Rosh Hashanah came two days after Labor Day. On Labor Day we hosted a little get together. Our little get together coincided with a massive plumbing problem. Pregnant wife, potty-training 2 year old, company, holidays, no flushing toilets– unsustainable.
Fortunately I’d already had a few plumbers come give quotes to fix the problem and I called the one that I thought could get the job done. So today, amidst all the Rosh Hashanah preparations that take place in a two-rabbi household we also had a tractor in our front yard along with an 8 foot deep hole. And then there were Darrell and Cody– fixing the hole.
I came home from work to find Darrell and Cody up to their necks in the hole. I was carrying my shofar, it being Erev Rosh Hashanah. First Darrell tried to pull one on me by telling me he was going to have to rip up my entire driveway. Then I asked Cody about his awesome tattoo– a Gibson guitar with a dove. It was an homage to his grandfather who taught him to play on a Gibson– a Gibson Dove. Then Cody asked me about my shofar. I explained and then gave it a blow– rabbis can’t resist teachable moments. At that point Darrell chimed in that his grandmother had a hollowed out bull’s horn that she used to call in the boys from the farm. Between Cody’s Gibson (I’ve got a Gibson as well) and Darrell’s grandmother’s shofar, I know we all were thinking how much we have in common even though our paths would’ve never crossed if they weren’t there to fix my sewer line. I think I made a comment to Darrell along the lines of, “If you go far enough back all that stuff is connected” by which I meant his grandmother, Cody’s grandfather and all our ancestry. All this with Cody and Darrell down in the hole.
Eventually I went inside and greeted my wife, who thought that my shofar demo was just about the funniest thing she’d ever heard. We had a good laugh. Then I accidentally flushed the toilet, flooding the hole in which Cody and Darrell were standing. It’s a good thing Yom Kippur is coming up because I feel pretty bad about that.
Later that evening I made my way to Emory to lead the Reform High Holy Day Services. Before “Shalom Rav,” the evening prayer for peace, I took a moment to reflect on the horrible war in Syria and also told the story of the common humanity I’d found between me, Cody, and Darrell. I also took a moment to dwell on the idea of “roots.” Roots are important– they’re what ground us and make us feel connected to community, faith, tradition and so on. But roots can also cause problems. Cody and Darrell entered my life to remove a root that was clogging my sewer line. Part of the trouble we face as a species has to do with roots. Take Syria– how can we ever get to the root of the conflict there? Short of pulling up the rotting and dangerous roots, how can we ever expect to see meaningful peace, or at least an end to the senseless killing?
Judaism takes roots very seriously. They’re the foundation of our faith and also the building blocks of the Hebrew language. We also take peace very seriously. One of the reasons I’m able to be authentic as a rabbi is because every Jewish communal prayer experience has at least one, if not multiple prayers for peace.
So the image of Cody and Darrell digging up the roots in my front yard, and the little piece of common humanity we found in one another, is an important image for me this High Holy Days. Maybe it’s because I had to deal with a plumbing emergency on Erev Rosh Hashanah. That’s certainly memorable enough. But maybe it’s because there’s something to the idea of getting to the root of our problems by celebrating the roots of our common humanity.
If you need a plumber let me know. I’ve got a good one I can refer you too…