Erev Rosh Hashanah 5779: Kavanah for Hash-ki-veinu

By: Rabbi Jeff Stombaugh

My Zayda was a doctor and in his wit and wisdom coined a few phrases in our family, one being: “It’s always worse at night.” This was the refrain that evolved in response to our modern-haunts: an ear infection, sniffle, heartbreak, and grief-stricken evening. It’s always worse at night – was a reminder that whatever “it” was, the hurt, concern, or worry was would pass, or was best served to be picked up in the morning after a needed sleep. Maybe – as it became ingrained into our family culture – it was even like feeling the comforting embrace of Zayda.

Hashkiveinu is a prayer about comfort and embrace. This piece of liturgy evolved during a time when there was real fear about the terrors that haunted the night. Creatures, demons, even bad memories, warranted the need for a special kind of protection. And though now we may have evolved into a new awareness about what haunts us the night, it does remain true that the night can be haunting.

This year, we don’t have to imagine the real demons, memories, or realities that haunt our individual and collective consciousness. And Hashkiveinu is – I believe – not only in our liturgy to help us receive the embrace of the divine mystery of the universe and the Jewish tradition, but it’s there to remind us that it’s okay to ask for help. Hashkiveinu is a request for that embrace: provide a shelter over us to give us protection and comfort, because we need to be held. We don’t sing ufros aleinu sukot shlomecha to be rid of what haunts us, we sing to be better suited to pick ourselves up in the morning, and in the new year after these days of awe; renewed by the embrace of L-O-V-E and community.

So, what I implore you to do now, or as we sing, or through the course of our services that instruct us to audit our deepest sense of self – is to ask to be held. Make the request and let the music hold you. Let the hebrew hold you. Let the prayer embrace and comfort and renew and strengthen your soul to face whatever may lie ahead.