Rabbi Steinhardt's Sermons

Selichot 5780

How quickly time passes!  It is hard to believe, already a new year. Time – what a gift!  Yet there is a frequent companion to time.  I think with Judaism time is one of the two critical considerations of this holy season.

We look at time in two ways.

One as a straight line – there is a beginning and an end. We are born; we will die. The world was created, and it will end.

But we also know there is an element to time that is a circle.

There is a cycle of life. We have a starting point, and we will return to that point. That’s the way it works with seasons. Summer is ending, then fall, winter, spring … and summer again.

In Judaism, we pay attention to both conceptions of time. We have seasonal time, marked by festivals that celebrate the changing seasons and what they bring. There is the profound consideration of life and death: birth and beginnings … death and the end.

On this night and the High Holy Days, we think in those terms. Rosh Hashanah is a new beginning. We are grateful to have come through another year. With its many struggles and challenges, we have arrived at this moment – a threshold to another year and, God willing, to more time.

On Yom Kippur, we contemplate death. We take a deep look at ourselves and consider what is the value of our lives. What did we accomplish? What did we fail to do? Knowing that our time is limited we will ask ourselves how we want to be remembered.

Besides this consideration of time, another concept is introduced – the most important idea of all. It is called teshuvah. We most popularly relate to or define it as repentance or return. I would like to lay out a new way of looking at teshuvah, and it is in relation to our use of time and our attachment to God.

We are on a path, a track. If we were perfect, we wouldn’t need to do teshuvah. Teshuvah is necessary when we fall off the tracks – when we act in ways that aren’t reflective of who or what we can be. When we hurt. When we do something wrong. Make mistakes. When those errors in our lives happen, we become separated from God. We are alienated from the ideal we wish to live up to.

Teshuvah is our return from alienation. When we, as the Biblical metaphor says, walk with God, we are in line with God. We are on the same track. But when we fail, we move away. We fall away.

There is a new wonderful documentary about the history of country music by Ken Burns. In the documentary, he interviews someone with a deep connection to the music of church on Sunday morning. One interviewee says: Saturday night in the town is wild. We drink and we behave in all sorts of ways that bring us away from God.

So, we need Sunday morning! We need its music that brings us back to God. Understand it is a metaphor. For us, this night is the beginning of Sunday morning! If we are decent, we want to return.

The moment we are separated from that ideal, a separation from God, there is a deep yearning to return. Repentance is longing, yearning, pining to return again. Yearning and longing happen to us when we lose something. When we sin, we lose a connection to God.

Teshuvah is about yearning, longing and reuniting. We are coming home –here … with our community, in our sanctuary looking for our God, and to our best selves.