The following sermon was given by Rabbi Ariana Katz at Hinenu on September 9, 2018 on the eve Rosh HaShanah.
Hayom Harat Olam. This is the day the world was created.
We have made it to a new year, the anniversary of the creation of the world, the commemoration of the Big Bang. Shanah tovah!
It is a blessing to be with you tonight. Truly, an awe inspiring moment.
I am an over-shehecheyanu’er. Some of you may know this, that I can find an opportunity to say the blessing for first moments at any given chance. Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Source of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion. Words of awe, gratitude, noticing, we said them together with Lena just earlier tonight upon lighting the candles.
The Shehecheyanu blessing is said, traditionally:
At the new year
The beginning of a holiday
The first performance of certain mitzvot in a year, like sitting in a sukkah, eating matzah, or lighting the candles on Hanukkah.
Eating a new fresh fruit for the first time since Rosh Hashanah!
Seeing a friend who has not been seen in thirty days.
Acquiring a new home, or new articles of clothing or utensils
The birth of a child
During a ritual immersion in a mikveh as part of a conversion
Generally, when doing or experiencing something that occurs infrequently from which one derives pleasure or benefit.
The Shecheyanu could, and has, also be said:
When you have new guests over to your house for the first time, so you say the blessing right after lighting candles even if no one is expecting it and they realize its a prayer of gratitude for their friendship
When your candidate for city council wins, and you bless amidst the falling balloons under your breath
Under the chuppah
When you tie your tichel to cover your hair the morning that you get ordained
Leaving the house in gender affirming clothing for the first time
Seeing your partner with fresh eyes after a fight, making it through a time of protracted miscommunication
Learning a riff on the guitar and getting it right for the first time
Figuring out a multiplication table after much work
Our tradition teaches we should say 100 blessings each day. Blessings upon waking up, studying, praying, eating, digesting, using the bathroom, performing mitzvot, seeing wonderous acts of creation like rainbows or the sea. The shehecheyanu, while traditionally less common than every day, is one of those blessings. What an opportunity our tradition gives us, to 100 times a day offer up praise for the world around us, to sanctify our meals, the workings of our bodies, the rhythms of the earth and our year. What an opportunity for gratitude, for constant renewal, a chance to refocus, reflect, recommit. That is a wrench in the plan, an interruption of the everyday slog. That is a trapdoor out of complacency, much like Rosh Hashanah is a trap door out of the neverending each-next-day of our year. We stop time with ritual, with blessing.
The weekday shacharit liturgy proclaims מחדש בטובו כל יום תמיד מעשה בראשית, every day God renews with God’s goodness the acts of creation. Which is to say--every day, creation is renewed. Which is to day--there is always a reason to celebrate a new beginning. Because we are, in each day, each week, each month, each year, renewing ourselves.
Today the world is created. Tonight, right here, in 5779, we celebrate the world we have the opportunity to create at Hinenu: The Baltimore Justice Shtiebl. We celebrate this amazing moment in the history of our community--the culmination of a year and a half of work exploring what kind of congregation we might want to see, a year and a half of meeting new people, re-meeting each other with new questions, of cramming onto small porches in Govans in the August heat, around tables at Red Emma’s old location to study Sodom and Gomorrah, a year and a half of building. We mark the beginning of a new year, where so many people drawn to this place, at this moment, at this time, declare “we need each other.” “We belong here.”
Today the world is created. And we know it was not created out of nothing. Genesis 1:2 says:
וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י תְהֹ֑ום וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם
Now the earth was tohu va’vohu, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
I so love that image, of the quiet quiet world, dark dark waters, and the very spirit of God a breath away from breaking the surface of the water.
Abraham bar Hiyya in the 12th century explains that tohu va’vohu is not “nothingness,” but “matter and form.” The universe was created out of matter and form. The stuff of our community in this moment, has existed already in many different ways already. Our work moving into the new year is to continue to celebrate as we form, to do the hard work of creating and nurturing, and the harder work of dwelling, healing, appreciating, blessing.
We can honor the newness of our congregation while knowing it took a lot of hard won experience to get here, in all our lives. We know the work of creating is messy stuff-and so while we may seem like a finely tuned machine, your rachmunus, compassion, as we learn how to grow to serve each other fully is so appreciated. We know the work of creating is messy stuff, and so, we can give each other permission to bring our messiness to dwell with one another.
Today the world is created. Tonight, in our first breaths of 5779, we celebrate a new year. The first things we’ll do in this year are declare blessings--not go out dancing, though that will come soon enough with Simchat Torah, or to cover ourselves in sequins and revel--though that will come less soon, on Purim. No, we rejoice in the new year with blessing.
So there is much to bless. Each other, for showing up and continuing to show up. Each day, for it brings great opportunity to shape the world around us. Blessings on all of us, as we move into this new year, this new phase of our life together. Shanah tovah.