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Mortality and majesty


Leading up to Rosh Hashanah this year, not only is the news saturated with mortality from war-torn Ukraine, but with the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the extensive mourning for her loss. The world is witnessing the longest and most detailed public mourning rituals we will probably ever witness.

Maroon Bells at sunset (Kathy Kaufman)

It’s the intertwining of this mortality and majesty that has struck me.

With the metaphor and motif of Rosh Hashanah imbued with the theme of majesty and regality, and of course mortality and its inverse — life — embodied in our greeting “may you be inscribed in the book of life,” this dual theme is like an essence threaded throughout the holy days’ prayers. The intertwining of mortality and majesty in the Queen’s passing has felt like a prelude to our Rosh Hashanah mindset.

This year’s first Selichot night, arriving on a starry midnight after the departure of the next to final Sabbath of the year (in Ashkenazi custom), I found myself in the mountains of Colorado. Without a formal Selichot prayer service to attend, inspirational Selichot online provided the shift in mood and atmosphere. But another spiritual moment beckoned nearby. A friend and I decided to begin Sunday morning witnessing the enchanting moments of daybreak over Maroon Bells. It had been a few years since I paid a visit to “my bells.” It was time.

As we drove on the dark winding Maroon Creek Road, flanked by the elegantly delicate and shivering aspens, sunrise was approaching ever closer. By the time we arrived at the glorious bells, so beautiful in their splendor, sunrise was mere minutes away.

Along with the meadows of gorgeous groves shivering in the nip of the morning mountain cold, we waited in that briefest of mysterious interludes that is suspended between the transition from night to day.

Suddenly, there it was. A different kind of majesty. The majesty of the morning. The majesty of the morning painting itself pink over the majestic Maroon Bells.

The slow pink light and lit-up clouds from within, like illuminated lamps hovering over the twin peaks, began streaking in wisps across the sky, the bells color-tinged, now kissed with a mix of gold and pink, bathed by this magical light.

In such moments, indeed there is and was a genuine sense of a different kind of majesty. Instead of mortality, it was the opposite, the inexplicable sense of eternity that reigned; the eternity of G-d.

Rosh Hashanah is the sunrise of our year. It’s the majestic morning of our year. A time when majesty, mortality, life and eternity are all interwoven, creating the quilt of these Days of Awe.

As my friend and I were immersed in the beauty of the Roaring Fork Valley landscape in these days preceding Rosh Hashanah, of the winding mountain paths and roads taken and not taken, of the shades of cream, pink and red canyon stone, of walls striped and stacked with layers of color and varying thickness, this too felt like a tangible expression of our own inner human landscapes. As time passed, each of us filled out with our own layers of life, as they became stacked within us — like the stone of the canyons, like pages making up the stories of our lives, carving us each into the landscapes of who we are, who we have become, who we are continuously becoming.

The stunning power in seeing the distinctly bell shaped twin peaks of Maroon Bells is breathtaking; yet, it’s the surrounding valley replete with reflecting water, wildflowers, and even the broken tree trunks strewn about, that define these striking summits.

As the metaphorical sunrise of the year, Rosh Hashanah can be like that fresh morning dew, the fresh start akin to the beginning of a new day that beckons with opportunity and hope.

Paradoxically, Jewish tradition teaches, “kol hatchalot kashot, all beginnings are difficult.” There is challenge that comes with inceptions, with the genesis of a process, with new beginnings. Within the paradox of this challenge of beginnings is ultimately the greatest gift of all — the gift of life and renewal that we pray for.

My prayer and blessing to you, dear readers, is that this Rosh Hashanah and the coming year that lies ahead will be as profoundly beautiful, majestic and blessed with life and light as that of the exquisite daybreak and sunrise that I witnessed over Maroon Bells. That the year ahead will be illuminated with strength, resilience, hope, contentment, peacefulness and joy — within whatever new beginnings life will bring this year. May all of our lives be illuminated with the presence of G-d’s eternity and the sweetness of his mercy.

Shanah Tovah u-Metukah. May you and yours be inscribed in the book of life. Amen.

Copyright © 2022 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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