The High Holydays have passed and the Jewish year has reverted to its weekly round of ‘six days shall you labour and, on the seventh, rest.’ The holidays may be over but, as we go out into this world with its numerous challenges, I don’t want to leave them behind. For they bring to our lives beauty and wonder, community and communion, responsibility and respect. Without these qualities I don’t know how we can face whatever time may bring.
So here are some of the experiences I want to stow away in my heart and carry with me through the year.
From Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, I want to take the sound of the shofar, that call of the ram’s horn which cries out on behalf of all life. For in its notes, the teki’a, shevarim and teru’a, are the tears, brokenness and yearning for freedom and joy of all existence. In them are the soul’s aspirations, the birdsong, the vastness of moors and the unheard voices of wrongly imprisoned victims of tyrannous suppression.
Before it is blown, we declare that we are commanded ‘to hear the call of the shofar.’ The assumption is that we comply by paying attention in those moments when it’s sounded. But maybe what’s required is that we retain the call in our soul and hear it over and again throughout the year, so that it re-awakens in us solicitude for suffering and solidarity with joy.
From Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, I want to take the opening prayer, Kol Nidrei, All Vows. More than the words, its deep, uplifting music tells us that though, despite our best intentions, we fell short; our failures must in no way prevent us from endeavouring all over again to be the best person we possibly can ‘from this time forth until next Yom Kippur.’ Yet even as we say those words we acknowledge that we’ll fall short once more, but continue undaunted to strive, hope and aspire.
And from Yom Kippur I want to take too those painful reminders, ‘We’ve betrayed; we’ve done wrong.’ This is not in order to indulge in feeling guilty, but rather so as never blithely to forget the world’s sore hurts and our responsibility to heal. For our hope as humanity lies in truth, accountability and the commitment to make reparation.
From Succot, Tabernacles, the harvest festival, I want to take the gratitude and the beauty. It’s time now to take down the fruits we hung in thanksgiving, and the flowers and leaves have begun to wither. But it’s never the time to forget our dependence on the land and the rainfall, on the flow of the seasons which, in the Torah, God promises Noah never again to disturb, but which in many land we have profoundly disrupted.
I want to take too the friendship and fellowship of the Succah and the promise that its shade means God’s protection, as expressed in this prayer on leaving it at the festival’s end:
May the angels of your presence accompany us from the Succah back into our homes, for life and peace. Guard us from doing wrong; protect us from all harm and from the evil times which afflict the world. Give us the energy and inspiration to serve you in truth, with love and respect. Help us repair whatever we have hurt. May we find safety and peace.
As we go out into a difficult world, may what we take with us in our hearts from these festivals guide us, console us, cajole us when we feel helpless, and give us courage and hope.