Archive for the ‘High Holy Days’ category


September 15, 2012

One of my favorite stories relating to the High Holy Days is about a king and his child. Perhaps you know it:

It once happened that a king’s son was at a distance of a hundred days’ journey from his father.

His friends said to him, “Return to your father.”

He replied, “I cannot.”

His father sent to him and said,

“Go as far as you are able, and I will come the rest of the way to you.”

Here’s to a good and sweet New Year 5773–a year of return, renewal, and blessings.

Shanah tovah!


Making Ready for Awe-Filled Days

August 17, 2012

I never was a Boy Scout (to my regret), yet I wholeheartedly endorse their teaching, “Be prepared.” I can think of very few instances in life where that advice doesn’t apply or lead to a more positive outcome.

It certainly holds true for the High Holy Days. Judaism encourages us to spend the entire month preceding Rosh Hashanah in preparation for the High Holy Days—to make ready, to be prepared. The preparatory month of Elul this year begins on Sunday, August 19.

To help make your Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur more enriching and meaningful, while also fulfilling the Boy Scout motto, I offer the following five resources to aid your High Holy Day preparation:

1. Gates of Repentance: The New Union Prayerbook for the Days of Awe (Central Conference of American Rabbis). There is no better place to start than the machzor—High Holy Day prayer book. It is filled with majestic prayers, beautiful songs, inspiring readings, and words of wisdom. The more familiar we are with the prayer book and its themes, the more we can get out of the High Holy Day experience. I encourage you to purchase a copy for your home, and begin reading it during Elul to spiritually prepare.

2. Days of Awe by S.Y. Agnon. This is an undisputed classic by the Israeli Nobel Prize-winning author. Agnon created a masterpiece anthology of Jewish traditions, legends, commentaries, and teachings about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It never disappoints, even after dozens of readings, and it’s a wonderful aid in High Holy Day preparation.

3. “Jewels of Elul.” For the more computer-inclined, these reflective and brief aphorisms for each day of Elul will provide daily inspiration leading up to the High Holy Days. Visit to receive a daily jewel in your email inbox or to browse their website archives.

4. Preparing Your Heart for the High Holy Days: A Guided Journal by Kerry M. Olitzky and Rachel T. Sabath. This collection of daily meditations for Elul, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur serves as a spiritual guidebook to explore the themes of repentance and renewal. It allows for guided journal work.

5. The spiritual practice of Cheshbon haNefesh—literally, an “accounting of the soul.” This centuries-old practice consists of spending a few minutes each day in self-examination, reflecting on the past year and one’s behavior. How did things go? What went well? What do you want to improve upon? In the various areas of your life, how would you like to grow in the upcoming year—physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually? How would you like to grow in relation to your family, your friendships, your health, your work, your community, your faith and religious practice? This is a very powerful spiritual practice than can clarify what is most important in your life, and prepare you for the deep soul work that culminates in the High Holy Days.

I pray that this time leading up to the High Holy Days is filled with wisdom and insight, heart and soul, adding to your enrichment and experience of the awe-filled days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.


“The Soul’s Compass”

September 6, 2011

I’ve always loved the High Holy Day season. In the outer world, the weather turns cooler, the air feels crisper, and the leaves on the trees dance and change hues. In the inner world, the soul comes alive.

The days leading up to and including Selichot, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur, then extending through Sukkot and Simchat Torah, are replete with family and community, deep memories and emotions, rich imagery, and the eternal spiritual verities of renewal, forgiveness, reconciliation, gratitude, joy, and the Divine that animates all life.

The High Holy Day season is a time of deep introspection and reflection. Teshuvah—Return—marks this deeply soulful time. Return to ourselves, to our loved ones, to our community, to our traditions, to our God, and ultimately and hopefully: Return to our most cherished values and to the best that is within us.

We have the precious opportunity during this sacred time to dust off the compass of our lives, get our bearings, and return to the direction we most deeply need to be heading in our lives. The “soul’s compass”—to borrow a beautiful expression from spiritual teacher Dr. Joan Borysenko—takes precedence during the High Holy Day season, pointing us toward renewed life with our families, friends, community, and God.

If we can acknowledge the pointing of that compass and trust in its guidance, God’s blessings will flow forth in abundance, and Life and the world will truly be renewed for us.

May you and your family be blessed with a good, sweet, and happy New Year.

Debt Ceiling Lessons for the High Holy Days

August 17, 2011

As the federal debt ceiling controversy raged this summer, you may have looked on with dismay, as I did. Healthy and respectful discussions to address the important issues would have been one thing. What actually occurred appeared to be something quite different.

“The manner in which [the debt deal] was produced,” wrote Fareed Zakaria (journalist, author, and editor-at-large) in the August 15 issue of Time magazine, “added poison to an already toxic atmosphere in Washington, making compromise even more difficult.” Zakaria went on to use words such as “unyielding” and “bullying” to describe the behavior of congressional members during the debt ceiling controversy, resulting in questions of U.S. trustworthiness, credibility, commitment, and how well our governmental system actually functions today.

Perhaps if members of Congress had taken a page from the Talmud, things would have fared better. The page I’m referring to is Ta’anit 20a-b, when it says, “Our Rabbis have taught: A [person] should always be gentle as the reed and never unyielding as the cedar.”

A reed is flexible, pliable, and supple. A cedar is rigid, intractable, and inflexible. There can be little doubt as to which characteristics are more valuable in human life and relationships, particularly regarding conflict, controversy, and the inevitable differences between people.

As we enter the High Holy Days next month and reflect upon our lives, our actions, and our relationships, the teaching of the Talmud can wisely guide us in our spiritual movement of teshuvah—our return to God, return to Life, return to meaningful relationships, and return to the best that is within us.

Our willingness to be flexible and pliable with others and ourselves allows for change, growth, and transformation. Adjustments and corrections to behavior and perspectives require such flexibility and suppleness. The necessary art of compromise in relationships and various situations entails the ability to adapt and stretch without breaking.

This may have been forgotten or denied during the debt ceiling controversy this summer. But Judaism calls us to remember it and affirm it throughout our lives, especially during the Days of Awe.