Friday, September 10, 2010

Tashlich by Mayak

My Tashlich by kayak video can be see here.

L'Shanah Tovah!

On Hallowed Ground

Circumstances prevented me from attending services Rosh Hashonah morning. I usually like to spend some time outside on the holidays, as I find nature to be a spiritual experience. So, I brought my prayerbook with me and after taking care of my family business I made the quick trip over to Manassas Battlefield Park with the idea of finding a quiet spot to read through the morning rosh Hashonah service.

One cannot visit the Manassas battlefield and not feel the hallowed aspect of the ground. This was the site of two major Civil War battles (the battles of Bull Run, I was raised to call them, though in the South they're known as First and Second Manassas). Thousands died here in battles of brother against brother. The bible clearly understands this theme, containing as it does any number of stories of conflict between brothers. Had I done nothing other than walk the battlefield I feel like I still would have been learning biblical lessons, but I was intent on delving into the service. I walked the fields past the Henry House, the Stone House and up Matthew's Hill, finally finding and ducking into a stand of trees.

The morning Rosh Hashonah service opens with a biblical quote from Numbers. ""How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel! Like valleys they spread out, like gardens beside a river, like aloes planted by the LORD, like cedars beside the waters." I was immediately struck by the contrast between the photos I had seen in the visitor's center of the soldiers' tents and this biblical phrase. How would someone have reacted coming upon one of the encamped armies? Certainly not by declaring the beauty of the encampment.

The Rosh Hashonah liturgy is full of symbols of the specialness and fragility of life. To me, reading the passages on a battlefield brought home the specialness of our existence. One of the central prayers of the service, the Unetennah Tokef, reads in part 

""On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed: how many shall pass on, and how many shall be born; who shall live, and who shall die; who in his time, and who before his time; who by fire and who by water; who by sword and who by beast; who by hunger and who by thirst; who by storm and who by plague; who by choking and who by stoning... Who shall rest, and who shall wander; who shall be tranquil and who shall be harassed; who shall be at peace and who shall suffer; who shall become poor, and who shall become rich; who shall fall and who shall rise... But repentance, prayer and charity revoke the evil decree!"

Was G-d there at Manassas? Was he there as the floors of the Stone House were stained red with the blood of wounded soldiers, as artillery fire ravaged the troops? Was he deciding how many would pass on that day by sword? 

There is a majesty to going to a service, to hearing the prayers recited and chanted in a group environment. But there's something maybe even a little more special about studying them yourself in a place that is steeped in the theme of life and death.