The blog of the Roaring Fork Valley (Reform) Jewish community
77 Meadowood Drive • Aspen, CO • 81611
Rabbi David Segal and Cantor Rollin Simmons

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

"The Man Upstairs?" Concert Reflections

Aspen Jewish Congregation
5th Annual Summer Concert
August 4, 2015

The Man Upstairs? Questioning God Through Music
Rabbi’s Reflections
(Italics indicates songs from the concert program)

In the Beginning
God Shuffled His Feet


Part 1

A watchmaker who wound up the universe and stepped back to let it run?
A puppet-master whose will spins galaxies and electrons, and everything in between?
A man upstairs sitting stone-faced on his throne, a cosmic Lincoln Memorial?
A jealous father, a loving mother, a wizard, a warrior?
A universal force, a caring presence?
Nature’s awesome power, or a still small voice?

We search, we seek. Like a rabbit yanked from a top hat, we try to gaze into the magician’s eyes. In moments of hush, or bliss, or woe, can we catch a glimpse? 
As soon as we turn our head, back into the hat we drop. 
It’s like trying to grasp a wisp of smoke.

Is God there winking at us from a darkened window? 
Is God just around the next corner, so close we almost see, yet always out of reach – 
a mystery that beckons with one hand while the other keeps us at arm's length?

The Chasidim tell a tale about the Rebbe’s grandson, who was playing hide-and-seek with another boy. He found a hiding place and waited for his friend to find him. After a long time, he came out of his hiding place, but his friend was not there. He realized that his friend had stopped looking for him, and left. The child burst into lonely tears and ran to his grandfather. As the boy cried that his friend had given up on him, the Rebbe, too, began to weep. He said, “Dear boy, now you know how the Almighty feels: ‘I hide myself,' says God, 'and yet they stop looking.’”

Adonai S'fatai (me to God)
Psalm 121 (Rossi)
A Nign
Waiting for Life
Yah Ana Emtsaacha
Kadosh Ata


Part 2.

I lift my eyes to the mountains, and I feel... something – wonder, awe, reverence – or something more? Is that “something more” simply a sense that there is something more? That I’m more than this sack of cells, that the world is more than a chunk of rock, that the universe, against all reason, cares?

There are those who say that God is merely a projection of the human mind. I think they need a refresher on the meaning of the word “merely.” If God is how we lift up our hopes and fears; if God is where we distill our values and visions; if God encompasses the collective human striving for purpose – then what more vital study can there be than this so-called projection? 

So let us project. Let us sing, exalt, thank, beseech. 
Let us, indeed, pray.
But what is it to pray, if we don’t believe, exactly, in the addressee of our prayer?

Theodore Bikel, of blessed memory, said that “even though [his father] was an atheist, he liked to go to synagogue because that was the only place you could argue your atheism.”
Not believing, with others, can be a sacred act.

But what of suffering? Of pain and loss that no God we want to worship would allow?
For that, let us question. Let us accuse, indict, impeach! Let us demand, with Abraham, that the Judge of all the earth do what is just (Gen. 18:25)! Let us declare, with Job, that we insist on arguing with God (Job 13:3)! After all, that, too, is prayer.

Elie Wiesel once said, “For a Jew to believe in God is good. For a Jew to protest against God is still good. But to simply ignore God, that is not good. Anger, yes. Protest, yes. Affirmation, yes. But indifference to God, no. You can be a Jew with God; you can be a Jew against God; but not without God.”

Min HaMeitzar- Joey Weisenberg
May I Suggest
Bless the Lord


Part 3.

My wife’s grandmother, Nana, who died a few months ago at 98, was not an overtly religious woman. But she prayed every night to God: please watch over my children, my grandchildren, and my great-grandchildren. Her list numbered 27 descendants, and she mentioned each one by name. Her love and pride for her family kept her spirit alive. She was blessed.

I once met a man, Steven, with no legs. Complications from diabetes had led to a double amputation. Back in the hospital with failing health, now he was on dialysis. He was a devout Christian and a youth pastor to troubled teens. He called for a chaplain, and I came to his bedside.

He was in pain. 
Pain of the body from labored breathing, fading eyesight, fatigue. 
Pain of the heart from missing his youth ministry and his own children. 
Every visit, I held his hand as he prayed to God: “Thank you, God, for all the goodness in my life. Please, God, give me strength and faith.”
One day, his ill health made it hard for him to speak. That time, I held his hand and I prayed on his behalf – words he couldn’t say, but needed. 

A week later, during morning rounds, I learned Steven had died in the night. Why wasn’t he blessed with long life? Why didn’t he live to see his children’s children?

We want answers. We want to know that there’s a God out there, listening to our prayers, taking care of our loved ones. We want to know that everything will be alright. 

But sometimes it’s not alright. We want answers then, too. Especially then. Why? Why me?

We cry out from the depths – but to what? To whom? The same phantom who failed to provide, failed to heal, failed to appear in the hour of need? 
Are we just spinning our spiritual wheels? Or is there, somehow, solace in the seeking?

One of my mentors says that the question mark is the most Jewish symbol. I like that. 
Maybe God, after all, is the question; and we, in our holy brokenness and yearning, are the beginning of an answer.

Eileh Chamdah Libi
The 23rd Psalm
Laughing With
Avinu Malkeinu Z'chor Rachamecha
Water is Wide / Mimaamakim

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