As Rosh Hashanah is now less than 24 hours away, I am moving out of the frenetic preparations into the Zen state of recognizing that the work is as done as it will be. Now is the time for review and anticipation. It is, in many ways, much like leaving the bridal store after the final dress fitting. Allow me to share with you the ways these two things--a High Holy Day sermon and a wedding dress--are similar:
-A topic is not chosen randomly, nor is a wedding dress. Each requires self-awareness and a sense of style during the selection process. Just as I would never wear a mermaid style dress (I'm just too short), there are certain topics or manners of speaking which will not be a part of my repertoire. Said a different way--know your body type, know your speaking style!
-One must get in shape to wear a wedding dress and to give a High Holy Day sermon. These things don't just happen overnight. I learned recently that brides are the most motivated personal training clients since they have their eyes on a specific goal. Similarly, nothing motivates a rabbi to research, write, and edit like the impending holy days. There is tremendous practice and time invested in these sermons, and one's pre-wedding exercise routine.
-Both are only worn once. A wedding dress is for a specific place and moment in time, as is a High Holy Day sermon. That isn't to say that the sermon cannot make a repeat appearance...but certainly not with the same crowd! A lot of time, energy, and resources are put into this one-time-only piece. After it is done, the dress and the sermon each are placed lovingly in a box to be kept for posterity.
-Both are memorable, at least for that day. I am fortunate to stand under the chuppah with many a bride and groom, and I am pleased to say that I remember many of the dresses I've seen. Yet, the dresses I remember are those that have a story, were worn by someone who I came to know and understand through the preparatory meetings, and were memorable because of the joy and intention with which they were worn. In the same way, the sermons I remember (my own and others) were those which had meaning. They spoke to a relationship between speaker and listener, they were authentic, they were intentional. Every sermon seems interesting for a time, just as every wedding dress seems to be "the most beautiful ever." Yet, we leave the synagogue and before we know it, it is in the past and hard to recall.
As an aside, another similarity in this area is that trainwrecks are memorable! No one forgets the fashion nightmare or the sermon disaster. In the age of YouTube, that is even more true.
All of this is not to diminish either the wedding dress or the High Holy Day sermon. Rather, it is a reminder that even though there are moments when each feels momentous--the most important thing in one's life to date--the reality is that they are transient. The wedding will end, the holiday will conclude, and then it is on to the next thing: making meaning out of the moments to come. Shanah tovah!