When I think of the High Holidays, I think of homecoming. Isn't repentance, the theme of the holidays, the homecoming of the soul?
Consider our Torah, the Book of Books. It speaks loud and often about return -- teshuvah. Repentance and return, the same Hebrew word. That word Teshuvah is a one-word sermon that says it all. Return to Holiness, return to your people. Come on home, you wanderers, it says. Come back home to Zion -- that city high on the hill where you left your heart.
You can also apply the High Holidays message of teshuva to family. We all have our family Diaspora. Especially today where the whole wide world gleams with neon signs that lure our kids. And 767 flights that carry them away from us are cheap and plentiful.
I call the daughter in my Diaspora every year, a couple weeks before the Holidays.
"Lisa, this is your father, who with some assistance from your mama, gave you life."
"Oh, hi, Dad."
"Lisa, Rosh Hashana is around the corner. I assume you'll return to Zion. I mean Huntsville, Alabama, where we two senior life givers reside."
"Uh, I¹ll try, Dad."
"Lisa, remember Jeremiah the prophet who could see the future and read the human heart like you read the directions on packaged matzah ball mix? Well, he said, 'Return ye backsliding children.' What a prophet -- three millennia and 8,000 miles removed, yet he knew all about you. And if you don't believe me, check Jeremiah 3:22."
"Dad, we went through this last year. Remember, I couldn't come, but to make you happy, I sent you the signed note from the Rabbi testifying that I attended services."
"Yeah, sure. But you really oughta come home this year. It's your poor, old mom I'm worried about. She came home from water aerobics yesterday, sloshing and gurgling. Her shopping time is way down, too."
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. There's an old fable (I just originated it) that makes the point about kids and High Holiday homecoming.
It's a neat parable about a family who lives happily in a cabin surrounded by a thick, pathless woods. Beyond the woods is a meadow, then the bright world.
The father knows that sooner or later the son -- energized by his youthful curiosity about the world beyond the meadow -- will leave the bosom of his family. Ah, but those woods. Dark, frightening, full of brambles. The boy will never find his way back to the cabin once his restless heart is satisfied.
"When you leave," said the father, "you must mark your trail because someday you'll want to return. Don't forget."
"Right," replied the confident youth. "But why do you always think me a half-grown fool who can't even find his way home and why do you assume I¹ll return? The people out there (and he gestured beyond the cabin walls) will think me wise and beautiful. You'll see."
Soon after this conversation, the boy left. Early in the morning he stole out of his bedroom window and stepped into the impenetrable forest and brashly rushed through the woods in his eagerness for freedom. At a safe distance, the father followed, diligently marking the trail from home through the woods. Then with a long look at his son briskly striding over the meadow, the father returned home.
At Rosh Hashana, the youth returned. And at the festive holiday table, told wondrous tales of the woods and the world beyond. "And did you have any trouble finding your way back to us?" asked the father.
"None whatsoever," replied the son. "I told you the trail is clearly marked. Piece of cake!"
So says the legend. It's not a bad moral. They all come home sooner or later. But you must mark the trail. May all your children find their way home this Rosh Hashana and may the lost ones of Israel find their way through the thick and thorny woods. The trail is clearly marked.