from the October, 2016 issue of the PTS Bulletin

Change is a Full Body Experience

May we be inspired to connect fully with the life-affirming power of the High Holy Day season, and may this year, 5777 inspire us to great heights of holiness.

As we near the time when our community will gather for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I pray that this season will be a time of deep meaning and spiritual growth. In order to get the most out of the experience, the following quotes are presented to help prepare our hearts for the Days of Awe.

Jonah Ben Abraham Gerondi, 13th-century rabbi, Spain, author of Gates of Repentance:

The repentant sinner should strive to do good with the same faculties with which he sinned. If, for instance, his tongue gave offence to others, he should study the Torah aloud. With whatever part of the body he sinned he should now engage in good deeds. If the feet had run to sin let them now run to the performance of good. The mouth that had spoken falsehood should be opened in wisdom. Violent hands should now open in charity. The haughty eye should now gaze downwards. The plotting heart should now meditate on the teachings of Torah. The trouble-maker should now become a peace maker.

The High Holy Days can feel like a time when we are very much stuck in our heads, but this 13th-century teacher reminds us that we can change our ways with actions. Remember that the time we spend in synagogue is really just the beginning. The real transformation takes place when we put our desire to change into action outside of our sanctuary.

Dov Peretz Elkins, contemporary pulpit rabbi and author:

Two men were watching a John Wayne movie and one said to the other, ‘I’ll bet you five dollars that John Wayne falls off the horse within five minutes.’ The other man accepted the bet, and within five minutes, John Wayne fell off the horse. The man wanted to pay, but the first man refused, saying, ‘I saw the picture already, and I can’t accept your money.’ The second man replied, ‘I saw it too.’

‘Then why did you accept the bet?’

‘I didn’t think John Wayne would be foolish enough to make the same mistake twice!’

Each of us makes mistakes, but the mark of the person on the path of teshuvah, or repentance is that he or she does not expect different results from the same actions. If we truly desire to change our future, we have to change our ways and begin new patterns of behavior.

Abba Hillel Silver, 20th-century rabbi and Zionist leader:

Man is not forever doomed to the error and the consequences of his past conduct. He is free to repent and through repentance to nullify the evil influences of his past over him. Repentance means the opportunity of a new start, the chance to correct what man has left crooked, to fill that which is wanting in man’s life.

Rabbi Silver frees us of the notion that our future is limited by our past. The spirit of hope in the Jewish tradition maintains that each one of us has the moral capacity to set our eyes on a loftier future and that, with serious effort, we may attain it.

There is a lot of serious thought we do during this season. To really be transformed, we have to examine our thoughts, our motivations, our actions, and the sobering and discomfiting notion that we have often not lived up to the standards that we and our religion demand. But here is the lovely thing. There is nothing diminishing about engaging in this process. Our tradition reminds us repeatedly that this season is most of all about hope, and our capacity to change for the better.

To motivate us, here are two of my favorite quotes.

Chaim Stern, 20th-century rabbi and liturgist:

There is a grace that every dawn renews,
A loveliness making every morning fresh.
We will endure, we will prevail –
We, the children of Hope,
Children of the One
Who crowds the heavens with stars,
Endows the earth with glory,
And fills the mind with wonder!

Adapted from Maurice Lamm, contemporary rabbi and scholar:

There is an enormous, untouched potential inside every one of us. It is hope. And hope’s incrediblepower enables us to survive. Hope contains spectacular power. It can make us better able to manage daily stresses and setbacks. It can help us ride out severe personal crises and cope with critical illnesses. It can even enable us to enhance the way we handle our own aging and to be more satisfied with life. We need to analyze what hope is capable of doing, extract it from the entanglement of cobwebbed daydreams, raise it up from romantic wishing wells, and then distill it for our own purpose and use it to help humankind.

May we be inspired to connect fully with the life-affirming power of the High Holy Day season, and may this year, 5777 inspire us to great heights of holiness.