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.
In the game “Truth-or-Dare,” I choose “truth” nearly every time. I’m not much of a dare-taker. Thus, if you and I were playing “Special Edition Truth-or-Dare: High Holy Days,” I would confess that the prayer Avinu Malkeinu provides me with both my second-favorite liturgical moment and my second-greatest pet peeve of the year’s liturgy. (Note: Even though I may have to repent for it, I will leave you in suspense about my favorite liturgical moment and my greatest liturgical pet peeve. Also, “Special Edition Truth-or-Dare: High Holy Days” is fictional, although I hereby declare copyright in the event Mattel or Hasbro comes knocking at my door.)
Tekiah! Teruah! Shevarim! Tekiah Gedolah!
In the traditional liturgy, the special character of each holiday is particularly conveyed by the piyyutim (hymns, liturgical poems) that are recited or chanted on that day. Most of these piyyutim have been omitted in Reform liturgies since the nineteenth century, out of a sense that their Hebrew diction is too arcane and their theology too medieval. Yet, some of these poems have routinely been retained in Reform High Holy Day prayer books, particularly for Yom Kippur.
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.