whole, but perhaps more intriguingly, a complex whole, as well.

Is the wholeness of peace simple, unbroken, or is it, on the contrary, dialectical: the result of previous break-throughs, reversals and shatterings and attempted restorations? This latter notion is found in some hasidic teachings on Peace and tsubrokhnkeit: wherein it is shatteredness that paves the way for a deeper, post-naïve, wholeness. Thus the teaching of Rabbi Nahman of Breslov: “there is nothing so whole (shalem) as the broken heart.” To which I add: the heart broken open.

I frequently wonder: to what extent does shalom imply steadfastness, and to what extent does it necessitate compromise, a giving up of the claim on “the whole shebang.” To be whole is thus to harbor shatteredness. Consider the classic Jewish term for domestic well-being, shelom bayit, which necessitates both a surging forth of one’s own voice and values, and moments of graceful retreat, of tzimtzum, wherein one honors and “gives space” to the Other, who perforce sees and inhabits the world differently.

Now, when our thoughts about peace, large and small, loom large in the Middle East and its pursuit seems often downright illusory, if not dangerous, we ask: not only is “peace” possible in our lifetime, but what kinds/flavors of peace? Are we even asking the right questions? What small steps might we take to help grow peace at home and abroad? In our day-to-day interactions and prayers, if not on the level of realpolitik, how might we move towards some measure of forgiveness and reconciliation?”

More on the theme Shalom, great and small