Yamim Noraim - what I fear these days

By Rabbi Aaron Gol...
September 15, 2012

I am writing these thoughts hurriedly this morning to replace the sermon that I had already written so please excuse the grammatical mistakes.

It is because I think that we desperately need to clear the air before God’s appointed season, that of the – Yamim Noraim. We inadequately translate this term as the High Holydays. True they do take us to the lofty heights in terms of their importance of the year but it does not do justice to the phrase. They literally translate as: ‘days of awe’ or even of ‘fear.’ I usually recommend that we focus on the former, the deep wonder that we have for the magnificence of God in our lives, the love that we are shown just by having our lives let alone all the riches that for most in our community, have been fortunate enough to know.

Yet, this morning I am afraid. I do have fear. I have fear for the world in which we live. Whilst we may feel remote to those in Papua New Guinea or Mauritania, we are because of the information we receive this morning and every day, deeply affected by events in the world.

We see around the Arab world but not reserved for it, violent reactions to a pitiful anti-Islamic film that has undoubtedly been used as a tool through the internet by those who wish to use it to whip up hatred of America, of Britain and of Israel. If you doubt this, read Simon Seebag-Motefiore’s comments on twitter that “senseless violence is an unhelpful phrase since political violence is rarely senseless especially in the Middle East. It makes useful sense for someone.”

The hatred expressed in a film that would have influenced a miniscule population has been magnified as an irrational tool of hatred. The increasing targeting of British embassies, the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic statements illustrate that this is not a protest at a film. It is an excuse to act in a way that is demeaning to the humanity of the perpetrators.

When President Obama says that Egypt is not an enemy or a friend, it is giving the Muslim Brotherhood a very clear message. You say one thing in English and another in Arabic and we hear both. Are you part of the human family or not? Of course we are also at fault. We know the name of the US Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens who was murdered at the outset of these attacks but not the Libyan soldiers who were killed alongside him. Yet the virulent attack on ‘the West’ is off the scale.

I do not believe that we are going to affect a change in this situation for decades to come. Perhaps the mistakes have already been made but hurried withdrawal of military and even diplomatic presences, will I fear, be met with a response equal to remaining and in the long-term do no good. Let alone the presence of western NGOs whose existence is defined by their desire to act humanely, to save lives and raise the standard of living of the masses.

There are of course so many Muslims who are speaking out against this unthinking hatred. They may not yet be present on television, radio or in our newspapers but they are certainly present on social media. They express their outrage that an attack on the Prophet Muhammad is met by actions that the Prophet would condemn.

In a sense we will see if these voices are heard in the places that most need them but I fear for ourselves on this Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah. I fear for our minds and souls. We as a People know how some unthinking or purely spiteful individuals can put two and two together. The price tagging settler on the West Bank, the one who childishly reacts to an event they do not like with a dangerous attack on Palestinians and their property; the Israeli Government and Israel Defence Forces when they act inhumanely in acts of war, against innocent Palestinians going about their daily round or against African refugees stuck in no-man’s land between Egypt and Israel; when an individual hits the news for his fraudulent dealings and happens to be a Jew: we know that this encourages those who seem to innately hate Jews to turn express their anti-Semitic thought openly, occasionally by their own unsophisticated price tagging.

Will we be so affected by these events as to create hatred in ourselves. As I woke to hear of the attacks on Camp Bastino in Afghanistan and the deaths of two US Air Force soldiers, I thought of Stephen Lacey who until their move back to the US, sat in these pews every Shabbat. I think of Phillip Lester a member here for a number of years before moving back home to Lincoln, who served in Iraq and does so in Afghanistan. I am thinking of David Stanton, a potential convert to Judaism with me who is currently serving in Bagram and I felt true fear for them and anger that our concern was only for Prince Harry and not for all those who sand in harm’s way.

I felt and feel fear for my mind and soul. I felt fear before the Eternal One lest I do as others have done with Jews, to equate remote events to our individual lives. I fear that I might not be strong enough to continue to nurture the relationships with all those Muslims who I live amongst in peace, harmony and friendship.
And yet, and yet. We have the example of new life in our midst this morning. This morning we have celebrated newness, the beauty of asking God’s blessing on a child loved by his parents, his family and welcomed into his sacred congregation. Nathan’s life stands before him with freshness, innocence and possibility. With all we experience throughout our lives and in each year, it is more of an effort to return home to the Source of our existence. Yet he stands as a reminder that at this time the clock returns to Eden, the time of Creation. We are all once more the primordial Eve and Adam. The new year, Rosh Hashanah, begins once more with the sand-clock full on top. Its flow seems oh so slow in those early moments and we can appreciate how short life is, the flow irreversible, yet every second an opportunity, a rich, sacred gift.
Let us all have fear before the Eternal One so that we can address our own failings and fears before we stand in awe of God tomorrow night. But may Nathan’s presence among us inspire us to achieve that state, to begin the journey once more towards God, to return home to the purity of our humanity and of our being.


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