Earth Etude for Elul 28: The Falls and the Pebbles

by Rabbi Michael Birnholz

It’s not novel or unique.  Judaism is built on riding the energy of oscillations between values and experiences.  From every day to holiness or transcendence/ein sof to shechinah/immanence or sadness/tsuris to joy/simcha, we flow from one state of being or perspective, generating energy as we move. One of these oscillations takes us from the big picture to the small detail and back again.  We each have illustrations of this very motion, experiencing it in different times and places.  In this Elul, in this time of reflection, I will carry a recent trip to Yosemite National Park in my heart and mind. On one afternoon, my family and I hiked to the base of the Lower Yosemite Falls.  As we walked up, we could see the incredible thousands of feet of the full falls pouring down from the cliffs above.  Taking in this magnificent, expansive sight, we could sense the age of this place, as the water cut into the granite, and the scale, as we could feel the height of the walls of the canyon and the power of the water rushing down into the river before us.  Shortly after taking in the view of the falls, we followed the trail past a cluster of boulders and went down to the river bank.  We delighted to take off our shoes and rest our feet in the cold glacial water.  As the water rushed past, I reached down and scooped a handful of pebbles from the bottom of the river.  I turned them in my hand, seeing the colors and shapes of these tiny pieces of rock, shaped over time by so many forces. From the immense size and power of the falls, here I was looking at these individual fragments of the mountains surrounding me. 

For me, during this season of reflection, this experience of the falls and the pebbles embodies the work I need to do.  Take in the big picture, whether looking back at the past year or ahead to the approaching year of 5782.  Then, narrow my focus.  From that wide view, finding one detail or component that needs my awareness or attention.  I must remember that it is not just seeing the two perspectives, its also gathering energy from the act of shifting back and forth.  I can’t settle on one but need both the dilation and contraction to make my way from one year into the next.

Rabbi Michael Birnholz arrived at Temple Beth Shalom in Vero Beach in 2002 following his ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.  Over the almost 20 years that Rabbi Birnholz has been in Indian River County, he and his family have had a chance to grow in body, mind and spirit right along with Temple Beth Shalom.  Rabbi Birnholz enthusiastically shares his ruach and koach -spirit and strength – with the many diverse generations and facets of the Jewish community. From the biblical garden to tot Shabbat, from Men’s club breakfast to adult learning while making challah, Rabbi Birnholz is proud to be part of vibrant and meaningful life of his congregation.  Rabbi Birnholz has also enjoyed his wide variety of community opportunities to teach and preach Jewish values and wisdom. His hope is to build Temple Beth Shalom into a House of wholeness, harmony and peace and see these efforts spread caring, compassion and justice to the whole Treasure Coast and beyond.  

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