Holiday Message from Rabbi Stephen

We put a lot of effort into crafting an excellent High Holidays.

However, it does not matter how beautiful the music is, how moving the sermons are, how well planned the children’s programming, if we are not emotionally or spiritually ready to do the work of the High Holidays. Sometimes, we miss the purpose of the Holidays, simply because we don’t know where to focus. All of the other people are well dressed. The special prayer book is huge. So is the number of people in attendance. The services are long. All of this can distract us from doing the essential spiritual work for which the Holidays have been designed: prompting personal spiritual growth. In order to sharpen our focus this year, I am selecting a theme for our High Holidays: Awakening.

The following is a selection from R. Alan Lew, who offers one of the best descriptions of what spiritual awakening feels like. Try reading and imagining along with this description.

“Suddenly, you are awakened by a strange noise, a noise that fills the full field of your consciousness and then splits into several jagged strands, shattering that field, shaking you awake. The ram’s horn, the shofar, the same instrument that will sound one hundred times on Rosh Hashanah, the same sound that filled the world when the Torah was spoken into being on Mount Sinai, is being blown to call you to wakefulness. You awake to confusion. Where are you? Who are you?”

“Then you remember, in exactly one month, one revolution of the moon, you will stand before God. What will God see on that day? What will you see? This encounter can carry you significantly closer to the truth of your life. Standing in the light of God, you can see a great deal more than you ordinarily might, but only to the degree that you are already awake, only in proportion to the time and energy you have devoted to preparing for this encounter.”1

The month prior to Rosh Hashanah, Elul, is designated on the Jewish calendar for reflection on this past year. The Shofar can be heard blasting in morning minyan each day. The key question of this time is: What can I do to prepare myself for this encounter with God?

  • You could keep a journal, drawing your attention to key aspects of your life that need attention. Reflect over your day.
  • You could spend more time in daily prayer, increasing opportunities for reflection and connection with the divine. I recommend coming to minyan on Wednesday morning or another day that fits your schedule.
  • You could come to the new Shalem service on Shabbat to get started on practicing the virtue of forgiveness.
  • You could read a book. You can find a link to Alan Lew’s book here. Please consider purchasing and reading it.
  • You can listen to our Elul playlist created by Sarah Metzger to help you get more familiar with some of the songs we will sing together this year.

Wishing you a Happy and Spiritually Awakened New Year!

Rabbi Stephen



1Alan Lew, “The Horn Blew and I Began to Wake Up” in This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared (2003).


Rabbi Stephen’s D’var Torah

Rabbi Stephen Slater Devarim Dvar Torah – 072118

Rabbi Stephen Slater Balak Dvar Torah – leadership – 6-29-18