The sukkah has come to symbolize a shelter a peace. But the structure of a sukkah speaks powerfully to the nature of such shelter. While the roof of the sukkah is covered with branches and leaves (s’chach) to provide shade, we must also always be able to look up and see the sunlight by day, and the moonlight by night. The sukkah should be strong enough to withstand a substantial wind, but by its very nature, it is a temporary structure, and ultimately vulnerable to the elements. Perhaps this teaches us an important lesson. While we gather together as a community for companionship, celebration, comfort, and mutual support, we can never delude ourselves into believing that we can shut out the world entirely, to the point of ignoring all that is going on outside our own shelters of peace. On the contrary, the comfort and delight of our own sukkot need to remind us not only of our gratitude for all we have, but also of our responsibilities to those less fortunate than ourselves.
A reminder: Please remember our food basket during this Festival of Sukkot. Bring unopened canned or boxed food to the temple, and we then will bring it to a local food pantry. And, from house to house, I wish you Mo’adim L’simchah, Chagim Uz’manim L’sasson – Seasons of joy and feasts of gladness.
Our Haftarah reading for Yom Kippur Afternoon is The Book of Jonah, the annual reading of which will be delightfully delivered by Mike Wolfson, and we look forward to it, as always. Within these four brief chapters, the book delivers an important message, which is central to our observance of these Days of Awe. The following is a brief commentary in our new machzor, Mishkan Hanefesh (p.343).
The Book of Jonah is full of anomalies. Other biblical books contain the words of prophets sent to influence the people of Israel; Jonah is sent, instead, to speak to the people of Nineveh, capital of Assyria, Israel’s arch-enemy. Other prophets fear that the people will not believe them; Jonah is afraid that they will believe. Other prophets expend thousands of words to warn or exhort the people without apparent results; Jonah speaks just five Hebrew words (3:4) and achieves instant success. Other prophets stand as exemplars of courage and integrity in a corrupt society; Jonah is a rigid, narrow-minded malcontent who exhibits less compassion and moral concern than the non-Jews around him. Other prophetic books reflect a mood of impassioned solemnity; Jonah is replete with irony and comic elements – animals who fast and wear sackcloth; a prophet who flees in the opposite direction from God’s command; who sleeps through a major storm at sea; who spends three days in the belly of a fish; who frets and fumes when a great city is saved from destruction; and is more attached to a plant than to his fellow human beings.
Why, then, do we read the Book of Jonah on Yom Kippur? Because, despite its farcical elements, it eloquently conveys themes appropriate to the holiest day of the year: universalism – the intrinsic worth of all human beings; our responsibility for one another; God’s compassionate care for all living things; the power of t’shuvah (repentance); and the human capacity for change.
It continues to be my hope and prayer for all of us, that these Yamim Nora’im, these Days of Awe, be filled with meaning and blessing for us and for those close to us. G’mar Chatimah Tovah.
On Rosh Hashanah we greet each other with “L’shanah Tovah” – “A good year.” The more formal expression is “L’shanah Tovah Tikateivu V’teichateimu” – “A good year, and may you be inscribed and sealed (for blessing in the Book of Life).” The traditional imagery of the High Holy Days is of the Almighty sitting up in the Heavenly Court, writing (from the root k-t-v) in a big book, the Book of Life. On Rosh Hashanah, our names are written in there, along with what lies in store for us in the year ahead. During the Ten Days of Repentance – these very days – we have a chance to alter an ominous decree with the sincerity and conscientiousness of our teshuvah – the amends we make, one with the other, and with God. Then on Yom Kippur, according to this imagery, God makes the final decision, and seals (from the root ch-t-m) our fate, and as the sun sets, the big book closes. Along with the big book goes the image of the Heavenly Gates, which also close as the sun sets. These are the Gates of Repentance – sha’arei teshuvah. The final service of Yom Kippur, Ne’ilah, features this image most prominently, using the term “lin’ol,” meaning “to lock.” (Sandals in Hebrew are “na’alayim” because they close by locking.)
Thus, given this imagery, the correct phrase with which we ought to greet each other on Yom Kippur is “G’mar Chatimah Tovah” – “May your seal ultimately be for good.” And, if we’re a bit weary from all the fasting, many of us shorten it with “G’mar Tov.”
Regardless of how literally or figuratively we look at this imagery, the principle is the same for all of us. Our responsibility during these Days of Awe is to seek rapprochement, one with the other, and return to our relationship with God and with our Jewish tradition. But we also learn that while this is the time set aside for this rapprochement, we should carry this with us throughout the year as well. Even given the imagery of the closing book and the closing gates, “The Gates of Repentance are always open” (Lamentations Rabba 3:43). So it is with this expression of hopefulness and optimism that I wish all of you not only a “Tzom Kal,” – “and easy fast” – but also “G’mar Chatimah Tovah.”
In these remaining days before Rosh Hashanah, I offer some thoughts from our new machzor, Mishkan HaNefesh (Sanctuary of the Soul). These thoughts are found in the Rosh Hashanah Morning Service, at the very end of the Amidah, during our moment of Silent Prayer. It is a section entitled “Prayer of the Heart.”
• • • • •
Hear the sound of the shofar!
You who are caught up in the daily routine,
losing sight of eternal truth;
you who waste your years in vain pursuits that neither profit nor save.
In what ways do my heart, mind, and soul need to be awakened by the shofar?
What truly matters to me? What makes me feel that my life is significant?
Am I too often wasting my most precious possession – the minutes, the hours,
the days of my life?
You are everything that we praise You for:
slow to anger, quick to forgive.
Have I been slow to anger? Quick to forgive? What would my loved ones say?
Does anger interfere with my relationships?
Am I impatient at home? Am I intolerant with colleagues and friends?
Avinu Malkeinu, may we taste anew the sweetness of each day.
Renew for us a year of goodness.
Where do I find moments of sweetness and beauty?
As a new year begins, where will I devote my best energies?
How can I bring more goodness to the lives of others?
• • • • •
In this Season of Teshuvah, it is my hope that all of us may turn inward with complete focus and attention, so that we may examine our behavior and motivations over this past year with honesty and courage. May we renew our strength to improve where we have fallen short. And then, may we, with full humility, seek to repair the fissures in our relationships with others, and clear up any misunderstandings. May we have the courage to seek forgiveness where it is appropriate, and grant forgiveness in turn. And may the coming year be for us, for our People, and for all who dwell on Earth, a year of peace.