ASK THE RABBI
August 2018 QUESTION:
I know that the High Holy Days are approaching, and as I get older, I feel more inclined to take them seriously. How should I prepare for them, and how can I make them meaningful for me?
August 2018 ANSWER:
Thank you for asking.
First, you have the name right. These occasions are not best identified as “high holidays”…which suggests fireworks and partying. Just using the right name helps to frame these events on our calendar.
Second, you can use our traditions to help get you in the right mental space to make good use of the holy days. Jewish tradition designates the whole month of Elul, which directly precedes Rosh HaShanah, as the time for reflection and preparation. Our Sefardic cousins end every weekday morning service during Elul with the sounding of the shofar, to stir the soul, and point one’s thoughts toward the Yamim Nora-im…the Days of Awe, which is the traditional Jewish term for the High Holy Days. Since we do not hold weekday morning services, in Elul we begin each Shabbat evening, before the service*, with the sounding of the shofar. That will begin this year on Friday, August 17th.
Third, we have been using a special prayerbook for the Sabbaths in Elul; it has a wonderful collection of readings and meditations that stimulate our thoughts and feelings as we approach the Yamim Nora-im. We will add some musical elements into the mix that will support this process. This usage will coincide with the shofar sounding referred to above.
And fourth, this year, we will hold a two week class on “preparing for the High Holy Days”, on Thursday, August 23rd and 30th, from 3:00 to 4:30 pm. The class will focus on the themes of the holy days services, especially as they differ from the liturgy of the rest of the year, and it will involve a discussion of some “do’s and don’ts” to make the holy days more meaningful. Be sure to take advantage of this class to get yourself ready for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur…and the days between.
*Traditionally, the shofar is not sounded on Shabbat, so we begin, right at 7:30 pm, before we light the Shabbat candles, with a single blast of the shofar; don’t be late during Elul.