Say Hello to Tishrei and 5776 with a good old fashioned New Year’s Eve ball dropping. May it be pleasing before you, Adonai our God, and God of our ancestors that we are renewed for a good and sweet year! [count down from 10 and drop a whole apple into a bowl of honey].
You are walking through the world half asleep. It isn’t just that you don’t know who you are and that you don’t know how or why you got here. It’s worse than that; these questions never even arise. It is as if you are in a dream. Then the walls of the great house that surrounds you crumble and fall. You tumble out onto a strange street, suddenly conscious of your estrangement and your homelessness. A great horn sounds, calling you to remembrance, but all you can remember is how much you have forgotten. Every day for a month, you sit and try to remember who you are and where you are going. By the last week of this month, your need to know these things weighs upon you. Your prayers become urgent.
Then the great horn sounds in earnest one hundred times. The time of transformations is upon you. The world is once again cracking through the shell of its egg to be born. The gate between heaven and earth creaks open. The Book of Life and the Book of Death are opened once again, and your name is written in one of them. But you don’t know which one.
The ten days that follow are fraught with meaning and dread. They are days when it is perfectly clear every second that you live in the midst of a chain of ineluctable consequence, that everything you do, every prayer you utter, every intention you form, every act of compassion you perform, ripples out from the center of your being into the end of time. Anger and its terrible cost lie naked before you. Grievance gives way to forgiveness. At the same time, you become aware that you also stand are the end of a long chain of consequences. Many things are beyond your control. They are part of a process that was set in motion long ago. You find the idea of this unbearable.
Then, just when you think you can’t tolerate one moment more, you are called to gather with a multitude in a great hall. A court has convened high up on the altar in the front of the hall. Make way! Make way! The judges of the court proclaim, for everyone must be included in the proceeding. No one, not even the usual outcasts, may be excluded. You are told that you are in possession of a great power, the power of speech, and that you will certainly abuse it – you are already forgiven for having abused it in the past – but in the end it will save you. Fir the next twenty-four hours you rehearse your own death. You wear a shroud and, like a dead person, you neither eat nor drink nor fornicate. You summon the desperate strength of life’s last moments. A great wall of speech is hurled against your heart again and again; a fist beats against the wall of your heart relentlessly until you are broken-hearted and confess to you great crime. You are a human being, guilty of every crime imaginable. Your heart is cracking through its shell to be reborn then a chill grips you. The gate between heaven and earth has suddenly begun to close. The multitude has swollen. It is almost as if the great hall has magically expanded to include an infinity of desperate souls. This is your last chance. Everyone has run out of time. Every heart has broken. The gate clangs shut, the great horn sounds one last time. You feel curiously lighthearted and clean.
Some days later you find yourself building a house; a curious house, an incomplete house, a house that suggests the idea of a house without actually being one. This house has no roof. There are a few twigs and branches on top, but you can see the stars and feel the wind through them. And the walls of this house don’t go all the way around it either. Yet as you sit in this house eating the bounty of the earth, you feel a deep sense of security and joy. Here in this mere idea of a house, you finally feel as if you are home. The journey is over.
At precisely this moment, the journey begins again. The curious house is dismantled. The King calls you in for a last intimate meal, and then you set out on your way again. [Alan Lew, This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared]
May this dreamlike reflection of the high holy days carry us through the next ten days as we contemplate the meanings of teshuvah, tzedakah, and tefillah, of repentance and returning, of righteous giving and charitable lovingkindness, and of heartfelt prayer. Moreover, ten days from now, let us not forget these contemplations. May the spirit of the high holy days remain in our hearts and minds all year, that we may really find ourselves ever striving to improve ourselves and our world.