on Wednesday, 22 August 2012.
“You can’t go home again.” -- Thomas Wolfe
“All that God desires is your return.” – Babylonian Talmud
September represents a rare opportunity to change our destiny. In spite of the passage of a year and the erosions of time, God grants us, through these holidays, the ability to turn back the clock and reverse the natural order of things. The greatest purpose of this unique season is to allow us a second chance—to give us the ability to go home.
The Jewish High Holy Days are a time of spiritual elevation, religious intensity, and ritual beauty. Everything is at an improved level, from the music to the sermons to the shine on the wooden pews. Expectations rise: perhaps this explains why this period is known as the High Holy Days…
In fact there are many names for the two most religiously powerful festivals of the entire Jewish year that fall during these Yamim Nor’aim, the Days of Awe, which incorporates the Aseret Yemai Teshuvah, the Ten Days of Repentance, the time from Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year, through Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. These specific holiest of days have multiple names, too: for Rosh HaShanah they are Hayom Harat Olam the birthday of the world, Yom haZikaron, the Day of Remembrance, Yom Teruah, the Day of Shofar blowing, and Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgment; Yom Kippur is also called Yom Tzom Kippur, the fast Day of Atoning, and Shabbat Shabbaton, the Great Sabbath of Sabbaths, while the evening service beforehand is often known by the name of its signature musical text, Erev Kol Nidrei.
Everything about the High Holy Days is amplified, in part because of the powerful tradition that our fate in the coming year is somehow determined by God during this period. But in truth all of these high-flown prayers, songs, stories, sermons, and rituals are designed to do one thing: to help us make Teshuvah, return. Return to the best that is within us. Return to the God who sparked us into life. Return home.
Long ago Wolfe wrote, “You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”
Normally, he is right. But during this season, on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, in the days of the month of Elul that lead up to them and in the ten days that join them, we can actually go home: home to the synagogue that spiritually nourishes us, home to our families who have missed us, home to the ideals that once inspired us and gave us hope. Home to God.
Over these coming festivals I invite you to come home to Temple, as well. Join us in seeking meaning, holiness, return and joy from Selichot through Rosh HaShanah and on through to the Break Fast of Yom Kippur Day.
For even if you come only partway home, God will bring you back the rest of the way...
May you and your family be blessed with a Teshuvah m’leiah, a full return, to each other, to the best that is within you. And may you then celebrate a Shanah Tovah uMetukah, a good and sweet New Year!
Wendy, Boaz, Gabriel, and Cipora join me in wishing you a happy, healthy, and good New Year.
L’shana Tova Tikateivu v’Teichateimu,
Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon