From the Rabbi - September 2013 Print
Dear Members of CBI:

    Phyllis and I send you our most heartfelt and sincere good wishes for the coming New Year.  We hope and pray that it will be a year of health and happiness, successful achievements and the absolute minimum of disappointments.  5774 will be a notable year, as well, for our congregation, as we prepare to welcome a new rabbi.  May our Search Committee be blessed with wonderful applicants and with wisdom and discernment as they seek a new leader for our community.

     Members of the congregation are often both kind and discreet; you don’t often say what is on your mind, especially if the remarks are tinged with a negative slant.  So, let me share with you one largely unspoken comment.  It’s about the High Holydays in general, but especially about Yom Kippur.  Here’s the gist of what I’ve occasionally heard (and what I suppose is more commonly suppressed):

“What a downer!  All we do is talk about sin.  Yom Kippur is not only a tiring and long day, but it’s insufferably depressing.  Let’s lighten up a bit.”

Let me respond with three comments.

    First, if you are familiar with the typical Shabbat services, you might recognize that fifty-one weeks during the year we hardly ever talk about sin.  In the typical Friday evening service, the word does not even appear, though we do once mention faults and allude to sorrows.  Still, even if you place the entirety of Yom Kippur in the context of the full year, one could argue pretty easily that, rather than over-emphasize sin, we focus more on the opportunities we have to do good.

    Second, is it so wrong once-in-a-while to remind ourselves of our own imperfections?  Spiritual honesty ought to compel us occasionally to confront the darker side of our personalities.  To be sure, we don’t enjoy being reminded of the occasions when we fell short of the ideal, but those moments are as much our reality as are happier and better times.  If we enjoy the latter experiences, then candor requires that we also acknowledge times that fell short of glorious and laudable success.
    
    Finally, I especially want to speak to those of you who absent yourselves from the concluding service.  From my vantage, you are missing the best part of Yom Kippur.  During the afternoon, we move from a general and quiet spiritual searching to the Yizkor service.  Just at the moment when our vulnerability is enhanced by hunger, fatigue and the words we speak, we turn to the ultimate downer, the deaths of loved ones and the contemplation of our own mortality.  But then something remarkable occurs.  Here are the words:  “Now, as evening falls, light dawns within us; hope and trust revive.  The shadow that darkened our spirit is vanished and through the passing cloud there breaks, with the last rays of the setting sun, the radiance of Your forgiving peace.  We are restored, renewed by Your love.”
    
    Yes, you might think of Yom Kippur as a lugubrious day.  But only if you miss its optimistic and joyous conclusion.  Make it to the Ne’ilah (concluding) service, and I promise you that you will leave the synagogue buoyed on a wave of positive feeling and hope.

    Shanah tovah tikateivu,
    Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi