By Cantor Barbara R. Finn
As the High Holidays approach, Rabbi Ruth H. Sohn explains the importance in Jewish tradition of holding up the mirror of truth to others and to ourselves. She also offers 10 pointers on mastering the art of tokhehah (rebuke) in advance of the High Holidays.
I often use the imagery of a bullseye when teaching young children the complicated concepts related to the High Holidays and Yom Kippur. Each day when we try to do our best, it’s like we’re aiming for the center of the bullseye. But sometimes we say something that hurts someone a friend’s feelings, or we do something unkind to a loved one. That’s when we land on an outer ring and miss the mark.
If on Yom Kippur we rehearse our own death, then on Tishah B’Av (observed last month), we begin the annual process of preparing for death. The seven-week period from Tishah B’Av to Rosh HaShanah provides an opportunity to cultivate our souls, to reestablish our relationship with God, and to reconcile with ourselves and others. We transform the potentially passive experience of judgment into an active process of self-awareness, acceptance, engagement, and transformation.
I am a huge fan of everything Disney – movies, Mickey, and now even Marvel. Our family has vacationed at Walt Disney World (WDW) and Disneyland more times than we can count. Our daughter was married at WDW, and we have a room in our home devoted to Disney “stuff.” Believe it or not, some recent Disney movie releases have a distinct connection to the Days of Awe.
In advance of the new year, people often ask rabbis, “Are you ready for the High Holidays?” I, for one, never know exactly how to answer. Is readiness measured in sermons written? In liturgy practiced and perfected? Or perhaps in High Holiday tickets ordered and received? What exactly does it mean to be “ready” for these days?
We saw a swastika in the sand. “Daddy, are you OK?” my daughter asked, knowing how my family history as a child of a Holocaust survivor affects me.
Ah, autumn! The crisp air. The pumpkin-spice everything. The relief of no more sweat dripping down my entire body. The ever-stylish knee-high boot and leather jacket combination. The High Holidays. The dilemma of the High Holidays. As a single twentysomething living in a big city, I’ve become that stereotypical Jewish millennial who has yet to join a synagogue.
Fans of “Seinfeld” may recall an exchange between Jerry and Elaine in which they discuss the appropriate timeline for delivering new year greetings. “I once got Happy New Year'd in March … it’s pathetic,” griped Jerry.
The Jewish calendar has a natural marker for when it’s appropriate to start wishing friends and loved ones a happy New Year. The Jewish month that precedes the Jewish New Year is called Elul, and the first day of Elul, Rosh Chodesh Elul, is the official beginning of the High Holiday season.
Ushering in the High Holiday season, Selichot – which falls this year on Saturday night, September 24th – is the warm-up stretch that precedes the spiritual workout we give our souls during the Days of Awe.