by Rabbi Howard Cohen
Fall is the season of change. Leaves turn colors, days grow shorter, and birds begin to migrate. Animal fur grows thick; layers of fat are laid in. Water warmed all summer by the sun slowly begins to sink to the bottom of the lake and displaces the colder less dense water. Everywhere you turn, change is in the air.
When I think of the high holy days I think of change. Our ancestors called this change teshuvah. Tradition understands teshuvah to mean repentance, which in turn implies contrition or regret for past wrongs. It also generally assumes a personal commitment to change. Change as a corrective activity has its place. In fact, some say the fundamental difference between humans and animals (I think this really means all of nature) is that we alone have the ability to reflect upon, and review, our past actions; and presumably change. In religious terms this means that we alone have the potential to do teshuvah. I suppose this is true and in any case it doesn’t hurt to believe it is so.
However, what is true is this: change is fundamental to all of nature and despite a inclination to deny it this includes us, for we are no more or less a part of nature than anything else in the universe. Change in nature is neither good, nor bad. It simply is and that is enough. Our liturgy and rabbis are steadfast in urging us to “do teshuvah” this time of year. It is good we are told, to reflect upon our past actions, seek forgiveness and commit to refining our behavior. I wish our tradition put less emphasis on change as a corrective action. I think this just makes it that much harder to embrace change in our lives as something healthy and natural.
Howard Cohen is rabbi at Congregation Shirat Hayam, Marshfield MA. He is the Senior Guide/Owner of Burning Bush Adventures, Co-Rabbi Congregation Beth Israel, and 1st Lt. Bennington Village Fire Department. He lives in Bennington, VT on Barefoot Farm.