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What Now? The 10 Days of Repentance

09/29/2019 06:00:35 AM


Rabbi Scott Nagel

Elul 29 Sept: Week Five

What Now? The 10 Days of Repentance

Task: Celebrate High Holy Days at Beth Ahabah and continue our inner work.


Today is the last day of Elul. Tonight, Rosh Hashanah begins. It is not too late to do the work of Teshuvah. There is still time to find forgiveness. You are worth the effort to return to the person you want to be in this New Year. Judaism gives us a gift, The Ten Days of Repentance in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. These Ten Days are days of renewal, days when we are not only concerned with change and transformation, but also with reinvigorating, refreshing, and reimagining our lives.

Rabbi Alan Lew, the “Zen Rabbi” writes beautifully on the power of this time, “For ten days, the gates are open and the world is fluid. We are finally awake, if only in fits and starts, if only to toss and turn. For ten days, transformation is within our grasp. For ten days, we can imagine ourselves not as fixed and immutable beings, but rather as a limitless field upon which qualities and impulses rise up and fall away again like waves on the sea. Some of these impulses rise up with particular intensity. We may even experience them as afflictions, but they can be the keys to our transformation. Their intensity points to the disequilibrium and dysfunction in us that is in need of transformation. For ten days, the field of mind is like a painting by Kandinsky. Energy and form float in that field, and we have the sense that we can shape our lives by choosing where to invest our focus and intention, by choosing which forms to follow and which to let go. This is not a linear process, not something that takes a clear nor even discernible path. Rather it happens in fits and starts. Sometimes it may not even seem to be happening at all. But the gates are in fact open, and if our intention is aligned with this spiritual reality, then transformation also opens as a real possibility, even if it doesn’t manifest itself right away.”

Rosh Hashanah celebrates the birthday of the world, yet Judaism believes that God renews the entire world every day. We make this declaration every time we pray, acknowledging that every day can be a newly experienced birth and that we can once again see the world with the newness of a child. That is in fact, the task for these ten days – we need to find a way to appreciate and take advantage of the fact that we are given ten more brand new days, ten more brand new worlds, ten more do-overs before the gates begin to close on Yom Kippur.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel reminds us that, “As civilization advances, the sense of wonder declines. Such decline is an alarming symptom of our state of mind. Humanity will not perish for want of information, but only for want of appreciation. The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living. What we lack is not a will to believe, but a will to wonder. Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. To get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually.”

That is our task in these Ten Days of Repentance and, frankly, every day in the New Year. Our chance for Teshuvah, our chance for change is not over – it is never too late to start, and our work is never done.

L’shanah Tovah Tikateivu – May you be inscribed in the Book of Life,

Rabbi Scott Nagel

Mon, July 13 2020 21 Tammuz 5780