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Home From the Rabbi From the Rabbi - September 2016
From the Rabbi - September 2016 PDF Print E-mail
Repent now! Avoid the Yom Kippur rush!

Traditional Jewish sources understand Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur through the metaphor of judicial proceedings. On Rosh Hashanah we go before God, the Heavenly Judge, as we are judged on our sins of the past year. And just as we would before an earthly court appearance, we are expected to prepare in advance of our trial. The month preceding the High Holy Days - Elul – is thus a period of emotional and spiritual preparation. In the coming month Jewish tradition encourages us to engage in introspection, to seek forgiveness from those we have hurt in the past year, to establish positive goals for the New Year, and to take the time to draw closer to God.

Our primary task in this month of heshbon hanefesh (“accounting of the soul”) is to engage in teshuvah (repentance). Our tradition tells us that it was in this month that Moses pled for forgiveness for the people of Israel on Mt. Sinai after the sin of the Golden Calf, beseeching God to forgive the errant Israelites. Having received forgiveness on our behalf, Moses is said to have descended from the holy mountain on Yom Kippur with a new set of tablets of the Ten Commandments. Like Moses we are asked to seek forgiveness for ourselves and others at this time by engaging in sincere repentance, by facing God and ourselves honestly, so that we may emerge with renewed vision and commitment to our faith and to being more moral and compassionate people.

To these ends our tradition includes a variety of communal and individual customs that focus on this task of self-examination and repentance, including: Blowing the shofar every weekday morning to act as an ethical wake up call,
  • Reciting Chapter 27 of Psalms - declaring faith in God - as part of our daily prayers,
  • Studying the Makhzor (High Holy Day prayerbook),
  • Giving tzedakah (charity),
  • Attending Selichot services in which we sing Psalms and poems of forgiveness and repentance
  • Taking time during each day of the coming month for personal reflection, meditation and prayer (come to think of it, this is a pretty good idea for the rest of the year too!)
  • Actively seeking forgiveness from others we have hurt during the past year. Our tradition teaches us that God can only truly forgive us for those sins we have committed against God and so we are expected to face up not only to the things we have done wrong in the past year but to have the courage to face those we have wronged. This is because repentance is not just about making ourselves feel better but about actually being better and fixing what we have broken.
All good things require hard work and preparation, including sincere repentance. We can all benefit from taking more time to examine our lives and consider how we can be better Jews and more moral human beings – myself very much included. And anyone who has tried to do last minute holiday shopping knows how much more difficult and frustrating it is to shop when we leave it to the last possible moment. So we should take the opportunity Jewish tradition affords us in the month of Elul to start our repentance and spiritual self-examination early and avoid rushing such an important task in the Days of Awe.

I wish everyone a happy and healthy New Year and hope that we are all able to engage in a meaningful heshbon hanefesh, emerging revitalized, and renewed to face the next year.

Rabbi Ilan Emanuel

 

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