From the Rabbis' Desks - July / August 2012
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In the life of a synagogue, preparation for the High Holy Days always begins some time shortly after Pesach. Here at Wimbledon we are no different, the logistics are being mapped, the music rehearsed, the mitzvot allocated - all behind the scenes. In the life of a synagogue, as in the rest of life in the world, the invisible is enormously important, and what is seen and noticed only comes about as a result of the much bigger and less visible work.
In London there is an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery called Invisible Art – subtitled “Art about the Unseen”, which reminds us that the visual sense is not the only one by which we experience the world, that what is not in full view is still of enormous importance. When one thinks of the prehistoric wall paintings of hunting scenes we remember that they were not ever in full view, but created deep in dark caves –so even if they would have been lit with torches, their inaccessibility and dark surroundings would have been part of the experience. Ancient Egypt put most of its art on the walls of tombs – there for the solace and guidance of the dead. Religious buildings in the ancient world often had images too high or secluded to be seen by the casual visitor, and of course the decoration on medieval cathedrals would also frequently be seen only by the masons who made them, or the privileged worshipper who would be allowed beyond the public boundary. The inner sacred space of the Jerusalem Temple was the apotheosis of the power of the invisible – like the holy of holies of ancient Egyptian Temples, it was empty.
We are today so trained into the perception through vision we often entirely miss the invisible, or if we notice it we diminish its importance. Yet most of our lives are lived with the power of the invisible dominating and shaping them and we do not often take the time to look at the unseen or notice the patterns in our lives. Part of the work of the high holy days is exactly this – to examine how we are living and make the invisible visible.
Most of what is important to us is invisible – the relationships we have with others; the feelings that wash through us; the experiences, memories and learning that shape us. Then there is music, tones of voice, words spoken, laughter. There is our thinking and our intentions. There is friendship, respect, love. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry has the fox say in his book “The Little Prince”: On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux. "One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye."
As we begin the run up to the high holy days, let’s try and focus on the invisibles in our lives and examine them resolve to understand the place they hold in, and the meaning they give to, our lives. Let’s think about how we behave and the meaning behind the choices we make. Let’s think about our relationships with each other and work on building the invisible bonds more strongly so that we nurture and enhance rather than neglect or diminish.
Judaism requires that we worship an invisible God. We base our lives on the invisible and the intangible – mitzvot, covenant, connection, prayer, belief. All these are important concepts, all of them are impossible to fully demonstrate or explain, indefinable to others, we each hold our understanding of them personally and with differing levels of priority. This very invisibility and elusivity are what allow us to keep re-energising Judaism, what allows us to stay connected and creative and relevant. Just for a while let go of the priority we give to the eyes and to visual perceptions, and let your hearts and your emotions and your gut feelings come into play, and explore the importance of the invisible in your life. It will be worth it.
Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild