Summer is ending. The dry season is almost over. But still, the trees are filled with green leaves. The grass has grown tall. The weeds and vines are thick. There has been much growth. But it is all coming to an end. We know that the leaves are beginning to turn yellow. The grasses are making their dry flowers and fruit. The weeds and vines are choking each other for space. Very little is left to bloom. We can all feel the change. The hot days and nights of summer are almost over. My eastern family already feels a nip of autumn in the air. The year's growth is over, the time for decay is beginning. How can it be that this is the time for Rosh haShannah? How can this be the beginning of our new year? Why does our tradition tell us that God created the world at this time of year when all growth appears to be withering?
The time has come to begin pruning. The growth is too thick. The vines are so thick we can't find a path. The leaves are so dense we can hardly see the sky. In order to truely create we need to clean the slate.
So it is with God.
The Jewish mystics who lived in the Israeli town of Tfat had an interesting idea. We are taught that God is everywhere and fills everything. God is in us, the chairs we sit on, the floor underneath them, the walls that surround us and the air that flows among us. God is like the energy that causes everything to happen. But even more than that: God is perfect. God is all good. Fine.... We sort of accept that even if we have difficulty believing it that. It feels good. But. If that is so, why do we get headaches? Why do we have a hard time finding our keys? Our world is imperfect. We know that from our own lives. Why?
These mystics taught that God so completely filled the universe that there was no space available for the creation of the world. Like a balloon that is blown up so filled with air that there's no more space left for one more breath, or it would burst!
So God had to do something special. Like now, at the end of summer, God decided that in order to create the world, it was important to prune the garden. Instead of blowing that next breath into the balloon, God inhaled, took some breath out of the balloon. God contracted some of the divine qualities in order to make room for the creation of the world.
I know, it's a little hard to imagine. But each of us stands at a special moment in our lives. The kids probably feel it more than the adults: we've been living an easy summer. Playing and enjoying ourselves. Now the time has come to get back to work. Take a close look at the loose ends of our lives our tzitzit. Prune off those branches that are growing in the wrong direction. We need our energy to be directed. Rake up the leaves as they fall to the ground. We'll soon be able to see the stars in the sky to know the right way. And the leaves have done their part for the past year. They've produced much growth and now they belong in the compost heap. There, as memories, they will settle in and add greater richness for the soil of future growing. We need to cut through the tight growth of vines and weeds that have been allowed to grow so freely to find new clear paths for the coming year.
But our tradition tells us something else too. You remember that at the beginning of creation God made light. This was not the light of the sun, moon and stars, nor was it the light we use here in this room. No, it was an inner light that we all feel inside us that glows with a special brilliance when we take the time to focus our attention on it. The problem is that this light was too bright for the world that God had begun to create. God had not contracted enough. The light was too powerful and it burst the bounds of the universe. It was as if God had taken in that last breath of the balloon and filled the now empty space. But the energy that God put in it was more than the balloon could hold and it shattered.
Tiny sparks of that light spread all through the universe. They settled into every smallest thing that God created. These sparks are in the shoes we wear, the plates we eat from, and of course ourselves and our neighbors.
Each of us has a special spark from the brilliant spiritual light of creation. Our sparks are like the golden juicy orange. They are caught tightly inside the tough shell of the fruit. We need to peal away the skin to find the wonderful fruit. We can't afford to leave it hidden. We need to share that goodness with the world and find that spark that is in each of our neighbors.
Each of us is like a wonderful garden. This is how our future garden will grow. We will find that special spark that is inside and prune away the unruly growth, we will clean up the leaves and make new paths for learning by removing the weeds.
A special little traditional ritual for Rosh haShannah helps us focus on this activity. We all collect things we're better of without. Some of these things are bad habits, others are too many piles of old papers and magazines and for others there are all the bread crumbs lying around. Much of this is like lint and everyone has lint. Lint has a way of collecting in our pockets, like bad habits and extra papers. Now is a good time to clean ourselves of lint. And the traditional ritual is to go to a body of flowing water and empty our pockets of lint. This is a reminder and a symbol that we want to clean ourselves of all the little things that clutter up our lives. It is a reminder that better than the lint, we have special sparks that are part of God's wonderful light. It is a reminder that at this special time when the world is closing down, it is time for us to prune our own personal gardens to find the center where our spark lives. There it will be able to rest quietly and begin to grow again freely in the new year.