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the dreaded phrase

07/01/2021 09:06:19 AM


Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

I am about to utter a seven-word phrase that evokes dread in all Rabbis and Cantors: Two months until the High Holy Days! That may seem like a great deal of time, but it really is not. In my role as Hazzan I prepare the liturgy, although fortunately we have a wonderful Cantorial Soloist, so that lessens the Cantorial part of the burden somewhat. When I think about sermons, there are six to compose, as follows: two for the evening services of Rosh Hashanah; two for the day services of Rosh Hashanah; one for Kol Nidrei; one for Yom Kippur Yizkor.

Having spoken frequently about the impact of COVID over the past sixteen months, do my congregants want to hear me challenge them about the value of human life, productive use of time, and what things really matter? Or, have they heard enough about it and there is nothing further to say? Have I said enough about the impact of antisemitism, or is there more to say? Does the engagement of Daniel Libeskind as lead architect offer excitement for a brighter future? Are there as yet unexplored subjects that require me to be nimble and responsive to the events of the day?

There is no specific formula for what might be the best choices, but I have learned that you must trust your instincts. There is a piece of advice that I learned from a former congregant years ago that remains as a crucial red flag: If you haven’t struck oil after fifteen minutes, stop boring! The chemistry of each congregation is unique, and what might be an incredibly moving sermon in one might fall flat in another. I would hope that a good Rabbi will know their congregation and be able to tailor a message that is appropriate for them.

Inspiration is a funny sort of thing, for sometimes it arrives at the most unexpected of times and ways. I could be reading a book or newspaper article, or watching a television movie, or listening to music and pick up a set of lyrics, or participate in a conversation that gets the creative juices flowing. I have to be open to input from unanticipated sources, and just go with it. I respect that some Rabbis put aside time in the calendar, and devote a specific day and hour to craft their sermons. Perhaps it is the cantorial part of me, that I just follow the creativity when it occurs, as I never know when that moment will occur. I have found the same to be true when I craft the Purim shpiel. Once I have determined the theme, I cannot predict when the right moment will be to begin to write the shpiel. However, once I begin, the Divine inspiration takes over and sometimes I can sit and compose the entire shpiel in one sitting. While I consider myself fortunate to receive God’s blessing to do so, I never take it for granted. Any opportunity to write a sermon or a Purim shpiel, or this blog, or compose a piece of music is a Divine gift for which I am supremely grateful, and always offer gratitude to God for receiving that inspiration.

But there are only two months to go! I pray that God deems me worthy of Divine inspiration this year.

Thu, September 23 2021 17 Tishrei 5782