Yom Kippur…..What is Sin

 By Rabbi Albert S. Goldstein

 

 

 

 

I have often wondered whether the trouble some of us have with our religious observance, attending worship services and understanding our prayer book might perhaps be helped if we translated certain key words from their old-fashioned language to more current idiom.

For example, words like sin, repentance, and salvation: To all too many of us they carry little meaning, strike no significant chord in us. Not because they represent no realities, but because these words themselves belong to a bygone age when people actually said of some act, “That’s a sin.”

Today, we would put it differently. We would say of the same behavior: “It’s boorish, antisocial, indecent, neurotic.”

What is sin? It is sickness of soul, unhappiness with what we are doing with our lives, to ourselves and to others who share our life: the unhappy misapplication of our talents and energies in directions that bring us no sense of fulfillment, no feeling of achievement or joy in living.

We have no sinners today. Of course not! Only millions of delinquents, of alienated, frustrated, hung-up, drug-addicted, sex-obsessed, anxiety- and guilt- ridden neurotics. That’s all; but certainly no sinners–perish forbid!

And translated into everyday language, what is repentance? What, indeed, but the need and the longing to change, the effort to heal ourselves, the quest for a cure for our sickness of soul.

What does a skillful psychiatrist accomplish when he is successful? He turns his patient around. He redirects the sick way the patient thinks and feels and behaves, helps him change his pathologically unhappy mode of operation for another way, a way that will make him regard himself with esteem rather than with contempt. To change, to turn from a bad to a better way, is precisely the meaning of , the Hebrew word for repentance.

Or, take the word salvation. It is just an old word, which means being saved, rescued from some danger or trouble or disease. Translated into current language, it means being healthy: having a wholesome sense of well-being at peace with oneself and the world.

Sin, then, is just sickness of the soul. Repentance is the prescription for its cure. Salvation is health; the cure itself.

From Moments of Transcendence: Inspirational Readings for Rosh Hashanah, edited by Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins © 1992 Jason Aronson Inc.

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Selichot: A Spiritual Warm-Up for the High Holy Days

Creative concept image of a woman profile with a bright sunset appearing as though its inside her head

My first experience with Selichot occurred during my first year of rabbinical school in Israel.

In the wee hours of the morning, we boarded a bus to a Sephardi synagogue in Jerusalem. The service, in the Sephardi custom, was held before sunrise. Forced to take anti-nausea medication before the bus ride, I remember little of that service, except for the warm, spiced tea that was shared with us during the service. Ever since, though, I have had a fondness for Selichot.

There are a variety of points during the summer that could mark the coming of the High Holidays – Shabbat Nachamu after Tishah b’Av, the full moon of Tu b’Av (a minor Jewish holiday that celebrates love, observed primarily in Israel), the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul – but it is Selichot, more than any other moment in our calendar, that tells me the High Holidays are near.

Typically, Selichot occurs at the close of Shabbat just prior to Rosh HaShanah, but when Rosh HaShanah occurs within close proximity to the Shabbat that precedes it, as it does this year, Selichot is observed a week early.

It seems to me that this adjustment in the timing of Selichot tells us something of its importance. The word “s’lichot” means “forgiveness” or “pardon.” We know it from modern Hebrew in Israel, where s’lichah means, “Excuse me,” (or sometimes, “Out of my way!”). In the context of the High Holidays and the lead-up to them, S’lichot are prayers asking for pardon from God. They first appear at Selichotat the close of Shabbat before Rosh HaShanah, but the S’lichot prayers appear throughout Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur and even into the remaining fall holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah.

The presence of these prayers before, during, and after the High Holidays are a reminder that the path to forgiveness extends beyond the High Holidays themselves. We are encouraged to begin early, work earnestly, and take a little extra time, if we need it, to remedy whatever went wrong in the year that has drawn to a close.

For me, the key to Selichot is the early start it offers.

In reality, each and every day, no matter the time of year, is the right time to seek forgiveness, but Selichot encourages us to jumpstart our cheshbon hanefesh (the accounting of our souls) that the High Holidays demand of us. Regarding this early start, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, in Michael Strassfeld’s The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary, shares this teaching:

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi said that during Elul the thirteen midot—attributes of mercy—are shining. While this is also true on Yom Kippur, the difference is that during Elul the King is on the road; therefore, you are more comfortable addressing the King if He stops at your house. By Yom Kippur, the King has returned to His palace, and even though the thirteen attributes of mercy are still shining, you feel intimidated in approaching the palace without even knowing how to get past the palace guards.

For many of us, myself included, the spiritual work of the High Holidays can be overwhelming. I often find myself caught off-guard by the liturgy, wondering if I can be better in the year that comes. Selichotoffers us the opportunity to prime the pump, to get our t’shuvah juices flowing before the big day.

I know that’s what I’ll be doing this Selichot; perhaps, you will, too.

Interfaith Alliance Discussion, August 15th

Along with the Spartanburg Interfaith Alliance, the Rabbi is chairing a panelist discussion, The Evolution of Faith Traditions: Tensions and Opportunities, on Wednesday, August 15. This will take place at 12:00 pm, and lunch will be serviced here at the Temple. Members are welcome to attend, but please RSVP as soon as possible so that we may have enough food for everyone.

 

And We Begin our Preparation for the High Holidays

ROSH HASHANAH is the Jewish New Year marking the anniversary of the creation of the world. Rosh Hashanah is also called the Day of Judgment. God is said to inscribe the fate of every person for the upcom- ing year in the Book of Life. Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Ten Days of Awe, during which time Jews seek forgiveness for their transgressions.

TESHUVAh – The Hebrew word for “sin” is “chet,” derived from an old archery term used when an arch- er “misses the mark.” Teshuva is the process by which Jews atone throughout the Ten Days of Awe.

MITZVAH OF THE SHOFAR – The essential mitzvah (commandment) of Rosh Hashanah is to hear the sounding of the shofar.

APPLES AND HONEY- There is many Rosh Hashanah food customs but the most common is the dipping of apples into honey to signify our wishes for a sweet new year. A special round loaf of challah symbolizes the cycle of time.

“L’SHANA TOVAH” -The traditional Rosh Hashanah greeting appropriate for Jewish friends on Rosh Hashanah is “L’Shana Tovah” or simply “Shana Tovah” which loosely translates as “Happy New Year or “L’Shana Tovah u’Metukah,” wishing someone a “good and sweet year.”

TASHLICH – On Rosh Hashanah, many Jews may follow a custom called Tashlich (“casting off”) symboli- cally cast off their sins into the water by throwing pieces of bread into the stream.

YOM KIPPUR – DAY OF ATONEMENT was instituted long ago Leviticus 23: And the Eternal spoke unto Moses, saying: “Howbeit on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement; there shall be a holy convocation unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls; and ye shall bring an offering made by fire unto the Eternal. ……to make atonement for you before the Eternal your God.” It is our last chance to change God’s judgment of one’s deeds in the previous year who decides our fate in the coming year. In the Bible, Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Shabbaton, “Sabbath of Sabbaths. “Abstention from work and solemnity characterize the Sabbath as most complete.

In the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, the high priest conducted an elaborate sacrificial ceremony on Yom Kippur. Clothed in white linen, he successively confessed his own sins, the sins of priest, and the sins of the people, and then entered the Holy of Holies in the Temple to sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice and offer in- cense. The priest then sent a goat (the “scapegoat”) into the wilderness, where it was driven to its death, to symbolically carry away the sins of Israel.

OBSERVANCES OF YOM KIPPUR – On the eve of Yom Kippur, the Kol Nidre is recited. The Kol Nidre (“all vows”) annuls all vows made throughout the year. But the Kol Nidre actually refers only to vows made between oneself and God, and especially frivolous vows made to God or those made under duress. Even so, obligations towards other people must be upheld. God will forgive sins one commits, but if one has wronged another person, he must seek forgiveness from that person and try to make it right. The Mishna teaches, “Yom Kippur does not atone until one appeases his neighbors.” In the Yom Kippur synagogue ser- vice the confession is recited in the first person plural to emphasize communal responsibility for sins. The concluding service N’ilah is the last chances to get in a “good word” before God’s judgment are sealed. At nightfall, the Yom Kippur service concludes with one last long blast on the shofar.

HAPPIEST TIME OF THE YEAR – There were no days as happy for the Jewish people as the 15th of Av [when marriages were arranged] and Yom Kippur. It brings about reconciliation with God and other peo- ple. Thus, if they have observed it properly, many people feel a deep sense of serenity by the end of the fast.

Upcoming Events: Dates to Remember for August!

 

3  Kabbalat Shabbat

4  Saturday Service

10  Kabbalat Shabbat

11  Saturday Service

14  Temple Board Meeting

15  Breakfast Schmooze

17  Kabbalat Shabbat

18  Saturday Service

24  Kabbalat Shabbat

25  Saturday Service

26  Sunday School Registration

26 Sisterhood Fun Run

29 Hebrew School Starts

31 Kabbalat Shabbat (Last of Summer Schedule)

From the Heart with Rabbi Liebowitz

 

The Eternal said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of
the Eternal, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Eternal, but the Eternal was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Eternal was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Eternal was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
(I Kings 19: 11)

Dear Friends,

You may remember the play and then movie “Same Time Next Year,” starring Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn. Admittedly risqué, it revealed the rewards and difficulties inherent in relationships, especially those built on tenuous grounds. It occurs that the title could serve well as a description of the High Holidays. (Yes, the dates of the High Holy Days do drift in the Western Calendar from year to year, early to mid autumn, but from the Hebrew point of view they always begin on the 1st of Tishri and end on the 10th of Tishri. But they are not as much risqué as they are risky. Many traditions devote their practice to looking within and solemnizing them with ritual as in the Catholic confessional. But not so many communally, champion a ten-day period of remembering and repenting. Certainly, not an easy thing to do. Though Plato commented that the “unexamined life is not worth living,” our ever-defending egos work against efforts. Who among us easily says contritely “I am sorry!” Change in our lives is inevitable as we grow older. That is natural, but self-imposed change is more daunting.

As tradition bids us to start preparing for the Holy Days one month before, we do well to be mindful of the Hebrew concept of Hitbodedut, literally means to draw within. It connotes communion with God and ambiguously champions the view that as we withdraw we are reaching outward. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel noted that when the soul is stirred, God responds or as the prophet Elijah experienced when he head the Kol d’mama daka, a soft murmuring sound “or a small still voice.” (I Kings 19: 12)

The mystical tradition further insists that when we perform a commandment it is evidence of God’s soft still voice or murmuring being transformed into a good deed i.e. mitzvah.

I wish one and all as autumn beckons a time of peace and new awareness.

Rabbi Yossi Liebowitz, D.D.