Sunday, August 21, 2011

Rabbi Shaina’s Book Suggestions to Prepare for the Days of Awe:

To find them, try our library, the public library, Amazon or other websites.

You can’t go wrong with any of these! (Note, this list is NOT inclusive)

1. Days of Awe: A Treasury of Jewish Wisdom for Reflection, Repentance, and Renewal on the High Holy Days by Nobel Laureate S.Y. Agnon. This is a book you’ll probably want to read and re-read every year in preparing for the holidays.
2. Forty Days of Transformation: Daily Reflections of Teshuvah by my colleague Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins. (
3. Meditations for the Days of Awe also by Rabbi Elkins and available at same website.
4. Repentance: the Meaning and Practice of Teshuvah by Louis Newman. This book is new and is excellent. It is written from the vantage point of one who has been through the twelve-step program and is both helpful and spiritual.
5. Words that Hurt, Words that Heal by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. A must-read!
6. Hillel, If Not Now, When? Also by Rabbi Telushkin.
7. Man’s Search for Meaning by the noted, late psychiatrist Dr. Victor Frankl – incredible insights here.
8. A Formula for Proper Living: Practical Lessons from Life and Torah by (Rabbi/Dr.) Abraham Twerski.
9. Filling Words with Light by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner


View from the Bimah: I’m Not a Sinner, So Why Must I Repent?

About three decades ago, I wrote a novel called “Open the Gate.” (No, it never got published). The title came from the Yom Kippur service and the concept of God opening His gates of spirituality to us. Ironically, as soon as Isabel, the main character opened her machzor to pray the Yom Kippur service, she immediately closed the book in anger and walked away. My heroine muttered: “I am not a sinner, I don’t need to do this.”

It’s been so long, I don’t remember much about that novel. My outstanding memory is that my main character, the only Jew in the book, was clueless about Yom Kippur.
That’s because I was clueless about the Days of Awe. Thirty plus years later, I like to think I’ve learned a bit more.

Yes, I’ve grown over the decades. I’m sure we all have. None of us is going to consider ourselves as sinners. Or are we? I’m not so na├»ve that I could honestly stand before you and say that I have not sinned during the last year. I could not stand before you and say that I don’t regret anything I’ve said or done.

None of us could that – at least, not honestly.

Let’s phrase this differently. Have we done and said things we regret? Did we pass up opportunities to help our loved ones and our community? Did we treat ourselves kindly?

More questions for self-reflection: Have we stereotyped ethnic groups? Have we spread gossip and rumors that could be hurtful? Have we embarrassed and disrespected other people?

If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us will answer “yes” to at least some of these questions.

We can brush past our behavior by saying, that’s human nature; I try to do my best.
But how honest is that answer? Really?

And what is human nature?

Judaism teaches that to be really human – to be true to our innermost nature – we must strive to be our best. Recognizing that we are human does not give us permission to act down to our baser nature! Rather, it’s the opposite. We must learn and grow and aspire to be better people.

When all is said and done, can we look at God and say that we haven’t sinned – against Him and against others?

Not if we’re honest. We all have room to learn and grow.

God wants us to do this! He wants our closeness – and to be close to Him, we have to aspire to the “better angels” of our nature.

On the High Holy Days – the Days of Awe – we come together as a community and pray both for ourselves and our community.

By the time you get this issue, it will be the month of Elul (the month begins on August 30 and 31). Elul is supposed to usher in a period of introspection as we approach Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Elul is an especially appropriate time for reading spiritually oriented books. Elsewhere in the Menorah, you’ll find a list of some of my own favorites. The most important thing, though, is honest self-reflection – which must include the things that we’ve done right as well as the things we’ve done wrong.

We culminate this process in our services for the Days of Awe. There are deep wells of spirituality to tap – if only we try!

God desperately wants us to come to Him in love. He wants to forgive us. And He wants us to grow in love and goodness so that we can be worthy of being part of the House of Israel.

L’shanah tovah u’vrachah tikateivu – May you be written for a year of goodness and blessing,

Rabbi Shaina