Monday, August 18, 2003

Yom Kippur in July

It’s a staple of cheesy advertising: Ads declaring it’s “Christmas in July” and offering major discounts on clothing, appliances, etc.. I guess it never hurts to get a bargain.

For me, it’s always Yom Kippur in July. During my vacation, I begin working on my High Holiday sermons. I do this because I’ve learned that Murphy’s law has particular application to High Holiday sermons; computers break, illnesses occur, and funerals get scheduled all shortly before the holidays, making sure that any procrastinating Rabbi is duly punished for leaving things to the last minute.

It’s peculiar writing words for days of awe during the lazy weeks of summer. The laid back rhythms of vacation are not the ideal environment for inspiration. The weighty themes of the high holidays seem very faraway from sun, surf and ice cream.

However, there’s actually a lot of inspiration around in the summer. Because of my Yom Kippur mindset, I look at the ordinary in extraordinary ways. I’ve found that simple summer pleasures are often quite sublime as well.

Transcendence is everywhere. Life is not just life; it’s a miracle. According to the Midrash, every blade of grass has it’s own angel, calling it to life. These angels are on prominent display in the summer.

Sunrise. Waves. Trees. Mountains. Grass. Birds. Grasshoppers. Breeze. Clouds. Sunset. Moon. Crickets. Stars. There are so many small miracles, so many ways to experience what Einstein called a “cosmic religious feeling”.

But you don’t need nature to find inspiration; sometimes it can be found around the Barbeque. Friendship is not just friendship; it is a divine experience. If two people truly connect it cannot be mundane. Every moment of friendship, even chatting and laughing together, contain divine sparks, the product of two souls in close contact.

And then there’s family. Of course family vacations have a labile quality to them, jumping between the annoying and the endearing; but they certainly are about family. And loving families are a miracle. The love of a parent, sibling, spouse is too remarkable for materialistic explanations. Love is clearly from beyond this world.

Now, all of the above (the mushy, sermonic stuff) is actually an introduction to the following anecdote.

One afternoon, I was taking a walk with my three year old daughter. She tugged on my hand and pointed to sky saying “look Abba, a cloud! a cloud!”. Tears welled up in my eyes. Yes, it was only an ordinary occurrence, a moment of father-daughter small talk. But I started to think about the miracles of clouds, the miracle of her life and the miracle of our love for one another. And for an instant, it was truly Yom Kippur in July, an ordinary moment filled with great inspiration.

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