Jewish tradition calls the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur the Days of Awe. What are they typically like for you? When you leaf through your own high holiday memories of the past few years, what stands out?
Maybe you took time off work and paid big money to attend services. Perhaps you found yourself transported as the cantor sang the Kol Nidre prayer. And if you were caught off guard by the gravity of the Yom Kippur liturgy, awed by the weight of the words looking up at you from the prayer book, then you weren’t alone.
There’s often dissonance between the dignity we attach to the Days of Awe and the lack of spiritual preparation we undertake to meet them. Through Sarah Tasman’s work as a rabbi and my own work as a coach, we’ve seen that people who fail to lay their own basic spiritual groundwork often put an unnecessary damper on their high holiday experience.
But what does ‘spiritual preparation’ even mean? And how do we do it?
The spiritual preparation that Rabbi Sarah and I propose is not about probing arcane mysteries. It’s more practical than that: Essentially, what we recommend is taking stock and making choices.
It’s easy to drift from one Jewish year into the next, never quite letting our accomplishments sink in, always holding onto hurt and humiliation, and neglecting to file squarely in the past those aspects of our life that have no business accompanying us into the future.
However, imagine spending a few focused hours this Elul reflecting on the year that’s about to end. What if we looked 5776 straight in the eye, seeking perspective on what worked and what didn’t? We’d clearly see what we take pride in and what we’re ashamed of, and level with ourselves about our role in all of it.
This investment of time and contemplation is pivotal. It’s an act of spiritual preparation that has the power to dissolve the imaginary wedge we drive between ourselves and the deeply satisfying experience of atonement we desire.
It also easy, as one Jewish year fades into the next, to ignore the responsibility we hold for choosing how we will approach the coming year. Every year Rabbi Sarah and I see people making this same unforced blunder: recognizing that we can’t do everything and responding by barely doing anything.
Here, too, imagine instead envisioning at the dawn of the new year what should lie ahead. How might 5777 unfold if we chose and held in mind a theme for the year? This theme could filter the opportunities we seize from the ones we decline, influencing our response to the curveballs life will inevitably throw our way.
This mental exercise sets us up to use more of our time devoting attention to things that actually matter to us.
These steps are simple. Taking them isn’t always easy. They require the vulnerability to reflect and the boldness to plan. These aren’t luxuries we’re accustomed to giving ourselves. But the real-world dividends that this regimen of spiritual preparation can pay are generous. Recognizing this, Rabbi Sarah and I are offering a three-part class this autumn designed to support you in approaching your transition through the high holidays with confidence. Registration is open now!