Darkness on the Edge of Rosh Hashanah

Bruce Springsteen came to Washington the other night -- Friday night, to be exact -- but since Springsteen concerts are religious experiences, I figured it was okay for us to be at Nationals Park for what seemed to be most of Shabbat. This was my fourth concert on this tour, and, for whatever reason, they keep getting better. I think Springsteen goes harder the older he gets. I was interested to see how he would address the upcoming election, given his audience (an extraordinary number of journalists, and an equally extraordinary number of lobbyists -- I saw one guy who I believe works for Patton Boggs, the huge influence-peddling shop, mouthing the words to Springsteen's kill-the-bankers song, "Jack of All Trades -- "If I had me a gun/ I'd find the bastards and shoot 'em on sight" -- which I thought was pretty funny.)

In fact, Springsteen didn't say much of anything about the race from the stage. He is obviously supporting Obama, but so far he has stayed away from campaigning. The set list, though, was like an indictment of every-man-for-himself Ryanism. First he played "My Love Will Not Let You Down," and "The Ties That Bind," both of which could be heard as pleas for community, for understanding that we're all connected, and all responsible for each other (the second song more than the first). Then he wheeled into "We Take Care of Our Own," which served as a bridge to songs of economic devastation: "Wrecking Ball," "Death to My Hometown," and "My City in Ruins." It was pretty obvious to me what he was doing. I mentioned my theory to David Corn, who was standing next to me, and he noted that Springsteen opened with "Prove it All Night," which is about... proving it all night. I acknowledged to David that the theory was imperfect. But I think the set list was particularly pointed.

And speaking of religion, Springsteen fans, like Dylan fans, can find deep meaning in almost any song, and my friend Erica Brown, the Torah scholar, is no different (it helps that her first synagogue was in Asbury Park, N.J.). Her Rosh Hashanah essay on Springsteen is worth reading in full, but here's an excerpt:

Bruce knew what to do with the pain. He translated his struggles into music: "Those wounds stay with you, and you turn them into a language and a purpose." At one concert, he told his adoring audience: "We're repairmen -- repairmen with a toolbox." The darkness on the edge of town is sometimes so close that we can reach out and touch it. And at times, the darkness within is so palpable that we understand what it means to be born to run. We run away from the scars of difficulty and the encounter with our past and our inadequacies, even as they stare us boldly in the face.

I wonder what Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi of Palestine, would have said to Springsteen, one boss to another, so to speak. In "Lights of Repentance," Rabbi Kook wrote that "the inner pain of repentance is a great theme for the poets of sorrow to strike upon their harps and for artists of tragedy to thereby reveal their talents." Use the darkness to shed light. Leverage the inner turmoil for goodness because pain is a universal language. The artists who are able to harness it can bring others to a place of solace and change. The repairman in one helps bring out the repairman in another....

We are now in the month of Elul, readying ourselves for the Days of Awe. They are days when we tremble, when we face our own inner demons as a people and as individuals. This may not mean depression for most but it does for some. And for all of us, it means looking inside even when inside does not look too good. While we look forward to the newness of the holiday season, there are doors that will be re-opened that we will not easily confront. They are the doors into the soul that we would rather not face but ones that our prayers and penitence force us to encounter.

The entire team here at the glass-enclosed Goldblog nerve center wishes everyone celebrating Rosh Hashanah a meaningful holiday.