They are called the Days of Awe. But all too often the logistics of the High Holy Days take away from their power. We worry about planning meals, service schedules tickets, parking, streaming, managing our schedules or our kids’ school requirements.
If this last year-and-a-half has taught us anything, it is that all the logistics are not what really matters. The old Yiddish proverb says, “We plan, God laughs.” Prior to the pandemic, our lives were moving so quickly that slowing down seemed nearly impossible. But no matter our plans, the pandemic forced us to change course. We found ways to take walks, experiment in the kitchen, or try our hand with a new craft. We found ways to live meaningful Jewish lives, to celebrate Shabbat, and to connect with loved ones. Was it ideal? No. But the pandemic did remind us to spend time on what really matters. The shofar of the month of Elul and sounded on the High Holy Days calls out to us for a similar type of slowing down and reflection.
The logistics don’t matter. What does matter is how we spend our time asking daring questions of ourselves. We spend our time considering our potential for good and how we want to walk towards a brighter tomorrow. We turn our gaze into the soul’s mirror to see where we have strayed and how we might return to the best that is inside of us. Perhaps, we can right a relationship with those we love. The High Holy Days are a time for remembering that God has endowed us with the gift of our own humanity. I am reminded of this Chasidic tale:
A disciple sat in study before the great Rabbi Mordechai of Nadvorna. Before Rosh Hashanah, the disciple came to Rabbi Mordechai and asked to leave the study-hall early. The rabbi replied, “Why are you hurrying?” The student replied, “I am a leader of the service, and I must look in the prayer book, and make sure I have the prayers in order.” The rabbi replied: “The prayer book is the same as it was last year. But it would be better for you to look into your deeds and put yourself in order.”
The words in the prayerbook are the same. But we have changed. Our lives are different, not only because of the pandemic, but because of everything that happened during the time it took for us to circle the sun, again. For all those moments when we are asking about what day the holidays fall in early September, and what times the services are held, and what meals we are having, we also need to hear the clear message to look into our own deeds and put ourselves in order.
If you happen to lose track of the page number, that’s okay. The prayers were the same that they were last year. It’s better to explore our inner-lives. And if you get confused about when and where the High Holy Days will fall, don’t worry, it’s all on the TBE Gateway. The holidays will truly come when we make our hearts ready. What happens within us and between us defines a season of renewal far more than even the sacred squares of our calendars. May our sacred season of blessing begin.