My Rosh Hashanah this year was a bit different than previous years. My responsibilities were such that I had the joyous opportunity to spend much of the time mingling with the congregation.
Typically, the bima has been my inescapable perch, but with my rabbinic role changing, for parts of the service, I am now able to be in the pews with the Jews. And so, as I strolled up and down aisles, speaking with folks at appropriate times, I saw something I hadn’t expected. I noticed that many of the regular daveners were not sitting in their Shabbos seats. One family that typically sat on the right side of the sanctuary was now sitting on the left side. A couple that ordinarily were in the back row now were up front. One after another were not to be found in their chazaka spots in the shul. They were not displaced because of the crowds nor because their seats were purchased for the High Holy Days by others. Everyone I spoke with explained their repositioning was because they wanted a different spiritual perspective for these Days of Awe. I got it because I too experienced services differently than in years past. Not being a player. Not being a maestro. Not being in the midst of the pomp for dramatic parts of the service enabled me to see the majesty and the beauty from afar. I was enraptured by Adonai, Adonai when the ark was open. I was chilled by the blast of the shofar. Overwhelmed by the soulful Hinneni.
There is a touching legend that the Almighty chose to visit earth to see what it was like to be human. In disguise, He wandered from place to place observing the behavior of mortals. Farmers harvesting their crops in the heat of day. Merchants selling their wares in the market place. Parents tucking in their children at night. He traveled far and wide and when He saw all that He wished to see He returned to the Heavens ever wiser.
As we begin a new year, perhaps a fresh perspective will enrich us all as we seek to be moved, past familiar and beyond routine.