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There is an intensity about Yom Kippur which I find invigorating, challenging, and ultimately renewing. Through the day, we imagine ourselves going through a process of change that draws us close to God and to our deepest self. Teshuvah means a response, a return. To what are we returning?

One response is to God. The soul God gave us is pure. There is an inherent connection between all that lives and the Divine. The world, with the fears and appetites it awakens in us, clouds or muddles that connection. Yom Kippur with Teshuvah allows us to cleanse that which occludes our vision so we realize the connection that always existed between ourselves and God.

Another response is to the deepest, truest part of our self. We are all a mix of distractions, appetites, fears, that break the centeredness necessary for the highest quality of living. In a deep way we forget who we are. Yom Kippur and Teshuvah come along to clear away the distractions and hurts that break the connection with deepest part of who we are.

Yet as Yom Kippur ends and we prepare for Sukkot, we know the work is unfinished. As great as we may have felt at the end of Yom Kippur, as much as we felt this year we have truly put ourselves on the right path to be the person we were always meant to be, by the time we get to Sukkot a few days later, we already realize that the work is incomplete.

There is a secret in this. Every time we overcome one level of temptation, challenge, or fear, we see a new landscape of possibility which opens above us. As we enter and explore that new landscape, we realize the new challenges and possibilities of growth to ascend even higher. This means that the most righteous people exit Yom Kippur with an even deeper sense of the hard work in front of them.

Sukkot arrives as a gift from God as the remedy, as the healing, as an act of grace. We will always be imperfect, broken, unable to achieve true perfection. Yet God is there to accept us anyway, exactly and wholly as we are. It is time for joy and celebration because even small changes, incremental growth, proves that we can draw closer to the people we were meant to be.

It also arrives to remind us of another path of teshuvah. There is the hard work of Yom Kippur, the quiet reflection, the intense prayer. By contrast, Sukkot invites us to our inner wholeness through the smell of the etrog. It warms our soul by inviting us into the beauty of God’s world. It reinvigorates by bringing us together to eat and sing and dance in circles around the Synagogue.

The Jewish people in our multitudes came for Yom Kippur and it was amazing. I invite you to make a point of celebrating Sukkot as well, because together we can discover even greater joy and spiritual growth. Come to the festival, join us at services, build your own Sukkah, or simply play with the people you love most in the world. All of that celebration is just as necessary as was the fast of Yom Kippur.

I wish everyone a season of joy and celebration!

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Samech,

Rabbi David Booth

Sat, December 9 2023 26 Kislev 5784