As we mark the month of Elul, countdown to the start of another fresh New Year, we face it with more trepidation than usual. Each year, as we say the prayers, and especially as Yom Kippur reaches Yizkor, we know the theory that we may not be here next year to say the words, to hear and sing the familiar tunes. This year we know it is not only theoretical. We have been reminded of the frailty of our lives, the limits to even the best medical practices, the stark awareness that we are a lucky few in a world where most do not have such access.
If we are one of the minyan that can attend a funeral, we may don gloves to yield the shovel’s three shots, or we may have only our hands with which to throw the dust on to the dust, or clay on to clay. But this is not the first time in our long and challenging survival that we have faced such risks – or others, even more unthinkable. The tradition to replace the shovel in the soil before the next person takes it is surely testament to previous plagues and fear of infection that we have survived, collectively if not individually.
God does not cause plagues or take lives – let’s put that to rest for ever. But God is with us, in supporting us, in our support, care and love for others, as we face the current challenges, as we prepare for a New Year, a fresh start despite them all. God, the eternal spirit of the universe, was with our ancestors through all their trials since Abraham and Sarah, and will be with us, and those after us, as we carry our tradition forward into 5781 in hope and gratitude for our lives, for our community of faith, and for all we so readily take for granted.
-- Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black, Leo Baeck Centre, Melbourne