The Path of Righteousness RABBI MICHAEL S. FRIEDMAN, SENIOR RABBI
One of the highlights of our High Holy Day liturgy is the passage about the Book of Life. We say that God will inscribe each of our names onto its pages, decreeing the destiny we are to live out in the year to come. And then we say in Hebrew, U’teshuvah, u’tefillah, u’tzedakah ma’avirin et ro’ah ha-gezerah – “But repentance, prayer and charity temper judgment’s severe decree.” Cantor Sklar has insightfully noted the deep theological difficulties inherent in this line. Are we really to believe that deeds of repentance, prayer and charity can prevent misfortune from befalling us? And did those who are currently suffering somehow fall short of some requisite amount of repentance, prayer or charity? Despite its troubling nature, we will certainly continue to sing this familiar and iconic line as we worship together. At the same time, your clergy team will suggest that we focus our intention for these High Holy Days with a new, creative translation: Awareness, reconciliation and generosity mark the path of righteousness. AWARENESS The work of the Days of Awe begins with awareness. We are to take an honest and often difficult accounting of who and what we have become. We also take note of the troubling state of our world. Awareness leads us to acknowledge the many ways in which we have not fulfilled our promises, have avoided our responsibilities, and have let ourselves down. At the same time awareness helps us appreciate the many blessings that make our lives good and holy and the ways in which we have grown and changed for the better this year. RECONCILIATION The essential task of the High Holy Days is repair. Only through reconciliation can we shed the burden of our mistakes. These Days of Awe are an opportunity to repair relationships with those we love most, to heal ruptures with friends from whom we have grown distant. GENEROSITY While giving tzedakah is always an important Jewish principle, the generosity called for on these Days of Awe goes beyond financial matters. We are called to be generous with forgiveness, accepting the apologies of all who approach us with sincerity. We are called to be generous with our time, seeking out the lonely and the ill to comfort them with companionship. We are called to be generous with our compassion, softening our hearts which can sometimes grow so very hard. PATH OF RIGHTEOUSNESS We know that awareness, reconciliation and generosity cannot guarantee good fortune or blessing. However, if we take the opportunity to live by these three core values of the High Holy Days we will certainly move closer to becoming our best selves. May we be blessed with insight and with God’s guidance as we seek to place ourselves on the path of righteousness.