09/24/2012 08:26 am ET Updated Nov 24, 2012

RETURNING: Thoughts on the Jewish High Holy Days -2001 and 2012

It is the 7th day since last Tuesday, September 11th.

Everything I thought to say today seems to have double relevance both to this particular occasion and to our heightened awareness these last days have brought us. So these words are meant to speak to both.

And, curiously, this holiday has both a tone of gladness and appreciation - for what is, for what we have, for being alive, for becoming aware; and a tone of deep reflection and consideration focussing on how to improve our Selves, how to help each other, how to come together as one in the world.

Celebration/commemoration, atonement, reflection, recommitment - the old and the new all come together at this time.

It is said that "on the 6th day, the heavens and the earth were finished together with all the living things. Humans were created.

It was the birthday of the world, Rosh Hashanah.

On the 7th day the work was completed and it was time to rest".

It is the night of the barely visible new moon and, like the new moon, this is a moment of birth and beginning.

It is also a time of harvest;
a time to reap from the past year
and look back
in order to look forward.

The 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are, appropriately, considered "Days of Remembrance".

These are days for inner cleansing, concentrated self-scrutiny and introspection. These are days to atone for transgressions known and unknown, transgressions of ours and of others.

It is traditional to gather together because this is a time for collective consciousness, thinking about each and every human and creation as a whole. Our effort is to be whole ourselves, be one with each other, and be aware of what we share which is always and innately a part of us and unites us in spiritual community.

This is a time for looking out, looking in, and perfecting meaning.

The first act of creation was light. Light to bring us from the darkness. Light which cannot be seen but which makes seeing possible. Light which can be known yet whose essence is unknowable.

Together we bless Light.

The central theme of these days - Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur - is "teshuvah".

Teshuvah means "returning". We cannot go backwards but we CAN return to basic questions, questions such as:
Why are we here?
What does it mean to be a human being?
What is ultimately demanded of us?

This is a time to find the courage to stop and ask what are we doing?
What are we doing as individuals? What are we doing as a nation? what are we doing as a world?

The answers are not easy and we must search. But another meaning of "returning" involves community. We need not search alone. This is a time for return to our past, our ancestors, our heritage, our traditions. It is also a time to enlist the help of each other. We are a community of searchers.

If there ever was a moment for us to need each other and to make the journey together it is now. In this way we are all leaders and all followers.

Standing between a past which is gone and a future not yet born, we express our wish for a year of safety, mindfulness, care of, and for, each other, and a sense of connection to all. A year in which we use wisely the gifts of nature and the talents with which we have been blessed.

May we honor our Selves, each other, and the world around us, known and unknown.