Thinking about the Days of Awe

L’Shana Tovah – Happy New Year! 

Yesterday was Rosh HaShana – the Jewish New Year. It is the biblical “Feast of Trumpets” mentioned in Leviticus 23:23 and Numbers 29:1. The tradition is to blow a shofar – a ram’s horn – with a shrill, wailing blast to signal the coming of a new year.

There are several fascinating traditions that are part of this holiday. It’s actually a somewhat solemn holiday because it begins the “10 Days of Awe” – the 10 days of waiting before the great Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. They imagine that God has his “books” open to examine the lives of everyone during this time, and whether he will reward or punish you for your past conduct in the coming year. Each day starts with the blowing of a shofar, like an alarm clock going off to wake up a person to repent of his sins.

As a Christian, I’m somewhat ambivilent about the whole idea of fearing God’s judgment. But I really love the wisdom from another recent observance. This past month was Elul, and it’s traditional to examine one’s self throughout the month and repent of your sins then too, in preparation for the Ten Days of Awe. But a common midrash (imaginative sermon) that they like to share is that the letters of the name “Elul” are aleph-lamed-vav-lamed, and these are the first letters in the phrase, “Ani l’dodi ve dodi li” – I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine. This is the highly romantic phrase from Song of Songs that is often carved on wedding rings. They say that Elul is the time to remove  any little sins of yours that have made a distance between you and your beloved, the Lord, and to come into a closer relationship during this time.

The traditional reading for this time is Genesis 22, the story of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac by Abraham. As I’ve said before, I find it amazing that they ask God to forgive them of their sins for the sake of Isaac, who was willing to lay down his life at his father’s request. They point out that the shofar reminds them of the ram that God supplied as a substitute for Isaac, and they say that part of why they blow it is to remind God of how he supplied a substitute before.

Published in: on September 14, 2007 at 8:22 pm  Comments Off on Thinking about the Days of Awe  
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