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A Chatimah for the summer

This morning I turned the page of our calendar. September 1st, wishing I could leave it on August for a bit longer.

I don’t hate all endings.

Some endings are welcome— some are even celebrated.

A final car payment? Sounds great!

The end of a course of antibiotics? Love it.

Last day of school? I am here to celebrate.

But the end of summer?

No thank you. In my bones, I hate the end of the summer.

It is an ending that brings with it so many feelings: wistfulness, sadness, gratitude, and sometimes, dread.

It’s the kind of ending that feels like sand slipping through your fingers, no matter how much you try to hold on.

I am a summer person: I love everything about it— the warmth, the change of routine, the longer days and starry nights. In this season of my life, there is the added joy of kids being happy away at camp, while we have the opportunity to remember who we are as adults in the world, with more freedom than the rest of the year offers. I love the sunshine, and the evenings on the porch, and getting away to the ocean. I love the smell of sunscreen, and the intense red of late summer tomatoes. Here in the Berkshires, I love the return of familiar faces, and the way in which a summertime Shabbat seems to stretch out, with room enough to hold it all.

My kids have reminded me that technically, summer isn’t over until September 20th. But, with school in full swing, and the High Holy Days and Religious School almost in the 10 day forecast, it’s hard not to feel like Labor Day Weekend is the official end of summer. And so, for the last week or so— as I anticipated this ending, I have been on a quest to wrestle a blessing out of it— to find some way to mark this ending with perhaps a touch less of the dread than comes naturally.

In seeking a way to lean into this transitional season, I was reminded of the beauty and wisdom about endings that is right in our Jewish prayer tradition. Embedded in the very way that we pray is an acknowledgement of endings—-

And so, a brief liturgy lesson:

Of all the ways that we pray together as Jews, prayer as blessing is most common.

And it comes with a formula, literally:

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha’Olam

Blessed Are You Adonai, Our God, Ruler of the Universe…..

And then: we bless it all.

We name God as the source of all good things— we offer blessings for the twilight as day becomes night.

We pray that evening will bring rest, and that tomorrow we’ll rise up renewed.

We bless our ancestors, and God’s might, we give thanks for the day of Shabbat, and for miracle of creation, and the fruit of the vine, and after we have offered all of these blessings—- outlining and remembering and retelling all of the beautiful nuances of God’s work in this world, we conclude with a chatimah.

We conclude as we began: Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha’Olam… and in that one line, we end with blessing.

The word chatimah holds multiple meanings, with one of the more literal understandings being as a “stamp” or “seal”. We use this rendering of the word chatimah to refer to the one line blessing that comes at the end of every prayer—distilling the essence of that prayer.

Each prayer, each benediction is concluded in this way.

When we pray that evening will bring rest, and that tomorrow we’ll rise up renewed, we finish by saying “Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha’Olam, haporeis sukkat shalom aleinu v’al kol amo Yisrael v’al Yerushalyim.”, blessing God for stretching a canopy of peace and wholeness over all of us.

When we offer blessings for God’s creation— for the way that day becomes night as light rolls into darkness, we conclude “Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha’Olam, ha’maariv aravim”, blessing God as the one who causes evening to fall.

A whole prayer, a whole liturgical experience is bookended with blessing— and that chatimah invites us to end with one final blessing that speaks to the essence of that particular prayer.

We seal up all of that good kavanah— all of our intentions when we pray with a chatimah— a seal: like those beautiful wax seals on a fancy envelope, the chatimah offers an ending with blessing.

In our own Reform prayerbook, Mishkan T’filah, the inclusion of chatimot was intentional: after every prayer, whether in the original Hebrew or creative and poetic renderings, there is a single line of blessing.

As Cantor Andrew Bernard writes:

In Mishkan T’filah, the chatimah can be used to signal the end of a prayer—and thus indicating to the congregation that they should turn the page—and/or as a musical transition from one prayer to another. The chatimot are rendered below in simple form according to traditional Eastern Europeannusach, the characteristic modal/melodic atmosphere that changes from service to service and between rubrics within a service. (It is said that a Jew could be blindfolded and led into the synagogue, and could tell you from the melodies what day and what time of day it was.) In the cantorial art of chazzanut, the cantor would improvise upon these outlines with emotional and spiritual artistry, lifting the prayers of the people to even greater heights.

If we look at these single lines of blessing that are used to mark the ending of the prayer not only literally, but metaphorically too, I think that we find rich possibility for how we might let seasons shift and endings take root with intention. Like that cantor who improvises with emotional and spiritual artistry, we can end with a flourish, with beauty.

A second understanding of chatimah: not only stamp or seal, but the word itself can also mean signature. When your bill arrives after dinner in Tel Aviv, you’ll be asked to add your chatimah to the kabbalah– or, sign the receipt. And what is a signature if not an intentional acknowledgement of what has been. We sign the check, we sign the contract, we sign the ketubah, and with that chatimah, we affirm all that has been, even as we look forward to what might yet be. We put our name on it. Scrawled across the bottom of a slip of paper, we affirm our attention.

And so tonight, which feels so much like the last Shabbat of summer, what blessing might we offer looking back on the months gone by, and how might we make this Shabbat a living chatimah to the summer? How might we offer this time as a seal and signature on this season as we prepare to turn to another?

First then, a word about blessing.

To allow this summer to write itself on our hearts as a blessing does not mean that it was all, and only good. A blessing need not be reserved only for joy and sweetness— blessings can allow us to bring God into the moments that are more challenging. Prayer is one way that we allow ourselves to name and honor the full breadth of our experiences.

Yes. I adore summer.

I am sad for this summer to end.

And, it was not all sunshine and lemonade uninterrupted for three months.

Looking back on the summer that has been, thinking not only of myself, but of this community, and of the world at large, this season has also been punctuated by illness and the effects of a still lingering public health situation,, by climate crisis and political and social divisions. For some of us, the summer brought personal loss, and for others, it was a time of unwelcome changes to our family, to our health, and to our livelihoods.

Blessing invites us to hold both truths in our hands.

We bless the quiet moments of peace and calm.

The balmy night on our porch before the mosquitos get to work.

We bless the exultant moments of joy and inspiration.

The beauty of the art, or music, or stories that we encountered.

We bless the plans we made, and we bless the ways in which our plans changed.

We bless the hard work of our hands, and we bless the lessons we learned when our gardens didn’t grow.

We bless the gift of a full house, and we bless the quiet that comes with solitude.

In truth, I think the real reason that I love summer so deeply, is that it seems able to hold it all. These longer days, adding hours of possibility—- more time to turn from challenge to blessing. It’s a time of sweet and delicious abundance; one that I wish I could bottle up for those days when the sun is gone before supper, and it feels that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.

And so a chatimah feels like the perfect way: spiritual superglue to make those lessons stick in our hearts— a way to seal and sign this season of abundance up with words of blessing.

In just a few weeks, as we make our way from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, our greetings to one another will shift from Shana Tovah u’Metukah, to G’mar Chatimah Tovah. From “A sweet new year” to “May you have a good Chatimah— a good sealing within the Book of Life”. For those of us approaching this transitional season with apprehension, perhaps that’s the real challenge— to allow endings to be endings so that they might give way to new beginnings.

And so: a chatimah for us all, as we move from one season to the next:

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha’Olam, mishenah itim u’machalif ha’zmanim.

Blessed Are you God, Source of All that Is in the World— you cause seasons to change and time to move forward.

And that, is an incredible blessing.

May this Shabbat ahead be one of sweet abundance.

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