Wow, what an incredible and inspiring Rosh Hashanah Tefillah. Yoel, Joel and R. Dadoun you really surpassed yourselves, thank you.

Another year has flown passed and some of us remember standing here last year after an incredible Tefillah thinking how “This Year” was going to be the year we made all those changes, go to shul more, open up another Sefer, try to stop going to those strictly vegetarian restaurants. The period of time from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur  is known as the Ten Days of Penitence – עשרת ימי תשובה – this is our time to implement those changes, to make sure we don’t let another year go by without becoming the person we really know we can be

The concept of these days as a special unit of time in the Jewish year dates at least to the third century BCE. Rabbi Yohanan, who lived in the Land of Israel during that period, describes his conception of divine judgment and inscription in this season:

“Three books are opened in heaven on Rosh Hashanah, one for the completely wicked, one for the completely righteous and one for those in between. The completely righteous are immediately inscribed in the book of life. The completely wicked are immediately inscribed in the book of death. The fate of those in between is suspended until Yom Kippur. If they do well, they are inscribed in the book of life. If not, in the book of death” (B.Rosh Hashanah l6b).

The Ten Days of Penitence are seen as an opportunity for change. And since the extremes of complete righteousness and complete wickedness are few and far between, Rosh Hashanah functions, for the majority of people, as the opening of a trial that extends until Yom Kippur. It is an unusual trial. Most trials are intended to determine responsibility for past deeds. This one, however, has an added dimension: determining what can be done about future deeds. The עשרת ימי תשובה are crucial to the outcome of the trial, since our verdict is determined both by our attitude toward our misdeeds and by our attempts to rectify them by changing ourselves.

Repentance, Prayer, and Charity

The famous piyyut Unetanah Tokef discusses the fact that between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur there is an opportunity “to avert the severe decree” through three actions: repentance, prayer, and charity. The requirements for repentance include a change of mind, a feeling of regret, and a determination to change, along with an effort to repair the effects of one’s misdeed.

The efficacy of repentance and prayer were the subject of a debate between Rabbi Judah and Rabbi Joshua ben Levi, two early third‑century sages from the Land of Israel. Rabbi Judah teaches that “repentance cancels half the punishment for sin while prayer cancels all the punishment,” while Rabbi Joshua takes the opposite viewpoint. Another early Amora [Talmudic sage], Rabbi Hanana bar Yitzhak, recounted a legend of a meeting between Adam and Cain.

Adam said to him, “What happened regarding your punishment?” Cain replied, “I repented and it was mitigated.” When Primal Adam heard this he banged his head and said, “So great is the power of repentance and I did not know about it!”‘

The extremes to which rabbinic Judaism has gone to convince people of the possibility of repentance is illustrated in the Talmud by the story of Elazar ben Durdaya, a man who “sought out every harlot in the world.”

Once he traveled far just to enjoy the favors of one particular woman who spit in his face and said to him, “Just as this spittle will never return whence it came, so will Elazar ben Durdaya never achieve repentance!” He was so startled and troubled by this that he immediately attempted to repent. He went and sat between two mountains and hills and said, “Mountains and hills, beg mercy for me!” They replied, “Before we can do this for you, we must beg mercy for ourselves, as it is said, ‘For the mountains may move and the hills be shaken”‘ (Isa. 54: 10).

He said, “Heaven and earth, beg mercy for me!” They replied, “Before we can do this for you, we must beg mercy for ourselves, as it is said, ‘Though the heavens should melt away like smoke, and the earth wear out like a garment’” (Isa. 51:6). He said, “Sun and moon, beg mercy for me!” They replied, “Before we can do this for you we must beg mercy for ourselves, as it is said, ‘Then the moon shall be ashamed and the sun shall be abashed”‘ (Isa. 24:23). He said, “Stars and planets, beg mercy for me!” They replied, “Before we can do this for you we must beg mercy for ourselves, as it is said, ‘All the host of heaven shall molder”‘ (Isa. 34:4). He said, “This is dependent upon me alone!” He placed his head between his knees and cried bitterly until he expired. At that moment a voice from heaven declared, “Rabbi Elazar ben Durdaya has been received in the world to come” (B.Avodah Zarah 17a).

The last action which can avert a decree is that of Charity – one accessible to all. The Chairman of the Ma’amad addressed this briefly on Rosh Hashanah day, our synagogue is not just one for meeting on a Shabbat day but an exceptional community. Your generous contributions do not only go towards the upkeep of the premises but also towards the running of children services, religious activities, the new Porat Yosef Kollel and the helping of those who have fallen on hard times and struggling to make ends meet. Shirat Hanah has been set up to help those who are unable to meet the daily requirements of life, help with expenses of Shabbat and Chaggim as well as general support to the community. Thankfully, there are a number of blessed members within our community but this is not the same for everyone, during these עשרת ימי תשובה we would like to appeal to your kind hearts to give what you can to help both yourselves and others and give to this wonderful cause. If there are any within the community who are in need of funds, please do contact either Michel Dadoun or Adam Azoulay in the strictest of confidence. At no point will your circumstances discussed with anyone else within the Ma’amad or Trustees. With your kind contributions -יהי רצון מלפנייך ה, אלוהינו ואלוהיי אבותינו , שתחדש עלינו שנה טובה ומתוקה

May we take this opportunity to wish everyone in the Porat Yosef family a כתיבה וחתימה טובה