Asking the Hard Questions

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, September 26, 2019

What is it about the High Holy Days that draws so many of us into the synagogue? Even if we have not been more than a few times or perhaps not at all during the past year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur bring us here to pray, to reflect, and to be a part of community. As we enter the doors of the synagogue once again, we are reminded that the gates of repentance are always open, that no matter how often or how infrequently we may have come to synagogue over the past year, we are always welcome here.

Sometimes it is difficult to find the path back towards God and Torah and being amongst other Jews. Judah Halevi, the medieval poet said: “When I go forth looking for You, I find You seeking me.” In the process of searching for God, and returning to synagogue, we find ourselves.

Judaism is a religion of questions and questioning. So, too, at this time of year, as we approach the Yamim Noraim, we must ask ourselves the important questions, the hard questions. How do we take stock of our actions and our interactions with loved ones, friends, neighbors, even business associates during the previous year? How can we even begin to confront these hard questions? We start by letting go of the fear of ourselves, and acknowledging that we are not perfect, and that we do have the capacity to change. We must ask ourselves: “What have I done? and What have I become?” (Rabbi Jonah of Gerona in his Gates of Repentance, a treatise of the 13th century).

To Rabbi Jonah’s wisdom, I think we must add one additional question: What will I become in the future? Our tradition calls the process of self reflection cheshbon hanefesh, literally, “taking an account of our soul”. It is what the period leading up to the Yamim Noraim is all about. This time of preparation is not easy but it is also a gift, an opportunity to begin anew, as we consider not only our interactions and actions over the past twelve months, but the process of teshuvah, of repentance and change. Each day we begin with ourselves, unafraid to confront the past, for as we return towards God, we come to learn that these actions of the past are no longer what we have become or must be in the future.

Wishing each of you a Shanah Tova U’Metukah, a year filled with health, joy and the sweetness of life. May this new year of 5780 be a year of health, happiness, and growth for you and your loved ones.

Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

Filed under: Rabbi's Message

« Read more articles