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Why Do People Go to High Holiday Services?

Dear Friend,

When was the last time someone said that the reason he or she goes to High Holiday services is because of the rabbi’s sermon? I know some of my colleagues would like to think that their eloquence is what brings people to the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but we all know that listening to the rabbi speak is just another duty we have to put up with as Jews.

Of course, the sermon is an opportunity for the rabbi to communicate with his congregation; to highlight matters that are of concern to him and to the community, to bring to light global issues that he believes need to addressed, and to perhaps even inspire some people to become more involved in Jewish life.

But is that really why people are at services? The reason most people I know go to High Holiday services—especially if they aren’t “shul regulars”—is because that’s what Jews do. Even someone that isn’t entirely sure he believes in G-d will likely attend a service at some point during this month of holidays, because that’s where a Jew belongs. It isn’t because he can’t wait to hear the rabbispeak or the chazzan sing.

Jews are there because they are Jews. G-d loves the fact that they showed up today, even if it was only for an hour or 30 minutes or even less. You showed up and that’s what counts.

Small steps towards an enhanced Jewish lifestyle is what G-d wants. Judaism is not about doing everything at once, it’s about going just a little outside of your comfort zone and doing a bit more than before.

So the fact that you came to services is an opportunity to continue growing your Judaism. A little more Torah, a little more prayer, a little more charity and good deeds; these will go a long way in enhancing our relationship with G-d and making the time we spend in the synagogue fulfilling.

So let’s move beyond the long sermons and instead let’s focus on growing together as Jews and as a community, one small step at a time.

May you and yours be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet year!

Rabbi Eliezer Zalmanov


(This column also appeared in The Times of Israel

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