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Most holidays are either joyous or sad. They celebrate a victory or a good harvest or perhaps recall the destruction of our temple. But there are other holidays that are nether full of joy nor of sadness. Their mood is serious and thoughtful. These are the holidays when we look inside ourselves rather than outside at the world. These are times when we think about what we have been doing with our lives.

The most important of these holidays is not a holiday at all. It is a period of time; it is ten days and the days of preparation for those ten days. We call these ten days which include two holidays, a fast day and a special Shabbos, the Days of Awe---the Yamin Noraim.

 

All of us need times to be serious about ourselves. We need the time out from doing things, from being busy, to see where we’ve been going and where we ought to go. Once each year, a Jew stands back from their life during ordinary days and regular Shabbosim, and asks: What use have I made of my time? Have I used it well or badly?

 

The Days of Awe begin with the celebration of the New Year and end with a day of promise. It is not a time to be afraid or very joyous. It is a time of remembering and thinking. A time of measuring what we did last year so we can do better next year.

 

It’s true that many people no longer pay much attention to this period of remembering and thinking. They attend services on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur but they do not bother with the days before and the days between. They are too busy. But the busier people are, the more they need to know where the years are going. If we forget the years that have passed, we cannot understand ourselves. At the beginning of each year, we need to spend some time close to Hashem, to measure the past according to his rules and to plan the future according to what He wants of us.

 

The Jewish attitude to life and time is given in the other name for this period. The first ten days of the new year are also called Aseres Yema Teshuvah, the Ten Days of Repentance. We are taught that on Rosh Hashana, each person’s acts during the past year are judged. His future is then decided according to the worth of that past and it is written down in the Book of Life. But the Book of Life for the New Year is not closed on Rosh Hashana. It is left open for ten days, through Yom Kippur. In the days between, everyone has the opportunity to change the judgment written in the book. Each person has within themselves their own power to decide their own future. No one, we are taught, is so bad that they cannot change for the better, or so good that they cannot become better.

 

For many Jews, a high point of services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is the Uneah-Sanah Tokef prayer, which wonders who will live and who will die in the year ahead. In an ideal world, our leaders would be qualified, competent, and benevolent. If we could find such a person, we certainly would want him or her to rule for life, providing for our common needs, protecting us from danger, and helping us to flourish.

Now imagine living in a country like that. Once a year, the King comes for a visit. He has placed relatively limited demands upon you, while providing you with a tremendous abundance. And you know that you have failed to live up to his modest expectation — yet despite all that, you also know that the King cares about you personally, wants you to succeed, and hopes that you will take advantage of his visit as an opportunity to renew your commitment to growth and development under his rule. What would you do to prepare for his visit? And how would you behave in front of the King?

Certainly, it would be a sacred occasion, with all the majesty befitting a royal visit. You would wear special clothes, polish the silverware, and hang decorative curtains, and prepare banquets in his honor. Yet at the same time, you would celebrate his compassionate rule, knowing that he would judge your actions with mercy, and give you the opportunity to do better. And, of course, you would commit yourself to doing precisely that, so that next year his royal visit could be a celebration of your success.

This is one way of looking towards the Yamin Noraim. We are ruled by the King of Kings, Creator of the Universe. He sees past, present, and future. He knows what will work and what will fail and knows how to lead us. And he hopes to see us succeed under His rule.

Each year, He judges the world — and gives us the opportunity to judge ourselves, to see our failings, and to look for ways to do better. We can clear out bad habits and replace them with better ones, in order to grow in our commitment to Judaism and Jewish ethics.

Our prayers are serious, and subdued. We speak in our special Musaf prayer of his Kingship, his Remembrance of all things, and the need to cry out to him and to arouse others with the sound of the Shofar. Yet we know that He will not only judge us fairly, but mercifully, giving us a special opportunity to correct ourselves and do better.

Let us use this special opportunity to celebrate with our King when He is close to us and grow in our efforts to remain close to Him throughout the coming year.

 

Beth and I want to wish everyone a Kiseva V-chaseema Tovah-We should all be written and sealed in the book of life, health, prosperity, and happiness. And may Hakodesh Barchu hear our prayers and bring a total healing to the world around

us.

L’Shanah Tova.

Fri, September 30 2022 5 Tishrei 5783