Rabbi Yael Ridberg's High Holy Days Message
Approaching the serious spiritual challenges of the High Holy Day season can be a daunting task. The celebration and commemoration of these days invokes a mixture of anticipation and anxiety, self-evaluation and enjoyment. Today, we experience all of these emotions and more because these days are devoted to the most fundamental questions about what it means to be human, about the meaning of life, and about the tension between intentions and actions.
The nature of the yamim nora’im (Days of Awe) is that they open up many possibilities for renewal. We hope each year when we come to services on the High Holy Days, to recognize the blessings and challenges met in the year gone by. We pray for the strength, courage, and wisdom to enter the New Year and face the unknown of what is to come.
There are 40 days from the beginning of the month of Elul until Yom Kippur and, according to Pirke de Rabi Eliezer, they represent the 40 days that Moses took to return to the people with the second set of tablets. The first set of tablets represents that which has been broken – promises, hopes, dreams, and covenants. The 40 days can be understood as a metaphor of longing, a deep desire to return to things as they were before they were broken. When we come together on Rosh Hashanah, we are very aware of our humanity – our triumphs and our failures – and we are more sensitive to the random nature of the universe, which sometimes brings tragedy and sorrow. At the close of Yom Kippur, we begin the New Year grateful for the opportunity to begin anew, to strengthen relationships, to start new projects, and to repair that which has been broken. This time is an opportunity to really focus on the complicated and often confusing world in which we live, where suffering, hatred and violence are so commonplace, and set new goals to work for justice and peace.
The month of Elul is a time to work from the shattered parts of ourselves to wholeness. This period is understood by the Hasidic masters as an et ratzon – a time of willingness – that ends with celebration at Rosh Hashanah and transformation or rebirth at Yom Kippur. I love this notion of a time of willingness, for it opens up the possibility that each of us, if we are willing, can seek each other out, have the hard conversations we need to have with family, friends, and community members, and strive to change our lives for the good in the coming year.
We must continue to renew our quest for meaning, wholeness, and holiness in order to confront what weighs us down, makes us cynical, and separates us from one another. When we do this on an individual level, in our Dor Hadash community, in the Jewish community and the world at large, we are better able to face whatever lies ahead.
As the New Year begins may we open ourselves to the potential for growth and development at Dor Hadash, and may 5773 be a year of sweetness, health, peace, and transformation for all of us.
Shanah Tovah Tikatevu! May our journey towards the New Year be inspired!
Rabbi Yael Ridberg