Each issue of our Temple Emanu-El Bulletin features a commentary written by a member of our clergy or senior staff based on important themes in our lives. We invite you to become a part of the dialogue by posting your thoughts on the issues being discussed. Check back each month for a new entry.
Two Pockets: Spiritual Preparation for the Days of Awe (Vol. 88, No. 1)
By Rabbi Joshua M. Davidson
Rabbi Simcha Bunam taught we should carry with us two statements: one from Genesis, V’anochi afar va’eifer, “I am but dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27); and the other from Mishnah Sanhedrin, Bishvili nivra ha’olam, “For my sake the world was created.” One goes in our left pocket to impress upon us our smallness; the other in our right pocket to remind us of our greatness. This tension “between vulnerability and action,” as Rabbi Milton Steinberg called it, confronts us throughout the High Holy Days.
“I Am But Dust and Ashes”
One Kol Nidrei Eve, a rabbi decides to model repentance for his congregation. Humbly he approaches the ark. Beseeching the Almighty for forgiveness, he beats his breast, proclaiming, “Before You, God, I am nothing. I am nothing.” The cantor sees him and joins in. “I am nothing. I am nothing,” she cries. The temple president, sensing that he too must get in on the act, now comes up. “I am nothing. I am nothing,” he sobs. In the silence that follows, the rabbi turns to the cantor and whispers, “Look who thinks he’s nothing.”
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