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Stuart Katz

Suffering for Sins? Is Today Just a Regular Friday?

 As we’re gearing up for Rosh Hashanah, I know some of us feel a bit weighed down. Yeah, I get it; it’s been a challenging year and many of us may wonder if it will ever get easier. You open the Machzor and come across that word “יסורין,” which talks about suffering for sins, and you’re like, “Great, another thing to worry about, right?” Trust me, I feel you.

Let’s take a step back, though. That word, it’s not there to scare us or make us feel like we’re screwed up beyond repair. I’ve been told that Hashem isn’t sitting up there with a checklist of our mistakes, waiting to trip us up. No, it’s more like a caring, non-narcissistic parent helping a child learn to ride a bike, cheering us on for every tiny bit of progress we make. And sometimes we fall off the bike and get a couple of scrapes. That’s what “יסורין” is all about. It’s life’s way of teaching us to keep our balance better next time.

So, as we step into Rosh Hashanah, let’s not do it with fear or dread. Instead, think of Hashem as giving us a chance to put on new training wheels and take another ride. I’m right there with you, and we’re all on this journey together, figuring it out one day at a time. Here’s to a New Year where we all improve our balance. Shanah Tovah, my friend. Let’s make this one count.

The Trigger

I know you know the path is tough, and honestly, it’s more like a roller coaster than a straight line. We each face unique challenges that can’t be easily summed up or solved. And yeah, when we’re in the thick of it, hearing phrases like “יסורין” can make it feel like even the universe is against us. I get it, and I don’t want to downplay the weight of what any of us may be carrying.

What I do want to emphasize is it’s okay not to be okay. Let’s not fake it. Let’s allow ourselves to be real with our struggles and lean on each other for support. Sometimes, it’s okay to say, “I’m not sure how I’ll get through this, but I’m not going to go it alone.”

Because none of us are alone, we’re a community, a tribe, a family, a village. We’re in this together, for the highs and lows, for the celebrations and the soul-searching moments Rosh Hashanah brings. As we enter 5784, let’s promise to be there for each other, lifting one another up when the road gets steep.

Conclusion

The journey is far from easy. The Machzor, with its weighty terms like “יסורין” and other concepts of divine judgment, can trigger a whole range of emotions. Sometimes it feels like we’re navigating a minefield rather than a prayer book. The text can evoke both awe and anxiety, particularly when it touches on our vulnerabilities and challenges. During these times, the importance of community and self-compassion can’t be overstated.

Let’s cut ourselves some slack and remember that judgment, as harsh as it sounds, isn’t about making us feel bad about our struggles. Instead, it’s a tool designed to help us grow and better ourselves. Hashem, the ultimate judge, knows our unique situations better than anyone, so let’s not rush to judge ourselves or those around us.

Being kinder to ourselves is the first step toward easing the burden of these intense days. It’s perfectly okay to admit when you’re not okay, and to seek the help you need—whether that’s spiritual guidance, professional help, or simply a listening ear from a trusted friend. This year, instead of just going through the motions of tradition, let’s use these powerful days to truly be there for ourselves and each other.

Let’s hold onto the message of hope and renewal these High Holy Days offer. We’ve all been through so much, and Hashem knows that better than anyone. So, this Rosh Hashanah, let’s make a pact— let’s not just hope for a good year; let’s actively make it a good year for ourselves and for each other. Through support, kindness, and generous doses of patience, we can help each other face whatever comes next. Shanah Tovah, my friends. Together, we’ve got this.

About the Author
Stuart is a co-founder of the Nafshenu Alenu mental health educational initiative founded in 2022. He currently serves on the Board of Visitors of McLean Hospital, affiliated with Harvard University Medical School. He serves as Chairman of the Board of OGEN – Advancement of Mental Health Awareness in Israel; chairman of Mental Health First Aid Israel and a partner in “Deconstructing Stigma” in Israel. He is on the Board of Directors of the Religious Conference Management Association. He has counseled over 7,000 individuals and families in crisis
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