A Busy Person’s Guide to the High Holidays
Have you ever been to a High Holiday service and you had no idea what was happening?
I had such an experience when I first started going to synagogue. I remember being completely bored throughout the service.
A central American Jewish problem of our time is boredom, the fact that for many American Jews the experience of being Jewish doesn’t seem to be about anything that matters.
Since the High Holidays are the only communal religious experience for many Jews, it is critical that our fellow Jews understand the meaning of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.
The High Holidays are a time for personal reflection, introspection and earnest efforts to think about the things we’ve done over the past year, and the things we’ve said, and vow to change for the better in the upcoming year.
The High Holidays act as a Jewish alarm clock. The sound of the ram’s horn or shofar awakens us from our complacency. It is a wake-up call. Life is not a dress rehearsal. It is time to make choices that are meaningful.
A meaningful life means living up to our potential, to focus on the merit of our lives while we’re still alive. No matter how well we think our lives are going, our lives can always be better if we are willing to put the necessary effort to make them so.
It is helpful to start with questions as we strive to construct our new lives:
- What, to me, is an ideal life?
- What would it look like to live in accordance with my highest, loftiest values?
- How can I imagine best sharing my gifts and talents in a way that will enhance the people around me, the community, the world?
- What changes could I make within myself that would free me from the bad habits and negative patterns that have held me back from being my best?
The High Holidays challenges us to focus on the merit of our personal lives. We must never be satisfied with what is, but rather we should actively seek what ought to be in our lives. It is never too late to change for the better.
The High Holidays are a celebration of free will, of our ability to choose either good or evil. Free will means we’re responsible for our choices. Without free will, we could never improve ourselves. Without free will, we could never improve ourselves nor judge ourselves.
Shana tov. May each of you have a blessed and joyful New Year.