How will you prepare for the High Holydays? asks Rabbi Gabriel Botnick
While most people would tell you their favourite Jewish holiday is Chanukah (for the gifts and food), Passover (for the family and food) or maybe even Purim (for the costumes and food), my favourite holiday is actually Yom Kippur (hint: not for the food).
What I love about Yom Kippur – as well as Rosh Hashanah – is its transformative nature. Every year, we are provided with a chance to start again – unencumbered by any missteps of the previous year, as long as we take seriously the call to right any wrongs we may have committed against others.
Therefore the question is: what will you make of this ‘tabula rasa’? The High Holydays present us with an open door onto an entirely new world of possibilities. If you find yourself on a path that no longer excites you, will you seize this opportunity to find a new one that does? Will you use the contemplative and introspective naturof the Holydays to engage in honest internal dialogue? Or will you let this annual chance for change pass you by?
For the most part, the High Holydays can be whatever you allow. They can be beautiful, powerful, and even life-altering, or they can be an inconvenience, a bore, or merely a chance to socialise.
The nature of your Holyday experience is based partly on whether you allow yourself to be fully present in the moment, but mostly on how you prepare yourself for this special time of year. That might mean reading through the Machzor (prayer book) in advance to understand better the liturgy, listening to a podcast on Teshuvah (repentance), attending a class on spiritual themes of the Holydays, and more.
The point is: you can’t just show up on the day, having given little thought to its significance and expect to have a meaningful experience. At the very least, you must prepare yourself mentally and spiritually to be open to possibility. And if you do, this just may be the year that you learn to love the High Holydays as much as I do.