The sounding of the shofar on the first day of Rosh Hashanah signals the beginning of what is traditionally known as "10 days of repentance" leading up to Yom Kippur (Sept. 13), the holiest of all Jewish Holy Days.
But Rabbi Zippel doesn't like the "10 days of repentance" tradition.
"I think it implies that we're all a bunch of sinners," he said. Instead, he prefers the interpretation of the Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, one of the founding fathers of the Lubavitch movement of Judaism, who referred to them as "the 10 days of return."
"I like that," Rabbi Zippel said. "It is a return to our original self, a return to the perfection of our soul to the way it was placed by God when we were born. The 10 days of return begin on Rosh Hashanah, and the 10th day is Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement, the day all sins are forgiven."
Although Yom Kippur falls this year on Friday the 13th, the rabbi urged his congregation to take no notice of that.
"This is a very serious time of reflection, a very serious time of introspection, a very significant and auspicious time," he said during a recent interview. "This is about returning. God wants us to simply come home. That's where each and every one of us belongs."
One of the critical elements of Yom Kippur is a day of fasting and total focus on the solemnity of the day.
"There is no work, no eating, no drinking on this day," Rabbi Zippel said. "We refrain from any engagement with the physical world and entirely rededicate ourselves to our spiritual identity. Through this our souls are cleansed entirely."
The Atonement of Yom Kippur is automatic, the rabbi said, and "is granted to us for transgressions between man and God." But for transgressions between man and man, it's another story.
"Yom Kippur doesn't cover interpersonal difficulties," he said, smiling. "That would be too easy. So we are urged to make amends within our failed relationships with family, friends and business associates. This is a time of year to reach out to your fellow person and say, 'Let's work it out,' or, 'I am sorry.' If we want God to forgive us for our shortcomings, we need to demonstrate that by letting go of our hurt feelings and forgive others."
Such forgiveness, Rabbi Zippel said, both between man and God as well as man and man, is critical to making 5774 "a good year and a sweet year, a year of goodness and peace."
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