Rosh Hashana

Preparing to Die, Learning to Live

  Dear Sir,

    Thank you for your recent inquiry regarding the upcoming High Holidays. You want to know why it is that people who have palpably little Jewish involvement for the other 362 days of the calendar bother to attend synagogue services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. On the other hand you are puzzled by Jewish tradition, which places so much emphasis on these three days, as though God is unavailable on a cold despairing midnight in March. Sir, your questions are good ones.   

The Silence of Eternity

Education, Mark Twain once quipped, consists mainly in what we have unlearned. For a great many Jews today, shul is a kind of ponderous opera, taking place in a foreign tongue, that they desperately wish to unlearn. Depending on the opera house in question, the always well-dressed patrons sit in stony uncomprehending silence or continuously interrupt the performance with a rowdy mirth that attests to the inconvenience of self-restraint. One who wishes to cling to any remnants of the sacred must, like a well-trained spy, commit to forgetting all he has seen.

Rosh Hashanah: The Right Focus

“On Rosh Hashanah, it is written; and on Yom Kippur, it is sealed, who shall live and who shall die…” (Machzor). It is doubtful that there is a more powerful, emotional or poignant part of the davening on the yamim noraim than the recital of Unetaneh Tokef. The haunting tune sets the mood of the day, while the stark words highlight the fragility of life. If we are successful in taking its words to heart, we will be inspired to heed the concluding sentence that “prayer, repentance and charity can annul the evil decree”.

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