Monday, August 29, 2011
Approaching the Days of Awe
At lunch time every weekday, I will be visiting 18 dining rooms and blowing four powerful blasts of the shofar in each one. The residents and staff love these moments, and so do I. But they are intended to be more than mere fun.
The shofar, of course, is the herald of the New Year. It is also a call to prepare ourselves for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — the “Days of Awe.” So what kinds of preparation are appropriate?
We are all familiar with the “outer” preparations for family gatherings at the New Year. There are the dinners we will share; the clothes we will wear in synagogue in honor of the occasion; the beautification of the synagogue itself, the flowers and the white coverings for the Torah scrolls.
But when we look beneath the surface, and let the sound of the shofar touch our hearts, we hear the call for another kind of preparation — the beautification of our selves, deep down inside. The way we do this is through personal reflection. This is the true call of the shofar, and the grandest task in Elul, the month before Rosh Hashanah.
In preparation for the New Year, I find it helpful to ask ourselves a few important questions, such as:
- Of all the things I have accomplished in the past year, what pleases me most or makes me most proud? In what ways did I live up to my highest standards?
- How have I let myself down by failing to live up to these standards, or being less of a mensch than I could have been?
- Have I apologized to people I’ve wronged? Can I find the courage to do that?
- What can I do that will make my life and the lives of others a little better in the coming year?
- What can I do next year that will make me more proud of who I am?
Our goal should be to come out of Yom Kippur free from sense of guilt or failure, and inspired to improve ourselves in the coming year. That is why the end of Yom Kippur is such a joyful time.
At the New Year, we will share apples and honey with families and friends, and wish each other a happy and sweet new year. We will ask to be written into the Book of Life for a good year ahead.
Our preparation in the coming weeks enables us to come confidently before G-d to make that plea. May the sweetness of the New Year arise from your true striving to become the best person you can be.
I wish you and your family a Happy, Healthy, and, yes, a Sweet New Year.