The sun, as it is wont to do in this season, has been rising later and later. And I having been rising earlier and earlier to get to Selichot this week.
This morning, as I ventured out in the dark at about 5:45, I turned a corner on the way to shul and happened to glance up at the moon, now in its last crescent. A bright object close to it (a star, a planet, a space station) caught my eye, and as I looked up, I realized that the sky was full of bright lights. It was remarkably clear, quite dark, and the usual city lights weren't as annoying for some reason, and I saw the stars like I haven't seen them in a few months or more. There, right above me, was my old buddy Orion, the only constellation I ever recognize.
In an early section of his posthumous Or HaRaayon, Rav Meir Kahane, zt'l, speaks of the fact that many of the founding figures of Israel- the Avot, the Shevatim, Moshe, David- were shepherds. (I believe he may have been citing others who point this out. And I wonder if it's a coincidence that Hevel, not Kayin, was a shepherd.) The job, Rav Kahane continues, is well suited for meditation, introspection, and the like. You're out there with the sheep, not too active, staying awake at night, just watching over them. You start to think, to wonder- and to look up at the stars, and marvel at the grandeur of creation. It's not surprising that such people thought about the big ideas, and the meaning of it all, and came to find God.
That was me, shortly before six this morning. All of a sudden, 72nd Drive melted away, there were all of the thousands of visible stars instead of New York's relative handful, and I was on some hilltop in the Fertile Crescent, leaning on a crook and thinking some deep thoughts as the new year approaches.
If only for a moment. It's cold, I'm tired, I must get to shul, to work...and I'm back on a sidewalk, with nary a sheep to be seen. But the feeling lingers for a while.
I begin to understand waking early for Selichot. The feeling may be gone now- or soon- but there's always tomorrow morning.