Sunday, September 28, 2008

Love of God

I’ve never done this before, but I thought I would write a short message each day from now until Erev Yom Kippur.

If I were to say that all is calm and organised in this particular rabbinical household, with the tables laid and the apples shining next to the pot of honey, - well, then, I would be lying. Nor are the sermons all neatly written out and lying in a pile appropriately labelled. Nor have I visited everyone I intended to visit or written all the cards, or made all the phone calls…I’m sorry.

In spite of the rush and the pre Yom Tov angst, there are two qualities which matter above all. I really want them to prevail through our community. These are attitudes which we can only find and maintain with the help of one another. They are the classic terms in which Judaism describes the approach to God’s service and are so fundamental that Maimonides describes them both in the second chapter of his Laws of the Foundations of Torah. They are the love of God and the awe of God. I’ll say a few words about the former now, and about the latter tomorrow.

One can’t love God if one doesn’t love God’s world, especially other people. Yet we all know that even in our closest relationships, vexations and irritations often prevent us from appreciating those who deserve far better from us. Top of my agenda, therefore, and most especially so at this time of year, is to appreciate my family, friends, people with whom I share community, neighbourhood, even a casual conversation, and to try to show it. I seek out moments, places, poems which help me to realise what a privilege it is to be alive. I try to see the ordinary, beautiful things I so often simply rush past. Here, too, I know I don’t succeed in the way that I should wish.

But, thank goodness, there are extraordinary reminders. Twelve of us gathered at the Western Cemetery today for the short memorial service which has now become a Minhag of our community. Afterwards someone said to me, ‘I don’t know how this should be, but I leave here sad, yet grateful. I’m sad because of this great loss, yet I feel deeply grateful for the gift of life.’
This, to me, is the love of God: nothing pious, just a feeling for the wonder of life, and love. That’s the spirit I’m sure we would all like to have in our hearts when we stand before God. When it touches the heart, that is the moment when we are most truly in God’s presence.

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