Bradley Shavit Artson
Rabbi. Philosopher. Author. Teacher.

Already Forgiven!

Rosh HaShanah symbols on a festive table setting

Jews the world over are getting ready for our annual period of introspection, prayer, and gathering. Beginning with the moving Selihot services last Saturday evening/Sunday morning, moving through Rosh Ha-Shanah and culminating in Kol Nidrei and Yom Kippur, we will use our time to consider who we have become in the past year, we will contemplate the gap between our highest ideals and our actual behavior, and we will seek to make amends to ourselves, to each other, and to God.

In that ancient renewal of soul and society, our Judaism offers us potent tools to assist us in our task:
• The tool of teshuvah, repentance, to enable us to recognize our own shortcomings and wrong-doings and to distance ourselves from those errors
• The tool of tefillah, of prayer, to give us the script to call out to the Holy One and to let our souls soar on the ancient and time-tested words and melodies,
• The tool of kehillah, of community, to strengthen each other and to nurture each other in our unfolding as Jews and as individuals,
• The tool of tzedakah, building a just world through charitable contributions to the agencies and causes that help repair the brokenness of the world.

What a wonderful time of year! After the doldrums of summer begin to recede, we come together in full numbers, inspired by each other and able – once again – to touch home base, as it were.

The synagogue has always been home base for the Jews. No matter how religious or how secular, Jews know that the vault that safeguards our values, our community, and our identity is the shul. By returning to the synagogue, even virtually, during the Days of Awe, by affiliating with a congregation, we pledge our renewed loyalty to God, Torah, and to the Jewish people in the work of creation.

There is a wise rabbinic Midrash, a story thousands of years old, that expresses the Jewish welcome that these special days provide,

“Why is it,” the story asks,” that other people, when going to a trial, are sad and downcast? Yet when the Jewish people gather before God to be judged on Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur, they wear their most festive clothes, they invite each other for joyous feasts, and they sing and celebrate with each other?”

The answer is that we go to our trial joyously because we know that God loves us still, and that God’s love is greater than God’s anger. We know that we are still God’s partners in the miracle of creation and the establishment of a just and compassionate society.

No coincidence then, that the very first service of the season is called “Selihot,” which means “forgiveness.” We are forgiven the very moment we turn to God and reach out in love. We are made whole the very moment we gather together and renew our connection to our people and our heritage, the moment we rise in responsibility to justice, to truth, to compassion.

What a privilege, and what a joy, to be a Jew!

This year, we begin again, as we come home to our truest selves and our ancient traditions, may we all find the shelter, the haven, and the understanding we seek.

Welcome home, and Shanah Tovah!

About the Author
Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is the Roslyn & Abner Goldstine Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of American Jewish University, and is the Dean of the Zacharias Frankel College of University of Potsdam, training Conservative/Masorti Rabbis for Europe.
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