Teshuva, tefilla, tsedaka

Teshuva, tefilla, tsedaka—repentance, prayer, and generosity—help alleviate the severity of the decree.

In the Unetaneh tokef, one of the central prayers for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we can be easily distracted by the image of a stern deity meting out reward and punishment in the Book of Life. That image is terrifying and repelling to many of us. Yet we continue to sing those words while standing before the open ark. Why do we keep this in our liturgy?

I believe it hits a deep chord in us. At its heart, the prayer reminds us: I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, so what will I do with today?

Then the prayer answers that question:  Teshuva, tefilla, tsedaka. As my Reconstructionist colleague Rabbi Richard Hirsh translates them: direction, reflection, and connection make it possible to live within boundaries not of our making and beyond our control.”

Whatever is to come in the New Year, and whatever trials we have weathered this past year, are mitigated by our overall approach to life.

The mitzvah that I’m focusing on for this week is the middle word, tefilla/prayer/reflection. We offer you several opportunities to enter into prayerful reflection in the coming week:

50th anniversary celebration of Temple Hillel B’nai Torah (Shabbat morning, 10 to noon followed by festive Kiddush)

Welcome guests who grew up at Temple Beth Hillel of Mattapan and Beth Torah of West Roxbury and learn about the history of the Jews of Boston. What is the legacy of these two congregations? What can we gain from the experience of those who grew up in these two communities?

Selichot program (Saturday night 8 to 10pm)

With our sister congregation Dorshei Tzedek, Rabbi Toba Spitzer will lead us in an exploration of the Jewish take on reparations, and Tracy Rich and I will lead a half hour of chant and meditation on the themes of the holy days. What is my purpose and what connections do I need to strengthen during the days of repentance?

Make Your High Holy Days Awesome (Sunday 10am to noon)

Bring your questions to all or part of this workshop on the themes, prayers, and practices of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  How can I deepen my experience of being in the synagogue, to get past boredom, confusion, vulnerability, and resistance to find meaning?

See the notices in the newsletter for details.

Shanah tovah – wishing you and yours a sweet New Year, filled with opportunities for direction, reflection, and connection,

Rabbi Barbara Penzner

Posted on September 19, 2019 .