Judaism Your Way


Rabbinic Intern Dan Yolles’ 2022 Erev Rosh Hashanah Sermon

As I was dancing with my wife and closest friends, seeing one of our favorite bands, The String Cheese Incident, on a perfect Sunday evening at Red Rocks for our annual tradition of catching their July Colorado run, I looked around, took a big deep breath and smiled.

I saw friends and family dressed in their flashiest most colorful clothing, dancing, laughing, cheering, and singing along. I heard people next to us guessing the songs they were about to play, hoping to hear that one that illuminates their souls, and brings them inspiration, connection and joy.

In the parking lot I noticed a variety of license plates from across the country, old friends reconnecting, hugging heart to heart, others shaking hands with new-found friends, and generations of families coming together for the show.

The atmosphere was thick with joy, happiness, positive energy, unbounded love and pure oneness. There was also a buzz in the crowd, everyone anxiously awaiting to hear who the special Sunday show surprise guest was. I had an epiphany right there at this moment, the parallel between my String Cheese Incident ritual, and gathering together for Rosh Hashanah.

There is a saying in the jam band community to “Never miss a Sunday show.” But what makes a Sunday show so special and where did that saying come from? Upon researching its origin, it is generally agreed upon that it came from the Grateful Dead, as they would usually end a multi-night run in a given city on a Sunday, and would often save their best songs, jams and special treats for the last night as a grand finale. It is also thought that it is perhaps a reward for fans for coming out on a Sunday, with work the next day, peeking around corner.

Upon deeper research I discovered that this tradition may have originated as far back as Mozart, as he would play multi-evening concerts, finish them on a Sunday, and save his best performance for last. Regardless of its true origins, it is still a ritual to this day for bands across many genres.

Back to Red Rocks, The String Cheese Incident played their opening song, one that I had predicted on the drive to Red Rocks! We then finally learned who the special Sunday surprise guest was… Grammy winning bluegrass guitar extraordinaire, Billy Strings! Along with Andy Hall from the Infamous String Dusters! We all went absolutely wild!

Cheese proceeded to play 3 amazing sets, one of them being an absolutely epic, full-on Grateful Dead cover set, and closed the 5 day run with and encore of one of my favorite songs, Bertha by the Grateful Dead.

I’ve seen The String Cheese Incident countless times and me, along with many other fans felt that this was one of their best shows in a very long time, if not ever!

For weeks after and even as I was writing this sermon, I felt renewed, restored, inspired, and energized. I feel so lucky to have gotten to see such a historic night, and still, as I tell this story to you this evening, I get goosebumps reminiscing about this amazing moment, and the power our ritual of seeing them every summer has on me.

The feeling of joy and renewal that I got from the show is also a feeling one can get from the High Holidays. That epiphany I had at Red Rocks reminded me of the importance of having at least a yearly ritual of emptying and re-filling our buckets, looking back on the past, letting go of what does not serve us, and recharging our light to shine as bright as it can.

In Judaism, Rosh Hashanah, which falls on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, is the time in our holiday cycle of renewing the soul and preparing it for the coming year. This year, Rosh Hashanah even falls on a Sunday!

Rosh Hashanah is also considered the ‘Head of the Year,’ the time when we count the years since creation. But this is actually technically not the first new year! The Hebrew month of Nissan is considered to be month one, the head of all the months. And according to the Torah, it is from the month of Nissan that the calendar of the holidays and festivals are set, which mostly align with the moon cycle.

Passover falls on the 15th of Nissan, the full moon and middle of the month. If Nissan is the first month, then the month of Tishrei is the 7th . Perhaps it is no coincidence that like the 7th day of the week, Shabbat, which is our day to rest, connect with the pleasures in our lives, and leave the baggage of the week at the door to renew ourselves and recharge for the week to come, holds similar energetic properties to this month of Tishrei.

For some, this is the one time in the year where the greater community comes together. At Judaism Your Way, it’s that special time where we all get to gather under this beautiful tent, right in the middle of the most beautiful garden in the city, and from the comfort of your home. We see old friends, and maybe make new ones. Some families come representing two, three, or more generations. We are all coming from different walks of life, all going through our own struggles, celebrations, and carrying the weight of the year. We may be feeling ready to make room for growth and rekindle our light that may have dimmed or been extinguished over the preceding year.

Just like some of us who go to see The String Cheese Incident or other favorite performers every year and hope to hear a certain special song, some  might be hopeful to hear that one melody that triggers the nostalgia of the High Holidays in history, recent or further back, that maybe reminds them of that loved one who came before.

Some might be seeking that new melody to cling to, to inspire them, and charge their souls to sustain them for the weeks months or year ahead. And some are eager to hear the sound of the shofar, vibrating in their bones, awakening feelings of being grounded.

And what better time to feel a sense of renewal in our souls? When thinking of the energetic qualities of this time in our seasonal cycle, the arrival of autumn where in many places, trees and plants shed their leaves and plant matter of which, does not serve them, some plants and animals are preparing for hibernation, to then be re-born and make room for new growth in the coming the spring, it makes sense for us to mark this time as a moment of purging what is old, and calling in renewal.

For us, schools are back in session, educators are back at work and it may be a time for others to start anew. Month one on the Hebrew calendar, Nissan is when the physical world begins their process of renewal, and Tishrei, the Hebrew month we are just beginning, is the spirit’s time for renewal.

This year, what I am taking into the new year, is the reminder of how beneficial it can be to have a ritual of some kind that offers the soul a chance to press refresh, discharge the muck, to make room for a fresh new vessel of light. For me, it is my shared experience with my friends at Red Rocks, making a list of qualities and feelings I am carrying that I would like to let go of, brain storming ways that I can be and do better, reconnecting with those in my life I have lost touch with or who I have wronged, and being here, with all of you, hear under our Open Tent, and in our virtual community.

I invite you to reflect on any ritual you have that brings you the same or similar sense of letting go, calling in, and renewal and joy. Maybe it is being here with us for our High Holiday experience, or seeing your favorite performers, or maybe you’re trying to find what that ritual is.

What would you like to do to create a yearly ritual? What do you need to call into your presence that will help you recharge the batteries of your body and soul? What sustains you, brings you joy, and sets your sights to what is to come?

To conclude, I would like share some clips of wisdom I adapted from the song Joyful Sound by the String Cheese Incident that I invite you to bring into your world at this time of renewal and joy:

Take time to give thanks, make time to be giving
Gonna stop and think twice about the way that we’re living
Did I say a kind word, am I proud of my actions
You know a job well done gives us much satisfaction
Greet everyday with full purpose, passion and pride
Let’s follow our hearts and have nothing to hide
Can we earn your trust, your love and affection
Just one step at a time in the right direction
Gonna aim for the sky, keep our feet on the ground
Raise our voices to the heavens, make a joyful sound

Finally, my blessing to you, as the Grateful Dead said: “Wake now; discover that you are the song the morning brings; there is nothing left to do but Smile, Smile, Smile, and never miss a Sunday Show…”

Rabbinic Intern Dan Yolles