I've attended Yom Kippur services as a congregant for many years, and I've also conducted Yom Kippur services when serving as a pulpit rabbi for several years. From both ends I can tell you: Yom Kippur can be rough.
The proliferation of coffee that is probably behind the proliferation of one of the most intense Jewish rituals: the waking up before sunrise for the recitation of Selichot -- literally, "Forgiveness."
One year can seem like a lifetime when reviewing one's own actions in detail. Going from reflection to renewed action can seem overwhelming. Yet this year, I came across a new tool in my repertoire of reflection for the sake of future action: memory.
From this place it is not so scary to self reflect, to make amends, to face the "judgment." From this place we can heal and let go of conscious and unconscious messages that we are projecting on to ourselves, others and the world.
Crowning God as "King" is a hard concept for me to wrap my head around, and it's also one of the main psychological/spiritual/liturgical themes of Rosh Hashanah. So I have to turn to an unconventional source as a reference point.
During this time of the Jewish month, we are considering and reflecting on how we may have hurt others. However, before we utter an apology, we have to consider whether we genuinely wish to bring peace to the other person through our words or bring peace of mind to ourselves.
Originally, G-d didn't care about good and evil or the Torah. Then, out of an act of absolute selflessness He decided He would care about this stuff. With all this in mind, we can now begin to appreciate the secret of Rosh Hashanah according to Chassidus.
Repentance and forgiveness are powerful conscious processes that bring growth and lasting healing. That is why for Jews the holiest days of the year are those when we commit our lives to these processes.
In looking at the continued imprisonment and mistreatment of people who have not been convicted of or tried for a crime, I think that the Jewish notion of personal responsibility and teshuvah is not being followed.
We may not fix all the wrongs done by our fellow Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, or Hindus, but we have the power, and the responsibility, to be constantly improving ourselves and our communities.
Heart-searching is at the heart of the High Holy Days. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur offer us the opportunity to come out of hiding, to honestly assess our current life circumstances, and to begin paving the way for the New Year.
Elul is an opportune time to engage in teshuvah, the process of repenting after committing a sin. In our world where men tend to dominate women, men have a special task to reflect on their relationship to women.
Repentance, even when it falls short, is still a mark of moral resolve and personal courage. This is the moral lesson that I take from the life of Robert Byrd in the weeks leading up to this Yom Kippur.