As we stand on the precipice of Yom Kippur, in the thick of the holiest days of the Jewish calendar, ask yourself one question: What is my existential strategic plan for 5777? In the profit and nonprofit sectors, we often use the tool of a strategic plan, a long range analysis– be it 3 yr., 5 yr. or 10 yr.– to outline our vision and strategy for the future of a program, department or corporation. Whether we succeed is viewed in hindsight– and typically is measured against meeting specific benchmarks or other metrics. How much revenue did the department contribute to the bottom line, or how many new donors did we get from the series of programs?
This season is an opportunity to look at ourselves and apply the same rigorous analytics to our own spiritual lives: Did I reach my spiritual goals this past year? What are my spiritual goals for this coming year? What is the vision for my existential growth in the year to come? Which relationships can I work to improve?
‘Tis the season also of much prayer, and much time spent in synagogue. Perhaps we can ask ourselves– can I make my time in synagogue more “mindful”? Recently I have been thinking of the age-old question: what is the value of prayer in a world of very bad things happening to good people?
We can choose to be in a connected relationship with G-d that is imitatio dei, similar in parameters to a human relationship. One prerequisite for a relationship that is intimate is that each partner expresses their needs to the other during both the good times and the challenging times. We don’t always get what we want in our relationships, and relationships are marked by extreme joy and lows– filled with emotional connectedness and sometimes disappointments.
Yet, it is our responsibility to seek from G-d what we want and believe we need. As we read in the Haftarah from Jeremiah on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, our matriarch Rachel exhibited tenacity and an unwillingness to be comforted. We too can choose to present our case and our own priorities to G-d. When we bow during the Alenu prayer, we acknowledge that G-d is the ultimate arbiter of all of our gifts and well-being, yet we are far from powerless. We can explain, present, argue, plead and cry to G-d.
Similarly, the Torah reading on Rosh Hashanah can be viewed as an expression of our partnership with G-d. Expounding on the thesis put forth by Rabbi Nathan Laufer in Rendezvous with God (2016), the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a reenactment of the shofar blasts at revelation on Sinai. Not only do the shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah underscore the covenantal bond established between G-d and Israel at Sinai, but also our acceptance of that multifaceted covenant.
Perhaps this explains why the binding of Isaac is the core biblical reading on Rosh Hashanah. Abraham exemplifies acceptance of the covenant–even when he may not necessarily understand the strategic thinking behind it. But what happens when trust and commitment issues develop in a relationship? The Golden Calf. In the trajectory of each intimate relationship, there is the moment of decision where we are forced to face the defining question: Am I “all in” and committed or not so much?
Perhaps the Golden Calf can be viewed as a lesson about the spectrum of intimacy—Israel’s perceived needs are not met, the people sin, and ultimately the nascent nation is forgiven. It is a blueprint for an intimate relationship that grows, matures and is able to withstand the challenges facing it.
Ultimately, while it is daunting to think that we do not understand G-d’s grand strategic plan, we may be comforted by our control over our own individual and communal plans. Let’s focus on that this Yom Kippur. May we be able to dig down into our souls and express through prayer what we truly need and want to sustain ourselves and to grow.