A Letter from Rabbi Scott...
September 18, 2019
Shalom l’kulam (hello everyone),
Once again we have ridden this whirling sphere we call home on a lap around the sun, and so find ourselves at Rosh Hashanah as we celebrate entering yet another new year on the Hebrew Calendar (5780 to be exact). Rosh Hashanah of course kicks off the ten day period known as the Yamim Nora’im (“Days of Awe”) culminating with Yom Kippur. During these ten days of heightened spiritual intensity we are expected to engage in teshuvah (“returning”) by both seeking and granting forgiveness, as well as cheshbon ha’nefesh (“accounting of the soul”) in which we do a deep self-reflective dive into ourselves and the life we have lived for the past year.
Given the challenging yet powerful nature of our task, I would like to offer a guiding principle for how we approach the High Holidays this year both in our individual pursuits as well as our communal prayer experiences: serious, not somber.
The High Holidays are not meant to be drab and dull. In fact, it is just the opposite; they are a time of celebration and joy! We celebrate all that we have accomplished in our successes and all that we have learned from our failures. We are joyful that we stand at the New Year with an opportunity to apply all of the knowledge and experience we have gained towards being our best selves. But during the High Holidays joy and celebration are earned, not given, and this is where “serious” comes into play.
I do not mean serious in the shushing, side-eye, how-dare-you-smile-during-services way. Rather, serious in this case refers to the effort and intensity we put into our teshuvah, cheshbon ha’nefesh, and tefilah (prayer). If we do not care deeply about teshuvah we will never be able to celebrate the beauty of a heart mended by forgiveness. If we are not thoughtful about cheshbon ha’nefesh we cannot experience the joy of recognizing our inherent goodness even as we acknowledge our misdeeds. If our tefilah is uninspired the words of our machzor (High Holiday prayerbook) will not spring from our mouths with passion and verve but rather fall dryly to the earth as a withered leaf.
May we be serious in our efforts to explore our thoughts, words, and deeds of the past year while acknowledging the celebration and joy inherent in such acts and may we enter into 5780 with light in our eyes, love in our hearts, a song on our lips and laughter in our souls. Kein yehi ratzon, may this be God’s will. Shanah tovah u’metukah l’kulam, a good and sweet year to all.
Rabbi Scott Segal