[Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on Sunday, 10/2, and continues through sundown on Tuesday, 10/4. And thus begins the Hebrew year 5777. Yom Kippur beings at sundown on Tuesday, 10/11 and continues through sundown on Wednesday, 10/12/17.]
Last year’s Jewish High Holy Days occurred right when I was celebrating my 70th birthday, so I was already in the introspective, life assessing frame of mind which is a major focus of these holidays. 70 was the age I always thought of as really old, but of course I’ve now redefined old age to start at 90. 70 brought another decade of my life to a close, thus increasing the incentives for quiet reflection, reassessment and rededication which are central to this period on the Jewish calendar.
But this last year, while filled with so many of the good things in life for Ron and me, has brought us more horribly violent global conflicts and the millions of innocent refugees whose circumstances break our hearts, more fear of both terrorism and domestic gun violence and Zika, and US election primaries which not only have illuminated long unresolved cultural divides in my country but also have empowered those who would otherwise still be living under their rocks of prejudice, bigotry, reality TV’s narcissism, geopolitical ignorance, cultural insensitivity and even demagoguery. It’s been a really awful year for so many people, and all of this makes it more important than ever that we find space in our overbooked and over-connected lives to prepare for and then experience Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
So I thought I’d give everyone a month’s notice before the start of these holidays in hopes that you’ll have enough lead time to clear your calendars and minds for the annual stock taking which is at the heart of Judaism. It’s a wise person — and that includes everyone of my followers/readers no matter your religion or lack thereof — who will use this time to take stock of their lives, cherishing their accomplishments and vowing to mitigate their shortcomings, deciding what they’d like to do, see, experience, learn, accomplish, improve, etc. in the coming years as well of how and with whom they want to spend increasingly precious time.
Each year, even if I’ve been thinking about these questions at other times, I take seriously the purpose of the Days of Awe, that period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when we Jews are commanded to take stock, to address our own shortcomings, and to rededicate our lives to higher purpose. We are also commanded, during this period, to resolve outstanding earthly issues before we seek atonement for our spiritual ones during Yom Kippur. Hopefully, I haven’t offended or harmed too many of you this year, and I’ve certainly tried to right any such wrongs. But, if I have wronged anyone inadvertently, please accept my apologies.
So what is it that we should be asking ourselves during the Days of Awe? Have we done as much as possible during the last year to serve mankind? Have we used our capabilities to the max in benefit not only of ourselves but of humanity? Have we dealt honestly with our family, friends and colleagues in both our personal and business dealings? Are there acts of kindness which we should have committed but whose moment we let pass without action? The list is long of all the ways in which we may or may not have lived up to our potential, and so is the list of potential commitments to improvement that we should be making for the New Year. But for us, these lists have long since been written.
Jews live with the responsibility to carry out 613 mitzvot (commandments) which, taken together, represent a value system that really does put the humanity back into human and the civilized back into civilization. And while many of those mitzvot may well appear outdated or even foolish when read on our smart phones while sipping a latte, it’s quite a collection of golden rules by which to live a full and worthwhile life while respecting the desire of others to do the same. Even if you’re completely non-religious, or if you practice a completely different religion, you’ll find in the mitzvot of Judaism at least a few ideas for improving your behavior, your contributions to society, your relationships and so much more. For your convenience, you can find the entire list at “Judaism 101.”
To my Jewish friends, family and colleagues, “L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem,” may you and yours be inscribed in the Book of Life for a sweet year. And to all the wonderful gentiles in my life, I wish you exactly the same, even if you’re working off a different calendar. We can but pray that 5777 will be the year when mankind grows up.