It was the tradition in the congregation of which I was once president to begin Erev Rosh HaShanah services with a few words of welcome from the congregation’s president. I suspect that the tradition had its origin when one of my long-ago predecessors had a desire for the spotlight. But our great sage, Elijah, the Gaon of Vilna, taught that Judaism does not require that desires be eradicated, rather that they be purified, sanctified.
It seemed important to me to call on the principle inherent in the genius of Reform Judaism that we can reject the original self-serving meaning of the ritual but nevertheless maintain its practice by investing it with new and contemporary relevance. Thus I set out to find a sanctifying and contemporary justification for my presence on the bimah, inaugurating the High Holy Day process of reflection and worship.
In that vein, I told the congregation that during our time together, our rabbis and cantor would be commanding their primary attention. But, I continued, it is appropriate that a lay person not only start things off, but also that a parade of congregants follows, to share in reading and chanting portions of the liturgy with them and for them.
This lay participation would symbolize that it is we, the lay people, who begin the work of creation of the congregation. It is we who bring the rabbis and cantor to teach us and inspire us, and to work in partnership with us throughout the year – and the years – in a sharing process, to fulfill our common mission of study and worship and doing good deeds.
At this season, it’s especially important to reflect on how fortunate we are to have so distinguished a team on our pulpit, and on how fortunate they are to have so responsive and supportive a congregation with whom to share our common task. I invite and urge every one of you to participate and share with the clergy and lay leadership not only on these High Holy Days but throughout the year ahead, as we continue our partnership with the Divine in seeking to complete and perfect the work of creation. L’shanah tovah tikatevu.