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09/25/2017 11:51:42 AM


Please click below for a copy of Rabbi Elliott's Rosh Hashanah sermon

Poetry of Life Sermon Erev Rosh Hashanah


I especially want to welcome anyone here for whom this is your first Rosh Hashanah with Bnai Keshet


We are so glad you came and we hope you will keep coming and join our community.


Not to make to big a deal about it but this is my 16th Rosh Hashanah at Bnai Keshet.


I know there are some here who have been to every Rosh Hashanah with Bnai Keshet since it founding in 1978.

It is great to have you here as well.

This is Bnai Keshet’s 40th Rosh Hashanah.


Again not to make too big a deal of it, but I have now spent more Rosh Hashanahs here than anywhere else in my life.


With the retirement this year of Rabbi Steven Kushner in Bloomfield and next year of Rabbi Alan Silverstein in Caldwell, I will soon be the most senior rabbi on Bloomfield Ave. corridor.


I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that no one says to me any more:You look too young to be a rabbi.


The poem by Nikki Giovanni that Phoebe just read is about facing the process of aging. As it might be new to you I am going to read it again:




i know my upper arms will grow

flabby it's true

of all the women in my family


i know that the purple veins

like dead fish in the Seine

will dot my legs one day

and my hands will wither while

my hair turns grayish white I know that

one day my teeth will move when

my lips smile

and a flutter of hair will appear

below my nose I hope

my skin doesn't change to those blotchy



i want my menses to be undifficult

i'd very much prefer staying firm and slim

to grow old like a vintage wine fermenting

in old wooden vats with style

i'd like to be exquisite I think


i will look forward to grandchildren

and my flowers all my knickknacks in their places

and that quiet of the bombs not falling on Cambodia

settling over my sagging breasts


i hope my shoulder finds a head that needs nestling

and my feet find a footstool after a good soaking

with Epsom salts


i hope I die


by the life I tried

to live

I love this poem. I love the image of her shoulder finding a head that needs nestling.


I love the final line, “I hope I die warmed by the life I tried to live.”


And I love the way Nikki Giovanni reads the aging features of her family into her future.


I like noticing the features that my son Akiva shares with me and my father. We all share a chin and brow with many of my cousins, aunts and uncles.


I love that my son Sam is so obviously the child of my wife Sarah.

But I also take note of the ways Sam’s childhood photos look remarkably similar to my own.


That my grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and older cousins, have aged well, does not stop me from noticing that they have aged, that we are all aging.


As I approach 50, I now know with perfect certainty, as many of you have already experienced.

That in a blink of an eye we will all be much older.

God willing.


I love how this poem expects and even embraces what might feel like the less attractive inevitabilities of aging.


Is it really Rosh Hashanah again?


The “surprise” that it is again Rosh Hashanah, shouldn’t really be a surprise.

Wise friends have been warning us for years that time speeds up the longer we live.


Wisdom demands we realize that just as the next weekend is always only a few days away, next year will be here in a moment.


Rosh Hashanah celebrates this cycle even as it tries to wake us up to the truth that the repetition of these cycles in our lives –

will one day come to an end.


Embracing the rougher truths of aging helps us to embrace our mortality.


Embracing the brevity of our lives, can help us to appreciate the power of being alive in this moment.


As Nikki Giovanni puts it we should appreciate;

- the good fortune of living without the sounds of bombs falling

- the comfort of finding a head that needs nestling on our shoulder

- the feeling of warmth whether from a bath

or from a life well lived.


I want to read again the second poem that Phoebe shared.


It is a poem about the experience of being alive

It is called, “Before Words” by Dan Bellm




A baby is singing in the morning

before anyone is up in the house


Before he has decided

which of all the languages he will speak

he is trying the sounds of his voice

in the first light


He hears a man

come up the street collecting bottles

just ahead of the garbage truck

straining uphill

to throw them away


He hears the shriek of glass

It is like the vessels of Creation

breaking in God’s hands


He hears the wind around the house

and in the wind

every word he will ever say

and what will stay unsaid


and stops to listen to silence

and sing to it

the way the body addresses the soul

lending it shape

lending it comfort and sorrow


The body wants to be useful

and the soul is so wide


This is the way we awaken

He remembers he is alone

and cries for us.


I also love this poem.

I try to make it a practice to only share poems with you
that I love.


I love imagining the sounds of the world as they might be heard by a baby who does not yet know language.


I am touched by the image of parents being awoken at the end of this poem by this baby as he notices his aloneness.


I can easily imagine these parents, arising from their sleep,

to hold their baby and ease his cry of loneliness.


Dan Bellm wrote this poem as part of a series inspired by the weekly Torah portions.


This poem was written for Bereshit, the first passage of the Torah which we will read at the completion of these holidays

in just a few weeks.


This poem is about the power of experiencing the world anew.


It imagines how very young ears might hear the sound of God’s first creation.


In the breaking of glass, it is referencing the mystical teaching that before our world came into existence there were multiple attempts at creation. That even our own world was created with brokenness.


I like how these two poems reverberate with experience of being alive and with the themes of Rosh Hashanah.


Nikki Giovanni’s poem resonates with themes in the Rosh Hashanah liturgy that remind us of our own mortality.


Dan Bellm’s poem about birth and awakening raise up the primary metaphors of this holiday of rebirth and renewal.


Three times tomorrow after blowing the shofar we will say:

Hayom Harat Olam – Today the world is reborn.


Many of us come Rosh Hashanah services seeking the comfort of tradition but the message of this holiday’s liturgy is that everything can change.


Not only do we have the potential to change, and be reborn to new patterns and behavior, new habits, new passions, renewed relationships.


But the very world is being reborn.

Our community, our society, our universe is changeable and renewable.


The themes of mortality and renewal that we will pray and meditate over as we celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

affirm seemingly contradictory messages.


We will die. And We will be reborn.


We are part of an eternal cycle. And We can change.


Tomorrow will be here soon. And Live in the present moment.


Life is sacred. And Life is fleeting.


The tension between these themes is intentional.

Our effort to hold them all at once or even one after the other is meant to help us open up to mystical and spiritual truths that cannot really be spoken.


One of the greatest rabbis of my lifetime, Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, alav hashaom, calls these truths that must be whispered.


One of these truths is that life flows through us.


That life actually passes through us from generation to generation.


That this has something to do with God.

Reb Zalman taught it like this:


Our entire life and everything we do is nothing but God, Godding,

Godself as us.The best we can do then is to make our life a good ride for God, to consciously devote our actions to that purpose.


And this is the call of Rosh Hashanah to consciously devote our actions to the purpose of making our life a good ride for God.


Of attuning ourselves so that we are part of a chain of goodness, a cycle of liberation, a history and future of love.


Both of these poems end with the hope for loving embrace and human touch.


Through out these Days of Awe we reach out in embrace during the priestly blessing wrapping our tallitot and arms around each other.


I hope that this will not be our only moment of embrace.

That this Rosh Hashanah we also feel embraced by our tradition.

Embraced by our community.

And Embraced by our knowledge that life flows through us.


Leshanah Tovah!


Sat, June 15 2024 9 Sivan 5784