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Friday, 23 August, 2019 - 8:00 am

Dear Friends,

As the Hebrew month of Tishrei approaches, with many important holidays, it’s a good time to reflect on how our faith offers a safe, secure haven from stormy days in a chaotic, tumultuous world. In light of recent news, let us ponder deeper aspects of the High Holidays, as we automatically turn towards spirituality and seeking answers and purpose when life feels uncertain and threatening.

Rosh Hashanah is the head of the year, and yet we often find ourselves walking into the synagogue disoriented by the chaos in the world and the challenges in our personal lives. However, Rosh Hashanah is essentially about reflecting on our relationship with G-d, and His caring, loving presence.  Many of us have an unfortunate image of G-d as a powerful, stern man in the sky with a large stick.  This can intimidate us from connecting with Him as that compassionate, caring presence, or connecting with Him at all. As a Chassidic master once told a self-proclaimed atheist, "The G-d that you don't believe in, I don't believe in either. “

A question to reflect on: what was my perception of G-d in my childhood, and has this perception changed?

Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement and yet, G-d asks us to do something before making amends with Him: to make amends with our family and friends. When He sees that we are “loving whom your Beloved loves,” he is especially open to our prayers and requests.  After we have asked forgiveness from the people in our lives, we turn to G-d and acknowledge where we have fallen short this past year and commit to doing better in the year ahead. It is in this spirit of honesty and vulnerability that we can culminate Yom Kippur day with the holiest moments of the entire year, in an intense, intimate oneness with G-d in the Neilah Prayer. Perhaps before asking G-d for forgiveness, we need to forgive ourselves. Often, we are our harshest critics. We forget that making mistakes is part of what makes us human. G-d isn’t happy when His children aren’t treated kindly. You are one of G-d's children. We need to practice kindness within ourselves.

Some questions to reflect on: which friends and family do I need to make amends to? What character defects do I need to talk to G-d about?

Sukkot is that glorious season when we eat in a hut outdoors, surrounded by

G-d's bounty.  As we commemorate G-d's clouds of protection to the Jews in the Sinai desert, on all six sides, we affirm that then, and now, our security comes from more than stocks and bonds and solid roofs over our heads: it comes from G-d's will,  from His goodness. It is disconcerting and anxiety-provoking to face the fact that there are no guarantees in life, especially in today’s uncertain world. That's why we rejoice in our relationship with G-d-- we acknowledge that ultimately there is no reason to be afraid, because G-d is our ultimate provider, protector, and constant presence.

On Simchat Torah (the day immediately following Sukkot) we dance with the Torah closed. If we opened it, some might feel inadequate or intimidated by others who are more familiar with the text. The learning and doing can and must come later, for on this day, we all just rejoice that this gift of truth belongs to everyone, not simply to the Rabbi or the Rebbetzin or the learned scholars:  it belongs equally to every single Jew.

Some questions to reflect on: how have I made ideas, material things, and acquisitions my sense of true (or only) security? How can I make rejoicing in G-d's protection and presence a daily act of affirmation and gratitude?

A lasting high and real security don’t come from a promotion, social media, a new car, or a glass of wine. They're certainly wonderful to savor in the moment (and become meaningful when used in meaningful ways, as with family, or for G-d), but in and of themselves they don't spiritually sustain us.

This season is called the High Holidays because of the truly elevated, lasting purpose they give us, not for the promise of adrenaline rushes or everlasting bliss.

They give something better and deeper: they give us precious reminders of G-d's presence in our personal life, of His unconditional love for us, of His forgiveness, of His protection, of His guidance, and our ability to act with courage and kindness, tapping into our higher selves. In a world fraught with uncertainties, disappointments and pain, these Highs can serve as the foundation of faith and quiet security that lead to a deeply meaningful year.

With love and blessings,

Rabbi Fishel Zaklos

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