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Chizuk Amuno Congregation

Vocabulary Lesson for the High Holidays

The High Holidays are a difficult time for many reasons. Not the least of which is the language used. I don’t mean Hebrew, though Hebrew is a barrier for many when the day is so liturgically heavy. The challenge is that, even in English, many of the words and concepts of the high holidays are inaccessible to us. They might as well be in Hebrew or Latin or Tlingit, for all we know.

So we are going back to school for a vocabulary lesson to help us unpack the semantics of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is a list of ten words through which we translate our moral and spiritual commitments into concrete terms.

Sin – estrangement from God
Iniquity – absence of moral or spiritual values
Justice – the quality of being just or fair
Mercy – a disposition to be kind and forgiving
Forgiveness – the act of excusing a mistake or offense
Transgression – the violation of a law , duty or moral principle
Remember – keep in mind for attention or consideration
Repentance – remorse for your past conduct
Sovereign – greatest in status or power
10. Compassion – a deep awareness of and sympathy for another’s suffering

Some are words we use in every day conversation, most are foreign and yet are an integral part of the next ten days. The definitions change over the years as each age and generation redefines them, that is the dynamism of the liturgy of the Holidays.