By: Julie Lieber
Chief Jewish Life & Engagement Officer
The High Holiday season is already in the air. In exactly one week we will celebrate Rosh HaShannah, the Jewish New Year. This season in the Jewish calendar is a time filled with mixed emotions and experience. On the one hand, there is the sweetness of apples and honey, round raisin challahs and the joy of holiday meals with family and friends. Yet, mixed in alongside the food and friends is the solemnity of this time of year, in which we reflect on the past year, its successes and challenges, and contemplate how we might shape the coming year for ourselves and our larger communities for the better. For me, there is one prayer that captures the essence of this moment – the Unetaneh Tokef poem which we recite on both Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur – which imagines each person passing before God like sheep in a herd “As a shepherd herds their flock, directing their sheep to pass under their staff, so too You shall pass, count and record the souls of all living…”
כְּבַקָּרַת רוֹעֶה עֶדְרוֹ מַעֲבִיר צֹאנוֹ תַּחַת שִׁבְטוֹ כֵּן תַּעֲבִיר וְתִסְפֹּר וְתִמְנֶה וְתִפְקֹד נֶפֶשׁ כָּל חָי
The picture conjured up here is both real and fantastical – reminding each and every one of us, through this imagery of passing through, that we each count and that we matter in the larger divine and human drama of life.
Similar imagery appears in this week’s parsha, Niztavim, which is read the week before Rosh HaShannah. In this portion, Nitzavim, which literally means standing, Moses invites all of the Israelites from the officials and elders to the children and woodchoppers, to imagine themselves first standing before God and then passing into a covenant with God.
אתם נצבים היום כלכם לפני יהוה אלהיכם …לעברך בברית יהוה אלהיך
Here too, as Moses nears the end of his time with the Israelites, he asks them to imagine that they are each passing before God and entering into a relationship with the divine. There is something about these two pictures of physically passing before God as sheep in our high holiday prayers and the parallel image of standing before God and entering or passing into a covenant with the divine in our torah portion this week that sets the stage for this time of year. We are each beckoned to stand up and move towards one other through our holiday celebrations and to open ourselves up to entering into renewed relationships with our families, communities and the divine. As we transition from 5783 to this new year 5784, may it be a year of safe passages and blessings for us all.
Please email Julie Lieber at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or comments.