High Holy Days Seminar - 2008

We offer here a small sampling of the 40-plus High Holy Day sermons that are on the Board of Rabbis 2008 Sermon Exchange CD. If you would like more information about this CD and the Sermon Exchange, please email us at boardofrabbis@jewishla.org.


Return to the Scene of the Crime (Yizkor, 2007)

Rabbi Stephen S. Pearce, PhD
Congregation Emanu-El

"We are all failures," suggests Abraham Joshua Heschel, so much so that at least once a year, we ought to own up to our shame. We have much to be contrite about---missed opportunities, disappointments, inadequacies, and shortfalls. The awesome power of this day compels us to admit to shortcomings and sins as we pray that transgressions be erased.

Seventy years ago, Delmore Schwartz translated this pervasive sense of personal failure into a powerfully moving short story (originally published in the 1937 Partisan Review) that begins in a movie theater. Entitled, "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities," after W. B. Yeats' epigraph for his book of poems entitled "Responsibilities" (1914), Schwartz' narrative propelled the then 25-year-old aspiring writer into the limelight. Irving Howe recalled how he and other youthful readers were stunned by the story and felt a not-to-be-forgotten "shock of recognition" in its graceful but powerful words. Click here to read the complete sermon


We regret that the following two sermons of our colleagues were not included on the 2008 Sermon Exchange CD.

My New Year Wishes 5768

Rabbi Jacob Pressman

As we begin this solemn season of self-examination and facing our shortcomings during the past year, we seek forgiveness at the throne of the Almighty judge. But first we must seek forgiveness from those we may have offended on earth.

Let me begin with myself. If at any time during the past year anything I may have said, or anything I may have done has hurt you or offended you; or anything I may not have said, or anything I may not have done may have hurt you or offended you; then I say, "You are just too sensitive."

I greet one and all with love and good wishes for this new year. Click here for the complete sermon


The High Holiday Quartet

Rabbi Judith HaLevy
Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue
Vice President, Board of Rabbis of Southern California
Erev Rosh Hashanah, 2007

It is the music of this season that moves our souls. We hear the shema, sung in the majestic mode of the High Holidays, and we know that we are home. Slowly, our ears and then our hearts open to our ancient melodies. We begin to sing the song of our souls.

The poetry of the great Rav Kook, who was the first chief Rabbi of Israel in the 1930's, speaks of four levels of song. There is the Song of the Self, the Song of Community, the Song of the Nation and the Song of the Universe. Hopefully, we will sing all four songs in this sacred season, finding our own true voice in each one. Tonight, we sing of self and community, tomorrow, the community of Israel, and on Yom Kippur we will sing of the nation and the universe. In the words of HaRav Kook:

  • Some sing the Song of the soul.
  • Within their own soul they discover everything, their complete spiritual fulfillment
  • Others sing the song of the Knesset Yisrael, the community of Israel.
  • They leave the restricted circle of the self, and bind themselves to the soul of the community. They sing her songs, feel her pain, delight in her hopes, and contemplate her past and her future.
  • Others allow their souls to expand beyond the people of Israel. They sing the song of Humanity, reveling in the grandeur of humankind, the illustriousness of his Divine image. They aspire towards humanity's ultimate goal, and yearn for its sublime fulfillment.
  • And some reach even higher in the expanse, until they unite with all of existence, with all creatures and all worlds. With all of them, they sing the Song of the Universe. (Ha-Rav Kook, Orot HaKodesh II:444)

Click here for the complete sermon



Poems on Genesis 22, the Akedah