High Holy Days 2016/5777 Setting Aside 10 Days for Reflection, Responsibility, and Renewal [i.e. Teshuvah]

Dear Friends,
Over the summer, I spent some time thinking: If I were to design from scratch a ritual or experience that did the work that our High Holy Days1 are intended to do, what might it look like? I wrote the following, which I hope might be helpful for all of us as we look toward this coming High Holy Day Season.
There is great value in having a time and place set aside in our busy lives in which we can reflect on our lives, our deeds, our actions and interactions. None of us are perfect; most of us make mistakes—even slight ones–in our interactions with others, in our care of ourselves, in our care of and relationship to the world around us. Reflecting on our lives, deeds, actions and interactions allows us the opportunity to change, grow, improve, and evolve as human beings. When we do, we can become more thoughtful, more whole and healthy: emotionally, spiritually, and physically. By going through a process of honest reflection, we can take responsibility for what we have done. We can apologize for and rectify what we haven’t done well, and try to repair any damage we’ve done. Doing so allows us to move forward into the future without the heavy burden of guilt, shame, remorse, self-recrimination. Who wants to carry these around for a lifetime? Rather, we can set our minds and our hearts to do things differently, to reach toward new goals, new ways of being in the world. When we do, we can feel refreshed and renewed, re-energized to being a cycle of life all over again. We can also, of course, affirm what we have done well. After all, surely we have behaved in ways that are honorable, kind and caring, generous and thoughtful! Taking time to reflect would allow us to also celebrate our positive actions and interactions. Affirming the good is a valuable counterpoint to living in a world that is filled with so much negativity and harsh judgment. Maybe it would even inspire us, and perhaps others, to continue reaching toward that which is good. When we reflect, it is important to recognize the ways that we are interconnected with others. Therefore, we should also reflect on the health and wellbeing of our community and our society, even the world, and consider the role we—as individuals and as a collective–have played in each of those arenas. It may be healing to proclaim our anguish and despair that things are the way they are (the tremendous violence, hatred, suffering, and poverty that exist), while also considering whether we (individually or together) might have done more—choosing not to act when we could have done more. At the same time, we might accept the real limitations that we do have in addressing all of the brokenness. We can affirm the ways we hope to act in the future, doing what is within our power and our capability. Here too, doing so might allow us to let go of the guilt, shame, regret, and self-recrimination we may feel, and move forward into the future with a renewed sense of energy and commitment. We can do this work alone, or we can do it in the company of others who also set this time aside to reflect and recommit. Surrounded by others who are similarly engaged gives greater power to the experience. Our efforts are witnessed by others, just as we witness others’ efforts. Though we may not know the details of each other’s lives, deeds, actions and interactions, being present with one another helps us, in a sense, hold each other and our own community accountable. In this time of reflection, acknowledgment, accepting of responsibility and affirming the good, are there particular words that we should say or rituals that we should perform? We could write and create them ourselves, or borrow from different cultures and traditions. We could also draw on words, images, melodies and rituals that are familiar to us as well as those that are new. By drawing on those that are familiar and have history, we can place ourselves in a broader context. They might help us feel connected to our ancestors, to other Jews in other times and places. On the other hand, we can also use new words, new metaphors, and new rituals that have been written and created by people in our own day and time, perhaps allowing us to better reflect our own lived experience. To whom or what do we speak those words, offer these rituals? In our world, the presence of that which our ancestors called G-d seems remote, inaccessible. We could simply offer up our words and our rituals to the Universe. Or we could offer them up to that which encompasses our universe and universes beyond—whether we call that something G-d, Adonai, Elohim, HaShem2, HaMakom,3 Mekor Ha’Chaim,4 Eyn Sof.5 Whatever we call It, when we send the prayers and the meditations of our hearts out into the world, we hope–in some way we cannot fully understand-that they will be heard.

1 This year, the 10 Days of Awe begin with Erev Rosh HaShanah on the evening of Sunday, October 2nd; it ends at sundown on Wednesday night, October 12th, when Yom Kippur comes to an end. But what we refer to as “The High Holy Days” truly begins at sundown on Saturday evening, September 3rd, when the new month of Elul begins, and extends all the way until sundown on October 23, which is both the last day of Succot and the holiday of Hoshanah Rabbah (Jewish Tradition considers this day to be the time of the final sealing of G-d’s judgment].

To read more select Full Document 10 Days etc.