Lab/Shul’s theme for the 5780 High Holy Season is AWE, reclaiming one of the fundamental concepts in all spiritual traditions as a way to renew our attention to what matters most and to reactivate our commitment to a sacred, conscious, vibrant life. It will serve as a guide all year long as we invite the cultivation of more responsible and robust collective consciousness.
The following quotes provide a partial list of resources that have inspired our thinking and ignited our conversations. Have something to add? Email Rabbi Emily at firstname.lastname@example.org and we might feature your contribution in our program!
As Abraham Joshua Heschel so wisely taught, awe is “more than an emotion; it is a way of understanding, an insight into a meaning greater than ourselves.”
In the Middle Ages this season of penitence and prayer is first referred to as the Yamim Noraim ימים נוראים - “Days of Awe.” It wasn’t until the 20th Century that American Jewry had translated the concept into the “High Holidays”. By bringing back the centrality of Awe this year, we seek to reignite the extraordinary opportunity that this time provides us: an opportunity for both private and public introspection and transformation, reflection and renewal.
The Hebrew word Yirah יראה is central to Jewish theology, liturgy and mythology. It is often translated as “fear” or “terror”, reflecting a long history of relating to the Divine and to the mysteries of life through fear. And yet, interestingly, “awe” is just as legitimate of a translation. This use invites us to embrace the mysteries of life not with trepidation but with tremendous awareness. Can we approach the extraordinary larger than life moments that we encounter with curiosity instead of rejection, rising with awe rather than recoiling with fear?
What if every moment was an opportunity for AWE?
As so many divisive factors in this country and our world continue to challenge our values and wellbeing, we turn to our deepest spiritual traditions and human tools tools to restore balance, demand justice, and reconnect to what unites us all.
This High and Holy Season we invite you into an exploration of what the practice of awe means to you, and how together we can make this year and this world more blessed, more balanced, and much more awesome.
– Rabbi amichai lau-lavie
“The meaning of awe is to realize that life takes place under wide horizons, horizons that range beyond the span of an individual life or even the life of a nation, a generation, or an era. Awe enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal.”
- Abraham Joshua Heschel
LISTEN: Artist-in-Residence Day Schildkret in Conversation with Artistic Director Ezra Bookman
“Ultimately, awe’s self-transcendent functions—including its ability to reduce self-focus and increase feelings of connectedness with others—are likely fundamental to its evolution. “Evolutionary claims about the functions of awe are predicated on the assumption that individuals attain goals (e.g., hunting large mammals) and fend off threats (e.g., warfare) more successfully in groups than alone,” write Jennifer Stellar, Keltner, and colleagues in a recent review (Stellar, Gordon, Piff, et al., 2017) . “Individuals reap the most benefits from group membership when those social groups are cohesive and stable, which requires reducing the self-interested motivations of each individual group member.” Thus, awe may have helped our ancestors to be less selfish and tend to the needs of their group, aiding in the survival of the group (and also themselves).”
WATCH: Awe Meditation
A meditation and video to help cultivate more awe in your life from Jason Silva, a modern philosopher who hosts weekly YouTube videos for his “Shots of Awe” series.
READ: The Creativity of Wonder
“Science easily gives us a deep sense of wonder, whether we are looking out onto the vast reaches of space, or are examining how our mind works, or are wondering how the variegated species on this earth arose. But even as we intellectually explore those ideas, there will always be an emotional aspect to that experience that we cannot describe in words.
After all, when we feel a moment of awe, we are not seeking to analyze or describe it. Our most powerful experiences, our most wondrous moments, our most significant encounters simply cannot be put into words, let alone dissected and scrutinized. Indeed, it is that very inability to describe those experiences that makes them so beautiful.
So no matter how often we look at a sunset, we will never cease to be amazed by it. No matter how accurately we understand the way babies develop in the womb, when we hold our child for the first time, we will never stop calling it “the miracle of birth.” We are simply overwhelmed by those experiences.
Religion is how we respond to that sense of awe. Religion doesn’t begin with trying to prove the existence of God. It doesn’t even begin with asking whether we “believe in God” or not. It begins with a moment of mystery. And even if we can scientifically explain that mystery, it will never lose its emotional impact.” - Rabbi Geoffrey A. Mitelman