I’ve come to the conclusion we need to change the date of Simchat Torah. Our Jewish festivals must be re-envisioned as inspirational community gatherings of joyful spiritual Jewish celebration. Every single festival needs to be a time of great community involvement and meaning.
In the game “Truth-or-Dare,” I choose “truth” nearly every time. I’m not much of a dare-taker. Thus, if you and I were playing “Special Edition Truth-or-Dare: High Holy Days,” I would confess that the prayer Avinu Malkeinu provides me with both my second-favorite liturgical moment and my second-greatest pet peeve of the year’s liturgy. (Note: Even though I may have to repent for it, I will leave you in suspense about my favorite liturgical moment and my greatest liturgical pet peeve. Also, “Special Edition Truth-or-Dare: High Holy Days” is fictional, although I hereby declare copyright in the event Mattel or Hasbro comes knocking at my door.)
Tekiah! Teruah! Shevarim! Tekiah Gedolah!
In the traditional liturgy, the special character of each holiday is particularly conveyed by the piyyutim (hymns, liturgical poems) that are recited or chanted on that day. Most of these piyyutim have been omitted in Reform liturgies since the nineteenth century, out of a sense that their Hebrew diction is too arcane and their theology too medieval. Yet, some of these poems have routinely been retained in Reform High Holy Day prayer books, particularly for Yom Kippur.
The opening line of this portion, "The Eternal One spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they drew too close to the presence of the Eternal" (Leviticus 16:1), reminds us that the holy is not only attractive, but also dangerous.
Why does the Torah mention the deaths of Nadab and Abihu here in Acharei Mot, when the story of their deaths was told in its entirety in Parashat Sh'mini? What is it that the Torah is trying to teach us through this repetition?
Every Yom Kippur afternoon, congregations all over the world read the Book of Jonah, as set out for us in the Babylonian Talmud, M'gillah 31a. Most people believe that this haftarah is chosen because it models complete repentance.
Decades ago, Rabbi Jack Reimer explained Yom Kippur for me this way. It's not saying: I'm sorry I was bad and I won't do it again. That's only a Sunday school, superficial expression of something much deeper and spiritually far more important.