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Have you Seen My Alps?

Rabbi Streiffer

The great nineteenth century Orthodox leader, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, once surprised his students by insisting that he needed to visit Switzerland. When his students asked him why it was so important, he answered: "When I reach the gates of heaven, I will be asked many questions. And I will have good answers for most of them. But what will I say when God asks me, 'Nu Samson, did you see my Alps?'"

We usually refer to the September holidays as the High Holy Days. It is a name that highlights the austerity and sanctification of this special time. Sometimes we call them the Yamim Nora'im - the Days of Awe. By using that name, we stress the dread and fear sometimes associated with these holidays. But my preferred name for this season is Aseret Y'mai Teshuvah - the Ten Days of Repentance. Because that title emphasizes the unique spiritual process that we undertake during this season.

Teshuvah - repentance - doesn't only mean to feel sorry for what you've done wrong. It comes from the Hebrew root שוב - "to return." To do teshuvah is to return to our true values, to the path that God intends for us and that we intend for ourselves. To do teshuvah means to ask ourselves: Which parts of myself need work? Which of my goals stand unfulfilled? Which of my paths have led me to fulfillment and which have not? Which tasks have I not yet taken on, and which places (maybe the Alps!) have I not yet seen?

When we gather in the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is with this purpose in mind: to reconnect not only with the synagogue and with one another, but also with ourselves. With the selves we wish to be.

I look forward to seeing all of you as we begin a new Jewish year. 5778 promises to be a busy and exciting year filled with learning, celebration, and community. I can’t wait to share it with you.


Rabbi Micah Streiffer

Thu, May 19 2022 18 Iyar 5782