Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Column: Rosh Hashana

It's almost Rosh Hashana and I am searching for something to write about that will be inspiring without being preachy. I think I might have something that will work. It starts with a personal story from years ago and I guess it will wander where it will.

Once, when I was in my early teens, I was walking home at night from a friend's house and I looked up at the stars and the most extraordinary thing happened to me. Somehow, as I gazed above, I found myself speaking softly to Heaven. These are the words that came unexpectedly: "I don't know if You are there or not, but if You are then please show me." At that moment I had the very powerful sensation that the stars drew nearer to me.

For me the stars had always been a mystery that some -- like my star gazing and science loving neighbor -- believed could be understood through the study of astronomy. On a soul level I didn't quite go for astronomy and the mystery remained and while what had happened, it seemed to me, came from nowhere there were many questions in the air and I guess inside of me.

Carl Sagan would not be on television for almost ten years but his "billions and billions" were in the air. The spirit of the 1960's had brought both a curiosity in the mysteries and if not an outright rejection of the Creator, a consigning of Him to the realm of ancient and forgotten history. Yes, what Sagan would bring to the PBS in 1980 in his series "Cosmos" was already thick in the air on that night when I looked up at the stars -- but I didn't know it. I also didn't know that his astronomy had an underlying philosophy that he summed up in this statement: "The Cosmos is all that is or ever will be."

It appears from this statement that Sagan was an atheist although I seem to remember reading a quote of his that was straight from the Greek philosopher Epicures (341-270 BCE) -- which would make him an epicurus. The difference is significant if one is interested in such things. Atheism is the denial of the existence of the Creator. Epicures accepted his existence but removed him so for back into the past -- eons upon eons -- and so far from our lives -- meaning that he pays no attention to us and has no connection to us -- that He might as well not exist. Where Sagan's constellation precisely rested I am not prepared to say -- perhaps it was a mix of both -- I doubt he was familiar with the distinctions of Maimonides.

Let's get back to that night in Lawrence. If you had asked me at that time if I believed in the Almighty I would probably have said with some difficulty, yes. It's not that I thought about Him a lot or prayed at all (other than at shul) but to say that I didn't believe seemed somehow a betrayal of myself and my family -- especially my grandparents and great grandparents. If you had asked me if I believed that the Almighty had revealed himself at Sinai and had taken us out of Egypt and spoken to Moses and the prophets I would probably, for the same reasons, have said yes. However, if you had asked me if the Almighty heard my prayers I would have been hard pressed to claim so. I simply felt that while he probably did exist he was very, very far away -- and probably pretty busy.

Looking back at that night now I see it as a sort of miracle. I had never addressed Heaven before and it would be years until I was to do it again, but the words that came out of my mouth were so true to where I was spiritually that I believe they affected my whole life. I believe that He began to show me that He does exist.

What, you may be asking by now, has all this to do with Rosh Hashanah? Rosh Hashana is the day that Adam was created -- completing the creation on that sixth day. It was literally "the beginning." Each year we get to start anew as the world itself does. For a new beginning it is my belief that there is nothing like a real, true prayer from the heart -- wherever that heart might be -- which is I guess what my story is all about.
Shana Tova.


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