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High Holidays message: The power of return


Daniel Moscowitz

Have you heard the story about the elderly carpenter who was ready to retire? He told his employer-contractor of his plans to leave the house-building business and live a leisurely life with his wife enjoying his extended family. He would miss the paycheck, but he needed to retire. They could get by.

The contractor was sorry to see his faithful worker go and asked if he could build just one more house as a personal favor. The carpenter said yes, but in time it was easy to see that his heart was not in his work. He resorted to shoddy workmanship and used inferior materials. It was an unfortunate way to end a dedicated career.

When the carpenter finished his work the employer came to inspect the house. He handed the front-door key to the carpenter. “This is your house,” he said, “my gift to you.”

The carpenter was shocked! What a shame! If he had only known he was building his own house, he would have done it all so differently.


The two days of Rosh Hashanah which comprise the Jewish New Year, the seven days that follow, and the concluding day of Yom Kippur, are an auspicious time in which to rectify our shortcomings and draw close to our Creator and to our fellow man. These days are known as the “Ten Days of Teshuva”. Although the Hebrew word “teshuva” is commonly translated as repentance, “teshuva” actually means return. The path of return begins with sincere regret for past transgressions and includes a genuine resolve to embrace acts of goodness and kindness.

This unique period of the year, gives us the opportunity to examine the year gone by so that we can fine-tune our objectives for the year to come. All too often we are so engrossed in crossing the finish line, that we lose sight of how we are getting there. Life is so hectic that we rarely take the time needed to adjust the settings. Without pausing to take a peek through the rear view mirror and adjusting it, we are in danger of a real collision; and we’ll never get the chance to move forward.

The carpenter in our story certainly wished that he could turn back the clock and rebuild his house. We all dream of taking back some hurtful words or unseemly actions. At this time of the year, we are blessed with the ability to return and make amends.

The power of “teshuva” reminds us to stop, look back, and readjust. It is one of the most powerful gifts of all. Let us use it to its fullest and in turn may we be blessed with a Happy, Healthy & Meaningful New Year.

Rabbi Daniel Moscowitz lives in Northbrook and is the regional director of the Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois. E-mail him at 

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