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Rabbi Michael Barclay

Rabbi Michael Barclay

Every year around this time, Jews throughout the Conejo and Las Virgenes valleys begin to be concerned with something called the High Holidays.

But what are these holidays, what are they about, why do they seem to come up at different times every year and how do they affect everyone else?

Because the Jewish calendar is based on lunar rotations with adjustments made for the solar calendar, the English dates of these holidays change every year, but they are always around late summer or early fall.

Called “Yomim Nora’im” (Days of Awe), they are the 10 days that start with the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, this year the evening of Sept. 4, and end with Yom Kippur, Sept. 14 this year.

Rosh Hashanah is considered the Jewish New Year, although it is technically only one of the four new years in the Jewish calendar.

We believe that it is the birthday of the world, but on a more personal level it is the day that each of us opens our Book of Life.

We take a look at how we behaved with others over the last year and begin to make amends to people we have hurt.

This process, called Tshuvah, is continued throughout the next 10 days, ending with Yom Kippur.

On Yom Kippur, we disconnect ourselves from the physical world by fasting and have a personal dialogue with God as a community so that we make peace with our souls and Creator.

Simply put, on Rosh Hashanah we look at our Book of Life, take 10 days to clean up past messes and write in it what we hope to achieve in the coming year. On Yom Kippur we seal the book.

It is important to recognize that this process is not as painful as it may sound. Tshuvah is a psychological and practical process developed thousands of years ago. Rather than just apologizing to someone, the process of Tshuvah strengthens the relationship.

Similar to part of the 12-step program, we must go to the person we hurt, apologize for what we have done, fix whatever we did and commit to not doing it again.

As an example, if I broke a neighbor’s window playing baseball, I must not only apologize to him but must fix the window. I then commit to not breaking it again, and the next time I play ball I am more careful about his window.

By doing this, I not only get real forgiveness from him but deepen our personal relationship. Trust is developed between us as my neighbor recognizes that I take full responsibility for my actions. He not only feels better about me, but in acting so responsibly, I feel better about myself.

Though the process can be scary at first, the rewards are huge.

The Talmud, one of our sacred texts, says multiple times that Yom Kippur is one of the two happiest days of the year. The joy and freedom that come with the realization that God forgives us as we forgive each other is monumental. The community is strengthened, relationships are deepened, and we are able to be more in touch with our soul’s higher purpose.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we all acted this way with each other all year round?

If we make Tshuvah with each other, rectify our wrongs on a personal level and deepen our relationships, then we are truly creating peace in the world.

May everyone be blessed with a Shanah Tovah u’Metukah—a good and sweet year!

Barclay is the spiritual leader of Temple Ner Simcha ( and the author of “Sacred Relationships: Biblical Wisdom for Deepening Our Lives Together.” Reach him at