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Port Jewish Center

Remember, Regret, Repent, And Finally, Rebuild
October 1, 2014

October 2014

As October begins, we are also in the first few days of the Jewish month of Tishrei. During Tishrei, we celebrate a flurry of holidays: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah. By now, we have already welcomed the New Year, which we observed on the first day of Tishrei. Of course, Rosh Hashanah not only marks a new year, it also begins the Ten Days of Teshuvah—repentance. This is possibly the most intense time in the Jewish calendar.   As Maimonides taught, “Although teshuvah and pleading are always effective, during the ten days from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur they are especially potent and are immediately accepted, as it says, ‘Search for God when God is present.’” (Laws of Teshuvah 2:6) And so, we are called to undertake the task of rebuilding ourselves by repenting—regretting a wrongful action, resolving not to repeat it, asking forgiveness, and making amends—and returning to our best selves.

On Rosh Hashanah we say the words “Unetaneh Tokef”—“Let us proclaim the sacred power of this day; it is awesome and full of dread. . . You open the book of our days, and what is written there proclaims itself, for it bears the signature of every human being.” In this solemn moment, we are reminded (as if we could forget) that these days are about examining what we’ve done and where we’ve been in the last year. “Deeds long forgotten” are remembered. Of course, the beauty of these Days of Awe is that they are meant to prod us, not toward punishment and death, but forward in a new direction, to turn away from our mistaken ways to live life anew. So, in the first few days of October, which correspond with the seventh, eighth and ninth days of Tishrei, I invite you to really make these days count. Instead of letting the words we read and said just a few days ago on Rosh Hashanah wash over us, let them really seep in. Steep yourself in them. Use this time to remember, regret, repent, rebuild.

The Torah demands: “Each year on the tenth day of the seventh month you must fast and do no work . . . For on this day, you shall have all your sins atoned, so that you will be cleansed . . . It is a Sabbath of Sabbaths to you.” (Lev. 16:29-31) In case you are confused, the seventh month of the Jewish calendar is Tishrei, when we celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is when the Jewish calendar year advances (this year, to 5775) and is seen traditionally as the date when the world was created. (There are actually four Jewish new years altogether, but we digress.) Every year we have this incredible gift: a reminder to take stock of where we’ve been and where we want to be. While we may not take advantage of celebrate Shabbat every week of the year, on this one day, this Sabbath of Sabaths, most of us take the day off and give ourselves at least this one true Shabbat. On Yom Kippur we can receive the gifts that Shabbat offers every week, menucha (taking a break from our hectic routines, also known as rest), kedusha (holiness through connecting with the Divine and with eachother), and oneg (joy from our observance of a day distinct from all others). Most importantly, Yom Kippur is our last chance to complete the work of atonement—to cleanse our souls—to remember and deeply feel regret about the ways we’ve missed the mark, to repent and then, finally, to rebuild.  

For most of us, we often feel emotionally spent after when we’ve had a confrontation with someone we love and care about. When instead of avoiding a difficult conversation we’ve engaged in dialogue, it is difficult and tiring work to open ourselves to hearing how we could have done things differently and better. How much more so when we’ve been having an internal dialogue, a true turning inward, during these Days of Repentance! It is fitting, therefore, that it is customary to begin building one’s sukkah as soon as possible after Yom Kippur is over. A sukkah is a “shelter,” albeit a fragile one, meant to protect us from life’s storms. As we venture out of these days that are “awesome and full dread,” we move ahead into Sukkot, a season often referred to as Z’man Simchateinu—Days of Joy. Alongside members of our family and community, we are, once again, rebuilding a shelter from the difficulties of life. After our days of introspection, we ought no longer feel alone. Indeed, Sukkot is a holiday known for its hospitality, for opening our homes and our sukkot (“sukkahs”) to family, friends and the community, to celebrate our bounty.

In the days ahead, I look forward to doing the work these awesome days call us to do with you. Together, we will remember, regret, repent, and, finally, rebuild. In truth, as we do this work we are never really alone. We have each other—this extraordinary, caring and supportive community we call PJC. I wish for all of us a meaningful fast and a beautiful beginning to a new Jewish Year. G’mar Chatimah Tovah, for the year 5775, may you and yours be inscribed the book of life for a wonderful year.