It is Erev Rosh Hashana. The Jewish High Holy Days begin tonight at sundown. For nearly a month now, since August 27, the 1st of the Jewish month of Elul, Jews (and not a few non-Jews like me) have been anticipating “the holidays”.
Elul is called chodesh hacheshbon, “a month of accounting”. It is a time of taking stock of the previous year, repairing relationships, examining mistakes in order not to repeat them. The month is also a time of preparation. The two themes – accounting and preparation - interweave. How we account for the past is related to how we prepare for the future.
It’s a strenuous time. Soul examination is something I would prefer to avoid. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks reminds me that evading responsibility for our mistakes is a thing we humans do. Still, wiser voices than mine remind me that going through the process of identifying mistakes, apologizing for them, moving forward with the intention of not repeating them again, are all part of the process of both creating and moving into a future more whole than the past has been. I am glad I have many companions on the way.
As the 24 hour news cycle constantly peppers consciousness with the violence we humans are capable of inflicting on one another, it is tempting to wonder what difference does it make whether or not I try to make amends with others, whether or not I ask for forgiveness, whether or not I offer forgiveness when it is sought from me? Searching and examining the dark shadows is exhausting - -a little like being in a dark cave and the flashlight batteries are giving out. But the ever present news points to the necessity for this process of accounting and preparation - - and puts a glaring spotlight on what happens when humankind is unwilling to do the necessary work of seeking out and owning responsibility for the actions and attitudes that have brought us to where we are. What kind of miracle would it be if we created a moratorium on all violence for a month? If as a species we agreed to do the accounting? To face into our responsibility? To own all that we have contributed to the estrangement that results in so much of the horror that assaults us in the morning news? What would we be like if we recognized that we have the ability to stop hurting one another, to refuse to make the same mistakes again? What if we could take into a new year the intention to reconcile, to let go of hatred, to heal the wounds of the past. What if we could summon a corporate will to create a more intentional and merciful future for ourselves as a species.
But I am not willing to give up the vision. The traditions of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur have carried the vision for untold generations – a vision of a humanity with swords beaten into ploughshares, a vision of justice, of love and mercy, of walking humbly with the Source of Life, a vision of accountability for the past, and of hope and forgiveness and reconciliation for the future.
If this is a foolish dream, then I will, indeed, dream on.
60 Days –A Spiritual Guide to The High Holidays by Simon Jacobson Kiyum Press, NY. p. 12.