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Reflections on the Yamim Noraim- Temple Chai Spiritual Leaders

Updated: Dec 9, 2023

Erev Rosh HaShanah– Rabbi Mari Chernow

 S. Y. Agnon tells the story[1] of a young man who became estranged from his father, the king. The son left his father’s palace and wandered from village to village and from city to city. His clothes became tattered and torn. His face changed so that he was unrecognizable.  After a time, he longed for his father and decided to return. He travelled all the way back to the palace and stood before his father, but his appearance had changed so very much that the king did not recognize him.  The son cried out, “Father, father, if you do not recognize my face, you must remember my voice for my voice has not changed.” With that, the king recognized his son. Their reconciliation was immediate.

When we stand before God on the High Holy Days, our outward appearance will matter little. Our clothes may or may not represent who we are. Even our faces may change over the years.  But when we come forward with heartfelt prayer, our voices are unmistakably our own.  Like the shofar with its primal blasts, our prayers can convey our deepest truths.  May the sound of the shofar awaken us and our most honest prayers on this Rosh HaShana.



First Day Rosh HaShanah– Rabbi Jake Singer- Beilin

Elul is the month that leads up to the High Holidays and helps us prepare for them.  Jewish tradition sees the name for this month as an acronym for the famous verse from the Song of Songs: “Ani l’dodi, v’dodi li”, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine”.  This time of exists for the sake of renewing the love between God and Israel, as well as the love we feel towards the important people in our lives.  Sometimes, the hierarchical and stern imagery of the High Holidays makes us forget that this is really a time to focus on the loving relationships in our lives.  We speak of God as Ruler and Judge, but neglect to see God as Beloved.  The same can be true for how we see others.  This time of year is about renewing the love that exists in our significant relationships.  We do this by carefully examining the actions that have gotten in the way of expressing that love, and repairing the breach


Second Day Rosh HaShanah– Rabbi Bonnie Koppell

Data-tracking was a major theme in the news this year.  As individuals and as a society, technology has reached the point where we can capture and analyze everything we eat, how many steps we take during the day, our sleep patterns, and where each of our friends are every moment of the day.  Bureaucracies know every phone call we make and each keystroke on our computers.  Socrates famously suggested that, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” but these days one has to wonder about the OVER-examined life.  As we enter the Aseret Y’may Teshuvah, the Ten Days of Repentance, our task is precisely to examine out lives, not in order to review these external factors, but to look within.  We challenge ourselves to fiercely acknowledge the places we have missed the mark and to adjust our course in the direction of spiritual growth.  May we use the opportunity of these days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur to analyze the data which 5773 has provided.


Shabbat Shuvah– Cantor Sharona Feller

We know that physically if we strengthen our core we bring more balance to our whole body.  It takes hard work and patience.  And so it is with our inner spiritual core.  If we strengthen that core we strengthen our whole being.  Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat of Return during the Aseret Y’may Teshuva, the Ten Days of Repentance, begs us to delve deeper into our core and  take stock of our actions and words.  As we begin to do the difficult work of looking at our lives, we open the doors to return to God. But, how do we return if our spiritual lives are empty, weakened or have simply been forgotten over the years? We begin with a thought, a whisper, a tear, a scream – the sweat of hard work and the patience of love.  It is written, “Return to Me, and I will return to you.” (Malachi 3:7).   Let us take these precious days to exercise our soul core and begin to return


4 Tishri- Rabbi Jake Singer-Beilin

The word “teshuvah” is commonly translated as “repentance”, however, it literally means “return”.  The word “return” indicates that our goal, our desired destination is somewhere we have been before, not to a place that is entirely new.  We are to return to the relationships that were important to us in that past, and still are now.  It is inspiring to know that in order to do the work of repentance, we do not necessarily have to tread new ground.  We simply have to follow the path that led us to our present state, and retrace our steps in order to return to where we want to be.  Once we start the journey, we will see familiar sights.  Certainly, the trail may be grown over with weeds of cynicism and branches of regret, but the path is still familiar.  We have been here before, and in clearing away the overgrowth and trekking forward, we are returning home.


5 Tishri– Rabbi Bonnie Koppell

Our week builds toward the holiest day of the entire Jewish calendar- Yom Kippur- a day dedicated to meditation and contemplation.  We leave the tumult of our daily lives and give ourselves over to a day of fasting and prayer, to listening for the still small voice of God in the quiet moments in our sanctuary.  Pico Iyer, in an article about chapels (Utne Reader, May-June ‘11), describes chapels as “emergency rooms for the soul. . . the one place where we can reliably go to find who we are and what we should be doing with our lives.” (p. 75) We have come together as a Temple Chai community to create a space where together we open ourselves to the very mystery of our being, “where we hear something and nothing, ourselves and everyone else, a silence that is not the absence of noise, but the presence of something much deeper; the depth beneath our thoughts.”  Let us each carve out a few small moments of silence this week, today, in preparation for the great day of listening which awaits.


6 Tishri– Rabbi Mari Chernow

According to the Talmud, “Where those who do teshuvah stand, the completely righteous cannot stand” (Berachot 34b).   Our tradition praises the one who errs and repents above the one who does not err at all.  What a relief to know that the peaks of Jewish spirituality are not reserved for those who are perfect.  Rather, there is sacred space for all of us who are entirely human. To get there, though, we must make repentance a priority and take the process seriously.  This should be case throughout our lives but more than ever during these days between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.


7 Tishri– Cantor Sharona Feller

The Days of Awe.  If we take these days seriously they are full of introspection as we examine our relationships, one human to another and ultimately our connection to God.  We do not walk this earth alone.  We are responsible for our actions as well as those in our community.  In our prayer “V’al Kulom” we ask God, we plead to God to forgive us, pardon us, and grant us atonement.   We have sinned, we have wronged.  We?  I didn’t do all those things?  That’s not me.  Over the years we have asked congregants to write where they have missed the mark and we have read those words  aloud on Yom Kippur. Perhaps this process of confession is eased by  anonymity but we know the words that stay on our tongues a little longer or the words we  are even afraid to utter.  Each transgression hits the heart of our community. Our moral and spiritual lives are on the line.  May we use these precious days to search our hearts, begin to forgive and take the steps to bring healing into our lives and into the health of our community and world.

8 Tishri– Rabbi Bonnie Koppell

Inspiration is everywhere if we open our hearts and minds.  As a frequent flier, I rarely open airplane magazines, so it was fortuitous that I was drawn to a US Airways article on “Fixing Mistakes: 7 Steps for Any Situation.”  (Annie Mueller,  These 7 steps are aligned with the process of teshuvah mandated for us by our tradition.


1.     acknowledge our wrongdoing.


2.    No reconciliation is possible without our taking responsibility.


3.    We need to apologize.


4.    We need to offer to make restitution (especially for sins between individuals).


5.    We need to initiate this process with enough time for the person we have wounded to have time to reflect before responding.


6.    We need to listen openly and honestly and understand the hurt we have caused.


7.    We must follow through with whatever commitments we have made.


 Kol Nidre/Yom Kippur– Rabbi Mari Chernow


 In Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity Abraham Joshua Heschel writes:

The impact of erev Yom Kippur was more powerful in my life than that of Yom Kippur itself. I don’t know whether I can state this adequately; I find it almost impossible to convey.  What really changed my life, and shaped my character, were the few hours before Yom Kippur…It was great fear and trembling…great awareness that you are now to be confronted. There was no fear of punishment, not even a fear of death, but the expectation of standing in the presence of God


  We are about to enter the holy of holies of Jewish sacred time.  May these hours be filled with rigorous preparation and genuine teshuva. Let no stone go unturned.



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