In a number of hours I will be making the walk down West End Avenue. I always feel the bigness of the moment in that walk. They are not called Yamim Nora’im, the Awesome Days, for nothing. The flutter in my stomach and the intensity of the steps isn’t only because I’m a rabbi and have our community to lead. I am filled with anticipation of the power of the days, standing before God and the community and searching deeply within myself.
Based on a Mishnah in Shekalim (5:5) If a person lost her seal, she waits until the evening, Rabbi Ze’ev Wolf of Zhitomor, the Or HaMe’ir, teaches:
God’s seal shines on the face of the one who serves God faithfully. When we miss the mark, we lose the Holy Blessed One that is inscribed in our countenance ….When we feel that God’s seal has left us, don’t say, “I am like a dried up branch, I have no hope .” God’s forgiveness is great and will wait for us “until evening”. Until evening means that even if we haven’t done teshuvah all year we can still have hope. Erev Rosh Hashanah is the core of all the preceding year. We can repair ourselves for the whole past year and then the seal we have lost will come back to us.
There are some years that I’ve started that walk down West End feeling that I had lost my seal, that life wasn’t going as I had planned or expected, that the fears and enormity of the world’s problems, or my own, might be too cumbersome to bear. Some years I feel less like that dried-up branch. Though I may be shining some of God’s light, I know I have work to do to regain the fullness of God’s seal and to find God’s image again in me.
It’s the walk that does it. The sermons are written. The meals are prepared. And though over the past years that walk has been made, thankfully with parents and children by my side, I’m left with just me somehow. Soon the chords of the High Holy Days niggun will be played, and our voices will join together in song. Then we will sing the beautiful piyut Ahot Ketana, which articulates the hope that the curses of the past year will end and the new year begin with blessing. Though we may have lost our way and our seal, though we have been petty and selfish, jealous and angry, lacking compassion, love, and faith, the hour arrives to try to find what is lost, to return.
It’s the walk that is the bridge from 5779 to 5780, and being in that liminal space grants me hope and faith that the seal can return and that I, and we, can shine again.
The hour is almost here. We can wait until evening, but then we can wait no more. May we be blessed with a walk into Yamim Nora’im that awakens our hope to be found. May we learn to shine again and please God, let the blessings begin.