From Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur: Thinking, Feeling, Doing
Hey to the Chevra,
There are times when we put on a brave, happy face for the outside world, while inside, our stomachs are turning. We face a health crisis, a job loss, a financial setback, the end of a marriage, or the death of a loved one. As adults, we carefully gauge how much to share and with whom. We hope that our closest friends or family will be good listeners, stand by us through ups and downs, and give us strong support. But sometimes, even those closest become exhausted by our need for their ongoing strength.
Here we are, midway between the days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Days of Awe. These days, from the first day of Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur, are referred to as the Aseret Yemei Teshuva (the 10 Days of Repentance). On Rosh Hashanah, we dress up, eat well, put on that happy face. We shower friends and family, acquaintances and even strangers with heartfelt wishes for abundant blessing. In our hearts, we know that anything could change dramatically for anyone, at any time. After all, that one-in-a-million occurrence has to happen to someone. For that person, that one in a million, their statistic is the only one that truly matters.
These are days that we take seriously. Jews come out of the woodwork to attend services and join others for a festive meal. We enjoy the safety of facing our judgment in a community of fellow Jews. We find comfort in the warm embrace of family and friends. And now, the clock is ticking toward Yom Kippur, when the decrees that were written on Rosh Hashanah will be sealed.
We stand ready for our annual performance review. The Divine Shepherd assesses the sheep one by one. What can we do to stack the odds in our favour? We need an action plan. In our prayers we say teshuva, tefila, tzedaka (repentance, prayer and charity) avert the negative decree.
Much of teshuva (repentance) takes place in our heads. We look in the mirror and we find room for improvement. Are we kinder, more thoughtful, more considerate and sensitive to others and their needs? At the same time, are we stronger, more disciplined, more aware of right and wrong, more willing to take a stand, to recognize the times when we must say no to ourselves or no to others? Have we made the most of the resources G-d has given us? Have we continued to grow, to change, to transform ourselves? Have we stretched to reach our potential? We right the wrongs. We seek forgiveness from those we've hurt or harmed. We take responsibility for our mistakes, our flaws, our weaknesses, our impatience and we promise to change course, to correct, to do better this year.
Tefila, prayer, is about emotion. It's much more than saying the words. It's about feeling the words. The long, yearning sound of the shofar mimics the sorrow, the regret, the disappointment that is deeper than words. Our heads may rationalize, but our hearts know the truth. We could have done better. For some, more would have been less and for others less might have been more. For each of us, the recipe is different, but the result is that our cakes were lacking or lopsided or filled with hot air. Our focus was self-reverent, leaving little space in our lives for G-d, nor room for the real and significant material, emotional and spiritual needs of others.
We try to rectify, to repair, to renew. Chait (Hebrew for sin) means to miss the mark. Life is full of miss-takes, so we do a re-take. G-d is compassionate, long-suffering. He has loads of patience. How can we show our sincerity? Our sages teach us that the third part of this equation is tzedaka. This is the time of year to give generously.
After all, we can't really ask G-d for something that we won't do ourselves. If we want G-d to be patient, forgiving and generous with us, then we need to learn to be patient, forgiving and generous with others. In truth, we mostly want G-d to be all of the above, but we don't want to be bothered to stretch beyond our comfort zone. We'd like G-d to solve the problems of the world and let us enjoy all the comfort. But, G-d rarely lets us live in complacency.
May we be blessed to continue to grow and change through our own efforts and not those forced upon us by outside circumstances. May we rise to the challenges we face and find the inner resources and the support of family, friends and community. May we make the most of the opportunity provided by these 10 days. And, may we be inscribed, each and every one of us, our family and friends, for a year of blessing and bounty, which we in turn use to show G-d that we, too, can live in a G-dly way.
Lauren is a JWRP City Leader and a full-time adult Jewish educator. She works closely with her husband, Rabbi Zischa Shaps, and they are blessed with five children. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.