Yikzkor: The Order of Giving

Yikzkor: The Order of Giving

Apr 15, 2001 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Pesah | Shavuot | Shemini Atzeret | Yom Kippur

Synagogue attendance always swells at Yizkor. No matter how attenuated our sense of being Jewish, we are drawn back for a moment to offer a prayer (“may God remember”) in memory of those we have loved and lost. The observance ofYahrzeit and Yizkor remains hallowed. The proximity of death still fills us with reverence if not foreboding.

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Repairing Jonah’s Sukkah

Repairing Jonah’s Sukkah

Oct 11, 2003 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Sukkot | Yom Kippur

This coming Friday evening we herald in the first festival of the Jewish year, Sukkot. Between Motzei Yom Kippur (the evening concluding Yom Kippur) and Friday, sukkot (temporary booths) are built all around the Jewish world. It is an especially memorable event in Israel where cities and villages alike are transformed by the festival greenery. Special markets spring up across the country peddling the four species that are brought together as we celebrate the absolute joy of the holiday. The fragrance of the etrog embraces all as we enter the sukkah, declaring our faith in God’s protection. That said, the sukkah is not only at the essence of Sukkot; the sukkah, in all its beauty and symbolism provides a powerful bridge between the most sacred day of the year, Yom Kippur, and the harvest festival of Sukkot.

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The Power of Prayer

The Power of Prayer

Oct 3, 1995 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Yom Kippur

The High Holy Days don’t play to our strength. The extended services put a premium on prayer, an activity at which we are no longer very adept. Yom Kippur asks of us to spend an entire day in the synagogue immersed in prayer. But we find it easier to believe in God than to pray to God. It is this common state of discomfort that prompts me to share with you a few thoughts on the art of Jewish praying.

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Psychotherapy as a Lens for Conceptualizing <em>Teshuvah</em>

Psychotherapy as a Lens for Conceptualizing Teshuvah

Sep 26, 2009 By David Hoffman | Commentary | Rosh Hashanah | Shabbat Shuvah | Yom Kippur

I have always thought it interesting that Maimonides places so much emphasis on words in the process called teshuvah, even for transgressions not against other human beings. After quoting the verse from the Torah that speaks about the importance of confession (vidui) as part of the process for repairing a wrong enacted in the world (Num. 5:5–6), Maimonides emphasizes that this must be done with words. Teshuvah cannot be limited to an internal process of reflection. Maimonides stresses that any internal commitments must ultimately get expressed with words and counsels that the more one engages in verbal confession and elaborates on this subject, the more praiseworthy one is (Laws of Teshuvah 1:1).

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A World Without Teshuvah

A World Without Teshuvah

Sep 18, 2004 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Ha'azinu | Rosh Hashanah | Yom Kippur

The Torah is largely a series of legal texts set in a narrative context. It is not replete with outbursts of poetry. Our poetic sensibility seeks satisfaction elsewhere in the Tanakh – in the passion of the prophets, or the poignancy of the psalmist, or the protest of Job, or in the sensuousness of the Song of Songs. The Torah touches only some of our senses. And yet, it closes in a great poetic flourish. As Moses nears his end, he switches from didactic prose to incandescent poetry.

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Torah and Teshuvah

Torah and Teshuvah

Sep 20, 2003 By Lauren Eichler Berkun | Commentary | Nitzavim | Vayeilekh | Rosh Hashanah | Yom Kippur

The beautiful and famous words of this week’s parashah have always touched my heart. This year, I read the following passage with new lenses, as I immerse myself in the month of Elul and the spiritual preparations for teshuvah. The Torah teaches:

“Surely, this Instruction (Ha-Mitzvah Ha-Zot) which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, ‘Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who among us can cross the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’ No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it” (Deut. 30:11-14).

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Shattering Our Idols

Shattering Our Idols

Sep 4, 2004 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Ki Tavo | Rosh Hashanah | Yom Kippur

Judaism tantalizes the senses with the sights, sounds and fragrant smells that characterize its observance. Rosh Hashanah is certainly one of those times when we are overwhelmed by the richness of Jewish symbolism. At the heart of our New Year observances, however, lies the piercing cry of the shofar. What is the meaning of the shofar? Many explanations have been offered to explain why we blow the shofar during the month of Elul into Rosh Hashanah, and at the close of Yom Kippur. Included in these interpretations are the following: it signifies creation, specifically of the beginning of God’s kingship, it is meant to remind us to hearken to the blasts echoing from God’s revelation at Sinai, it links us to the binding of Isaac since the shofar is a symbol for the ram caught in the thicket by its horns that ultimately is offered to God in place of Isaac; and, that the sharp sound of the shofar is to be understood to be a call to teshuvah, repentance.

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A Psalm for Repentance

A Psalm for Repentance

Aug 28, 2004 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Rosh Hashanah | Yom Kippur

The Hebrew month of Elul offers us an opportunity to repent. It is an auspicious time granted us each year, during which we can shake off the shackles of our spiritual apathy and seek an engaging and loving path back to ourselves, our fellow human beings, and most importantly, God. One of the traditions prescribed to arouse the feeling of teshuvah, repentance, is the recitation of Psalms.

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