Return Again

Rabbi's Message - August 10, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Yesterday we entered into the Hebrew month of Elul, the period of time leading up to the High Holy Days.  It is a time of self-reflection, forgiveness, and exploration.  We are tasked with turning (or returning) our attention to the most important work at hand - ourselves.  Our "homework" is to perform heshbon hanefesh, taking account of our souls.  We must contemplate who we are, who we have been, and who we wish to become in the coming year.

This year, Elul feels like a homecoming in so many ways.  We are gathering for our first in-person Friday night services since March of 2020.  How wonderful it will be to share the words of Hinei Mah Tov while truly appreciating how good and how pleasant it is for us to be in each other’s presence.  This Friday will also be the first of four Shabbatot during which we will pray from our Rosh Hashanah prayerbook, Mishkan HaNefesh.  For the first time in nearly two years, we will hear some of our most beloved holiday melodies and liturgical readings together, in person.  As we read year after year in our High Holiday liturgy: “Now is the time for turning.”    Indeed, it is time.
Since Sunday, the sounds of one of my favorite High Holiday melodies has filled my head - Shlomo Carlebach’s “Return Again.”  Its brooding melody feels daunting, yet hopeful.  This prayer speaks to me so strongly this year because everything about this moment feels like a return.  Physically, emotionally, interpersonally, and spiritually.  “Return again, return again, return to the Land of your Soul.  Return to who you are, return to what you are, return to where you are born and reborn again.”  This can feel like an overwhelming task at the beginning of Elul.  It requires a lot of introspection and critical examination of our true selves.  We just need to remember that the work isn’t too hard for us.  It is within our reach and we must do it.
I pray we all find our way back this year - to our souls, ourselves, and our Creator.  Let this new year be filled with meaningful Shehechiyanu moments in which we joyfully embrace long-lost and new experiences.  I look forward to being with you this Friday night, either in person or streaming on YouTube.  Together, we will return again.