This Sunday evening we begin the ten day period known as “The Ten Days of Repentance,” which span the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. A lot of meaning gets lost when translating the word “repentance,” however. The word in Hebrew is “teshuva,” which literally means “returning.” Thus this period of time is set aside in the Jewish year for “returning”—returning to our authentic selves, to our relationships with family, community, and God, and to the values and ideals that we strive to uphold. They provide us an opportunity to stop, look inward, and consider that which is most essential in our lives.
These holidays come to teach us about the importance of stopping, taking stock of our lives, and spending quality time with friends and family.
It can be very difficult to set aside time for this kind of reflection on our own! We live extremely scheduled and busy lives. We are virtually always plugged in to one device or another, flooded with seemingly endless streams of communication and information. Thankfully, Judaism provides opportunities to break from this steady flow of activity, on Shabbat and holidays throughout the year, allowing us to simply stop, rest, and re-focus.
On Rosh Hashanah, this opportunity comes most significantly in the form of the shofar. According to tradition, the main mitzvah of the holiday — the most important thing we can do — is to hear the sound of the shofar. This is because the unmistakable and indeed jarring sound of the shofar has the power to rouse us from the routine and preoccupation of daily life. In the words of Moses Maimonides, the famous 12th century Jewish scholar, it’s as though the shofar calls to us: “Wake up, sleepers, from your sleep! And slumberers, arise from your slumber! Search your ways, return in teshuvah, and remember your Creator!”
The High Holidays come to teach us about the importance of stopping, taking stock of our lives, and spending quality time with friends and family. The staff and lay leadership at JFCS work hard — extremely hard — to bring support and hope to thousands of people, day in and day out, who look to us for help. Still, even those who work tirelessly for the noblest of causes need to stop on occasion and look inward. However it is that we observe these holidays, may we all find great meaning, rest, and renewal during this time of reflection. Enjoy this holiday season, and may your coming year be a happy and healthy one!
Rabbi Daniel S. Isaacson
Director of Spiritual Care Services
Jewish Family and Children’s Services