September 26, 2019


9.27.2019 Weekly Torah Portion

Parshat Nitzavim

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”  This quote seems incredibly appropriate this week as, together, we approach the High Holy Days.  As a rabbi, it’s always a hectic time for me.  As some people say, it’s the clergy’s “tax season,” a reference to that time in late March and early April when CPAs find themselves feeling the crunch of the upcoming tax deadline.

Every year as the High Holy Days approach, I find myself vacillating between the constant motion of hyper productivity and paralyzing procrastination.  It’s always the same: it’s a few days before the holiday and I am trying to figure out what else needs to be done for the services (perhaps writing the weekly bulletin), making sure my speech has been revised three (or twelve) times.

It’s a time when synagogues and Jewish organizations become beehives of productivity, buzzing around making sure everything is just so for the three most heavily populated services of our Jewish year.  When working in a traditional synagogue, the High Holy Days mean that, as clergy, we’re about to see the 80% of our congregants that we don’t see the other 362 days of the year.  We feel the rush of a packed sanctuary for the services, the press of people coming in and offering good wishes, and then, before we know it, it’s over.

This year, for the first time in my professional career, the approaching High Holy Days feel a little different – not because the services or prayers have changed, but because I have.  Yes, the High Holy Days are important; they are the holiest days of our year, when all of our Beit T’Shuvah community comes together to pray.  But unlike other communities, the work we do here at Beit T’Shuvah doesn’t relax the day after Yom Kippur.  Unlike other synagogues – where the High Holy Day hangover is a real phenomenon – at Beit T’Shuvah we realize that the work we do is essential every day of every week.  Those of us who are blessed to work in this community understand that our holy task is a daily calling.

To me that is wonderfully different.  And this year’s High Holy Days will feel (wonderfully, I hope) different for you, as well.  After more than twenty years, Beit T’Shuvah has a new senior rabbi.  I cannot tell you how honored and blessed I feel to find my name attached to that title.  Thank you, every one of you, for the warm welcome I’ve received and for all of you who have met or gotten in touch with me to offer your support.  I am glad and proud to be able to come home.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”  These High Holy Days will look different for us here at Beit T’Shuvah.  But the more we change, the more the familiarity of the service will help ground us.  Change is never easy… AND yet again this year, we are blessed to come together to sing those beautiful words and melodies and to hear first account what real t’shuvah, real return looks like.

Whatever we do to the High Holy Days, they will always be the same.  We are the ones that will change, and with that change comes a different perspective.  It is my hope that as we come together to celebrate the new year, the comfort of familiarity reassures us as we walk through this transition together.

May we all have a happy, healthy, and sweet new year.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova,

Rabbi Ben