Yamim Nora’im: The Order of Operations

by Rabbi Danny Moss

At this time of year, someone always asks, “Why does Rosh Hashana come before Yom Kippur?” Shouldn’t self-examination and repentance set the stage for the new year, rather than the other way around? Here is one explanation.
At Rosh Hashana we envision the world as we wish it to be. “Hayom harat olam,” we read in the prayer book: “today the world is [literally] pregnant” with potential. Everything is possible. And yet, ten days later, we confront the world as it is: beautiful, but broken; in need of repair. The same is true of our relationships and ourselves. We live briefly but quite intensely in the gap between the ideal and the real, and we know there is work to do. Then, just
after ne’ilah, we get to work. Some drive the first nails into the sukkah that night to symbolize that their rebuilding begins immediately.

Rabbi Irwin Kula teaches us to ask: what do we “hire” the Jewish holidays to do? In 5782, these Days of Awe are like a mirror that reflects the jarring fits and starts of our pandemic-challenged world. We gaze into that mirror and discern the gap between the world we wish for and the one we’ve got. A post-Covid world is visible, yet distant. The sadness we feel at delayed arrivals should stir us to build toward that world. Reflecting on the year gone by helps us appreciate the magnitude of this struggle, and also the progress we have made so far.

Each year we spiral around the Jewish calendar and find ourselves somewhere different, but perhaps not as different as we had hoped. Yet—and Judaism is unambiguous about this—change is always possible. We’ve all heard ‘two steps forward, one step back.’ If we focus exclusively on the one step, it looks like we’re only going backwards. But it isn’t so.True, we must notice the gap. But only to inspire us to get to work.
Shana Tova U’metuka—may it be a sweet new year for you and your family.

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