High Holiday Preparation Guide
September 30, 2016
Too often, Judaism in general, and the High Holidays in particular, are reduced to “How-to-do” workshops. We attend sessions to learn how to conduct a Passover Seder. How about a course in why conduct a Passover Seder? With regard to the High Holidays, we want to know when the Shofar is sounded, when Yizkor is said, how long is the service, or what happens if I don’t fast. The real question is what purpose celebrating Rosh Hashanah or observing Yom Kippur serves? And, there is no time like the present to ask!
Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, in her book The Tapestry Of Jewish Time writes, “Even those of us who wonder about the nature and the existence of God can find a place for ourselves in the rhythms and texture of the High Holidays. For it is not only God who judges us. In private moments of contemplation, often without prompting, we judge ourselves-when we lie in bed at night, unable to sleep; when we drive long distances with little to distract us; on vacation, when we sit alone, gazing at the stars. It is good to capture those moments, to harness them and channel them into more than passing speculation or the regrets of “if only.” Those moments of awareness can mark turning points in our lives. Such is the gift of [the High Holidays]. Safe in a community busy with self-assessment and turning, we are encouraged to make an honest assessment, too.”
This is the purpose and meaning behind every High Holiday ritual, from the shofar to the fast. The rituals provide a framework of discipline for the task of self-assessment. As we enter the synagogue sanctuary on Rosh Hashanah let the liturgy move us away from judging others and impel us to judge ourselves. As we exit the synagogue at the conclusion of Yom Kippur let the stirring melody of Aveinu Malkeinu inspire us to begin a personal transformation.
Rabbi Harold Kushner sums it up when he writes, “On January 1, we wish each other a “Happy New Year” because the goal of secular society is to be happy. But on Rosh Hashanah, we remind ourselves that our real goal is not to strive for happiness, but to strive for goodness. If we do that, happiness will follow.”
Shana Tova Tikoteivu v’Teichoteimu-May you and your family be inscribed for a year of goodness, happiness, health, and peace.
Rabbi Howard Siegel