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Rabbi Lisa Goldstein


Elul is coming to an end with the grandeur and mystery of the High Holy Days about to begin.  In New York the weather shifted this week too; the sun is still warm, but the wind is fresh and even chilly, signs of colder days approaching.


From the windows of our new office, I have been watching the workers, climbing, moving and hammering, seemingly without a care, on the drop-off edge of a concrete slab 20 stories above the street.  As I write, one man in a neon green vest is clinging to the outside of a plywood ladder, nothing underneath him but a net two floors below, whacking at something with a tool.  He is clipped on with a harness, but from here, it looks pretty terrifying.


After the sweet, mellow days of Elul, these High Holy Days, Days of Awe, give us a glimpse of something stronger and a little more fearful.  They encourage us to consider the mystery of the unknown days ahead, days that may hold great blessings and great suffering, and probably a little of both.  They give us the forum to come face to face with our limits and the reality of our mortality.  They challenge us to confront our own vulnerability in the face of the colder days that are coming. 


But, like the men outside who are building a new building, a structure that will provide shelter for hundreds of people and stand witness to their labors for many years, the High Holy Days also give us the opportunity to take satisfaction in the work of our hands and to find joy in living this life, in company with fellow travelers, step by dangerous step, even when we feel we are dangling over the abyss.   


May 5773 bring all of us more blessings than suffering, more expansiveness than constriction, more peace than conflict, and more joy than sorrow.   May our practices give us tools for wisdom, gratitude and compassion.  And may we find good companions (or a good Companion) for the journey who can support us with courage, love and guidance.



Lisa Goldstein 

p.s. Read more blog posts on our website

excerpted from 
"Later He Realizes His Guilt"*
Jonathan Slater


"...Only later, when the feeling of threat passes and we settle into a moment of calm and clarity, does our action come once again to mind, so that we may face it, acknowledge it for the mistake it is, and make amends. This aspect of human nature-our hesitation to admit what would be shameful or a blow to our fragile ego-is at the heart of confession.


Rabbi Jonathan Slater

The first word is ashamnu, "we have sinned." The root of this verb appears in the early chapters of Leviticus, regarding the sacrifices brought to atone for an inadvertent, unintentional, or unknown trespass against the domain of the holy.


According to Mishnah Sh'vuot 1:2 and 2:1-2, the sacrifices referred to in Leviticus 5:1-13 apply only when there exists "initial knowledge," "ultimate knowledge," and "lack of notice in the interim." In other words, something originally known was ignored or forgotten and then later recalled. It was at that point that the offender undertook to expiate for his offense.


The event itself-whether entering in impurity into the holy precincts, eating holy food in impurity, failing to fulfill an oath, or misuse of sacred implements-takes place, but the significance is either unknown at the time or is forgotten. When the trespass-once forgotten-comes again to mind, one brings the sacrifice.


Is this not the case with much of our lives? Do we not regularly make mistakes that we choose to ignore, of which we are oblivious, or that we know but are so pained over that we forget? What is it that restores awareness of our mistakes to consciousness? What allows us to face ourselves fully, to acknowledge that we have been wrong, and then to do something about it?


It is my experience that when I allow my mind to settle and my heart to be at ease, I become more open to such awareness. In the event described above, it was in the quiet of the house, in my aloneness, that I began to touch the truth of my life. Divorce was challenging: What was the truth of the relationship now gone sour? Who was really "at fault"? I could stick with my story of innocence, of being wronged, or I could look more deeply to seek the truth. It was in the absence of my partner, before whom I had had to defend my ego, with whom I was unable to be fully present, that I became aware of how guarded, how closed off I had been.


I realized how hard it had been to speak the truth of my mistakes. Once I became aware of that truth in my married relationship, I began to see it as well in the rest of my life. However aware I may have been before of my guilt, of my dissembling, of my half-truths, only now was I prepared to fully acknowledge it, confess it, and come clean.


This is the work of Elul and the Days of Awe. While there are specific acts that we may undertake to rectify wrongs during this time, my sense is that we would do well to employ these days to sit quietly, to allow the mind and heart to rest, to allow the habitual narratives that shape our lives to slow down. Perhaps in the quiet, as the stories subside, we will begin to feel our own pain-both at what was done to us and at what we have done to others. 


Compassion for our own suffering, while seemingly solipsistic, makes it possible to have empathy for others and to face the hard truths about how we have treated them. Meeting our selves, our true selves, our flawed selves, in moments of compassionate calm, informs us as to how deeply others too feel shame, fear, anger, and loss. Knowing our own hearts to have some small measure of ease, we wish only for others to find that as well...."

full article ["Later He Realizes His Guilt"]


Ashmanu and Al Chet - We Have Sinned: Sin and Confession in Judaism includes "Later He Realizes His Guilt" by Jonathan Slater
Rosh Hashanah blog - 16th and Q, the DC JCC
Return to Me - Rabbi Yael Levy blog
Yom Kippur rituals - Ritual Well 
Officer Patrick O'Rourke: Who Shall Live? Who Shall Die? - Rabbi Jason Miller blog posts on Yom Kippur
High Holy Days 2012: A HuffPo Community Observance - Huffington Post Religion Blog 
This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared:

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