From Rabbi David
For everything there is time. As the earth rotates around the sun it creates cycles in our lives. Jewish life, of course, is based on those cycles of time. Seasons change, they come and go and turn into years and decades. Some scientists will tell you that there are physiological and even psychological “rotations” in our bodies which reflect the seasonal changes in nature. While these changes seem to be more noticeable in animals we as Jews recognize that each season puts us in a certain frame of mind or “mood”. As Fall approaches, we become increasingly aware of the High Holy Days.
In the past, the mere approach of the season evoked fear and awe in the hearts of our forefathers. There was a literal change in their demeanor. People became truly weary of their fate which traditionally is decided, written and finally sealed during the course of the season. In order to tilt fate to their side, they intensified their yearly practice of the three “Ts”: Teshuva – repentance, Tefila – prayers and Tzedaka- acts of kindness and good deeds.
In Judaism, this is serious business. Our legends teach that the Book of Life is opened in the heavens as the Almighty begins the process of evaluating the lives of all creatures. The heavenly High Holy Days scene is similar to our modern courtroom. However, while the accuser angel is busy preparing his material against each of us, there are no attorneys to defend us. We are our own advocates. Not fair you say? Well, that is why we are given time to probe our behavior and deeds. We are given time between the first day of the last month of the Jewish year, the month of Elul to the holiday of Succot which comes four days after Yom Kippur. Traditionally, we first engage in “Cheshbon Nefesh” literally, soul searching, then we take steps to correct (or begin to correct) that which needs correction. Moving in the right direction will go a long way to sway the heavenly scales of judgment to our favor. That is why the three “T’s” are so important.
As adults in a modern Jewish world we all have some doubt about the concept that our deeds are being judged by a mighty entity which we call G-D. What could we have possibly done to face severe consequences such as, G-d forbid, disease, poverty, or other adversities? In fact, what does all this mean to us, living in a modern, more sophisticated world? At the first glance, the mysterious Book of Life along with the an old fashioned scales to weigh our personal Good vs. Bad deeds, is not an effective way to “sell” us on the important concept of a yearly personal audit of ourselves. Where is the Almighty, anyway? None of NASA’s deep space probes has ever encountered large heavenly books, scales or angels.
For many of us these questions create a modern day dilemma. Other then the importance of merely keeping the Jewish tradition as it has been celebrated for millennia, how can we make all this resonate within us? How can we understand the High Holy Days in a way that is meaningful to us?
To “buy into” the traditions of the High Holy Days, one has to accept its concept and symbolism. If we remove the physical dimension from the heavenly scale, the Book of Life and the accuser angel, their modern relevance becomes clear.
It is about us, you and I, here on Earth. It is about the way we live our lives and the principals that guide all of us, whether we are believers or not.
The scales are about having a very clear understanding of what is right and what is wrong in our life and having a commitment to base our life on this understanding.
Grab the scales from its heavenly hideout and place it upon your heart. Then use it to weigh your deeds regularly. Evaluating oneself and having the courage and determination to correct that which needs to be corrected is a wonderful way to deal with difficult and challenging issues and keep our life on track.
Pull the Book of Life from its heavenly hideout and place it inside of you. Since our life is guided by free will, it is you who writes your destiny in it. Jewish tradition subscribes to the idea that life without compassion and acts of kindness is like a book with empty pages. So in order to rejuvenate and energize our days, and make them meaningful, our deeds should benefit us by benefiting others. Be for you, Be for others.
And why our prescribed prayers in the prayer book that constantly petition for forgiveness? Why are we confessing so many “sins”? It is about exercising our inner strength to recognizing our own fallibility as humans. Judaism ask us to have the courage to pry into ourselves and dig out that which is wrong with us, set it free and start anew. Not an easy task - just ask any psychologist.
We recognize that we are not perfect. As we go through life we err by wrong thoughts and wrong deeds. As we all know, the first step to recover from a bad situation or a bad habit is identifying and recognizing the problem. The High Holy Days, therefore, are a celebration of the human spirit, a time when we honor our ability to probe deep into ourselves with courage and humility to expose and correct our wrongdoings.
May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year!
L'Shana Tova Tikatevu,
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