Sunday, September 23, 2012

10 Thoughts for the 10 Days of Repentance

The impulse to do evil is at first like a passer-by, then like a lodger, and finally like the master of the house.—Talmud Sukkah 52b

When you arise from your [Torah] learning reflect carefully on what you have studied, in order to see what in it can be put into practice. Examine your actions every morning and evening, and in this way every one of your days will be spent in repentance. – From Nachmanides’ “Letter to His Son”

All beings long for the very source of their origin. Every plant, every grain of sand, every clod of earth, small creatures and great, the heavens and the angels, every substance and its particles -- all of them are longing, yearning, panting to attain the state of holy perfection. Human beings suffer constantly from this homesickness of the soul, and it is in prayer that we cure it. When praying, we feel at one with the whole creation, and raise it to the very source of blessing and life. -- Rabbi Abraham Kook, Olat Re'iya

The primary purpose of prayer is to praise, to sing, to chant. Because the essence of prayer is a song and [humans] cannot live without a song. Prayer may not save us, but prayer may make us worthy of being saved. – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

God is close. God is here. God is life. Therefore celebrate life. Sanctify life. Turn life into a blessing and make a blessing over life. That is Judaism in 25 words. – Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

By undermining the classic conceptions of humanity, Marxist, Darwinian and Freudian accounts tragically removed the great constraints on human behavior. They did this in different ways, but all three subverted the force of the ‘Thou shalt not.’ When nothing is sacred, then nothing is sacreligious. – Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, The Great Partnership: Science, Religion and the Search for Meaning

Repentance exhibits man at his most creative, as he remolds and refashions his own personality. – Rabbi Berry Gelman, Morthdoxy Blog

Gustave Dore, Ezra in Prayer, 19th-century engraving

Job puts the issue of God's purpose in creating him in the form of a direct challenge: "Why then hast thou brought me forth out of the womb?" The force of the question resides not in any implied answer but in the question itself. The very power to ask the question becomes itself a testimony to God's purposefulness. . . . [Job] is saying in effect: You made me, and here I am, capable of asking you questions about it. . . . To be able to say . . . "Why hast thou brought me forth out of the womb?" is to demonstrate that man is more than dust, more than clay on the potter's wheel, more even than embryo. These images dissolve at the moment they are affirmed as argument. To say Why is to say that none of these images adequately express the mystery of human creatureliness. The clay cannot say to the potter, What are you doing, but man can and does. . . . Ultimately, we return to the model of Gen. 2:7 to Gen. 1:26f, where the relation between creator and creature is founded not on the kneading of clay but on the majesty of saying itself. "God said, Let us make man in our image." To turn to God and ask him to remember is to challenge him with that mystery. A human creature may be no more than a shred of protoplasm, but he is endowed with the commanding power of saying and asking. To see God as artificer in accordance with the imagery of Gen. 2:7 gives us access to the realm of art, but to see God as a saying God and to see man as made in the image of a saying God takes us beyond art to the realm in which God and man address each other in mutual independence. -- Harold Fisch, Poetry with a Purpose

Job is driven to ask himself the question "To be or not to be?" The answer forced out of him is that life, however unwelcome, has to be endured. To choose life becomes the supreme challenge, the near-impossible task for a hero as sorely tempted as Job is to curse God and die. When all the interpretations have been heard, this remains the irreducible core of Job's righteousness. Job, a worm and no man, reduced to a condition in which life is loathsome to him and death is the desired goal, nevertheless chooses life. It is life that is commanded, even life without comfort, hope, or honor. It is in his flesh, or even it may be when his flesh has been stripped from his bones, that he will see God. Here is the impossible claim of the Hebrew religion. "Therefore choose life" is the command of a creator God who has made us into a living soul, a nepesh hayya. We will not fathom his purpose in so doing, but in the very breath we breathe, in the pulse we feel still beating in our tormented flesh, we have the manifest command of that creative will. . . . Life is given even to the bitter in soul -- and it obligates. -- Harold Fisch, Poetry with a Purpose 

Freedom is God's greatest gift to humankind but it also the most fateful and terrifying. For it means that we alone have the power to destroy the work of God. . . . God gave us freedom, knowing the risks. Because we are free, we bear responsibility for our deeds: we need to repent. But because we are free, we can change, so we are able to repent. -- Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, The Koren Yom Kippur Mahzor

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