*Randall M. Hasson, Inviting The Presence
TEN DAYS OF AWE – 2018 / 5779
Rosh HaShanah, 1 Tishrei — Yom Kippur, 10 Tishrei
In light of the awe-inspiring holiness of God, the thought of standing before Him to give an account of our lives can be somewhat intimidating. “Shall the horn [shofar] be blown in the city and the people not tremble?” (Amos 3:6). Immediately, however, we can take comfort in the joyous knowledge that the Lord is our strength and refuge.
The first day of Tishrei is the beginning of the new year 5779 on the Hebrew calendar – time to make a new start. We may be aware of many things we still need to do, to get our lives in the order we would like, externally and internally. However, let us not be discouraged. At this time of forgiveness, we also need to forgive ourselves for anywhere we are lacking or have missed the mark. As we dip the apple pieces into honey, we can utter the traditional prayer with all our hearts:
“May it be your will, our God and the God of our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
to renew us for a good, sweet and healthy year.”
May Your joy, O Lord, be established in a real and deeper way in our lives this year… the deep and abiding joy that cannot be shaken nor stolen by the enemy, and that upholds us no matter the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
DAY 2 – Monday Eve/Tuesday, 10-11 September
The great shofar is sounded and a still small voice is heard.
(Machzor – High Holy Day Prayer Book)
The distinctive cry of the shofar helps to quieten the attention-grabbing noise of the world that surrounds us, which often can prevent us from hearing the still, small voice of God.
The Jewish Sages suggested meanings for each sounding of the shofar. The Baal Shem Tov believed that the blasts represent our cries and our tears, the silent cry of the heart that only God hears.
It also is compared to a ‘wake up call.’ As a means of waking us from our spiritual slumber, one warning blast is not enough. To get our full attention, we need the shofar to be blown many times – such as every day through the preceding month of Elul and 100 times on Yom Terusah/ The Day of Trumpets /Rosh HaShanah itself!
May the call of the shofar wake us up this year. May it shatter any ingrained negative patterns in our lives – all that hold us back, dear Lord, from being all that You have created us to be. Set us free to have the courage to say: “Hineni! Here I am, Abba, Father! Do what You will with me according to Your perfect will; for Your Name’s sake in love.
Cast away from yourselves all your transgressions,
and create within yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!
Three great themes permeate the Days of Awe – teshuvah, tefilah and tzedakah.
1. Teshuvah – Repentance.
Our innermost being is expressed in our outward deeds. Now is the time to see if these are in accord with the heart of God. It is a time to consider how we are progressing towards the goals of serving Him and maturing spiritually; of deepening our relationships with others and becoming better models for the next generation. Where we fall short, the gift of repentance enables us to realign with our true selves as children of the Father and heirs to the fullness of life in Messiah Yeshua, both now and for eternity.
DAY 4 – Wednesday eve/Thursday, 12-13 September
“Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living.
…Only one response can maintain us: gratefulness for witnessing the wonder, for the gift of our unearned right to serve, to adore, and to fulfil.
It is gratefulness that makes the soul great.”
~ Abraham Joshua Heschel – I Asked for Wonder
2. Tefilah, Prayer.
Prayer is the wondrous privilege afforded us to converse with our Father in Heaven—whether to express praise or thankfulness; to repent or to petition. Prayer enables us to open our hearts to the Almighty and acknowledge His sovereignty over us. We confess our radical dependence upon Him and our desire for Him. Just as meaningful communication is vital for growth in any close relationship, purposeful prayer facilitates ever greater intimacy with the One who made us and loves us.
“Acts of goodness [tzedakah] reflect the hidden light of God’s holiness. It is within our power to mirror His unending love in deeds of kindness, like brooks that hold the sky.”
~ Abraham Joshua Heschel – I Asked for Wonder
3. Tzedakah, Loving-kindness expressed through Charitable acts.
Tzedakah is how we concretely express love and concern for the well being of others. Loyalty and compassionate kindness are the anchors that keep any relationship strong and secure. Now is an opportune time to examine where our loyalties truly lie. In a consumer-driven society, are we better servants of Mammon (worldly wealth) than of the Almighty? Are we giving into the lives of those God has given into our hands to care for and those He has brought across our path for kindness? If so, then we are giving life and hope to others, we are building loving and abiding relationships, and we are allowing God’s light to shine into the darkness of the poor, the needy and the brokenhearted.
If you have committed many misdeeds, then do many mitzvot [good deeds] to match them.
(Leviticus Rabbah 21:11)
Teshuvah, tefilah, and tzedakah can change our world.
The redeeming of past sins and errors into goodness is a significant factor in God’s ongoing gift of repentance. The transformation this works in our souls is what helps us change and grow into those who better reflect His image into the world.
With teshuvah, tefilah, and tzedakah – repentance, prayer, and acts of loving-kindness – we can, with His help, pick up one little broken thing in the world and with love and compassion bring healing to it. We can change the world; one redeeming act at a time.
…You [can and] shall return.
Another powerful theme that weaves consistently through the 10 Days of Awe is that of hope and trust in God’s faithfulness. No matter where we are, what we do or what we have experienced, knowing we can turn and return to His faithful Presence any moment of the day gives us assurance and faith for the future.
As we draw near to the holiest day of the Hebrew calendar – Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement – we, at the same time, anticipate the Final Redemption at “the end of days.” We are reminded that, in the light of eternity, our time on earth is fleeting and every day is precious. While we press forward, we are also returning; going back to our Source – the glory and beauty of His Presence.
Adonai, Adonai, God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering
and abundant in goodness and truth,
keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation,
forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin.
The thirteen attributes of God described in Exodus 34 have become a key part of the High Holy Days liturgy in synagogues. Although recited at other times, Rabbi Amitai ben Shefatiah (circa 900 CE/AD) taught that these words demand our special attention especially on this 8th Day of Tishrei because the next day is the eve of the Day of Atonement and these attributes remind us of the depths of Divine compassion.
The Lord always is reaching out to us, as the Sages comment on Psalm 120, “My hands reach out to the penitent, turning back no one who gives me his, or her, heart in teshuvah” (Psalms Rabbah 120:7).
DAY 9 – Monday eve / Tuesday, 17-18 September
Light is sown for the righteous and joy for the honest of heart. (Psalm 97:11)
This verse from the Psalms is sung during the Torah processional on the eve of Yom Kippur. We can now face ourselves and ask, “Am I one of the righteous who receives His light and has it sown and growing in my life? Can I, therefore, experience His joy in my heart?”
If we honestly desire His light and joy, and look to Him in faith, we are given this blessed assurance: “Adonai, your God, will open your heart and your children’s hearts for the purpose of giving you life” (Deuteronomy 30:6).
DAY 10 – Tuesday Eve/Wednesday, 18-19 September
It shall be a Shabbat [a holy, set apart day] of complete rest for you,and you shall practice self-denial; it is a law for all time. (Leviticus 16:29)
The day has finally arrived. Judgment is made and the Gates of Repentance for the year are shut. The full Hebrew name for this Day of Atonement is Yom HaKippurim. The plural suffix tells us it is a day of many atonements. It is a day that one minimizes the emphasis on one’s physicality and puts aside as many everyday material things and activities as possible in order to draw closer to the Throne of God and to stand before our Father and King.
We have reviewed the past and repented of our failures and weaknesses and now time seems to stand still. In one sense, we are dying to what has been. We experience a necessary letting go of the past before we rush forward in faith and hope to embrace the future.
A beautiful prayer, that is prayed approaching the close of the Yom Kippur service, is a declaration of our inclination to sin and a plea to God:
“We sin against Thee when we declare all noble striving to be vanity, and despair of good ever triumphing over evil. We sin against Thee when we do not consider the love, the beauty and joy in the world, but fret and grumble in our impatience and ingratitude.
Ve’al kulam Eloha slichot, slach lanu, machal lanu, kippehr lanu.
For all these sins our God, forgive us, pardon us, grant atonement to us.
Fashion Thou our hearts anew, and redirect our will in accordance with Thy purposes.
May a new spirit of loving-kindness unite us all in the endeavor to establish on earth Thy Kingdom of justice, freedom and Shalom.”
In accord with Psalm 27, recited daily during the past 40 days, we affirm that Adonai, the Lord, becomes our light on Rosh Hashanah, the birthday of the world and mankind, our Salvation on Yom Kippur, and then securely draws us to Himself and “hides us in His tent, or tabernacle” on Sukkot.*
The Fall Feasts culminate with the week’s celebration of the final harvest of the year in little outdoor sukkahs that remind us of the transience of life and of God’s overarching presence, provision, and goodness. After the busy, soul-searching, and inspiring experience of the previous weeks, our hearts now can settle in peaceful anticipation of the quieter season ahead.
~ Keren Hannah Pryor
* Acknowledgement is given for this and inspiration of other thoughts for the 10 Days of Awe to Kerry M.Olitzky and Rachel T. Sabath in Preparing Your Heart for the High Holy Days.