Days of Awe

The 10 days between the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Repentance (Yom Kippur) are called the Days of Awe. According to Jewish midrash (Commentary), on these 10 days the distance between man and God is most narrow and this provides an opportunity to be close to God, in spirit and dialogue.

Central to these days is the concept that God in Heaven has three books which he opens during these days. One book is for the righteous, one for the wicked. Upon opening the book which contains the names of the righteous, those people are inscribed immediately into the Book of Life; the wicked into the Book of Death.

One Book is for those who are in-between. For those, God’s judgment is suspended until Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. During these 10 days we gain God’s grace and admittance into the book of the righteous by our efforts toward repentance. Commentators have likened this to a type of trial, where the focus is on future deeds, rather than past actions.

The Hebrew name for repentance is teshuva, which literally means “to return”. It signifies our need to return to God from the distractions of the ego, our self-absorption. That is true redemption, when we put God’s needs above our own.

From a traditional ethical perspective, violations occur when God’s rules (the mitzvoth) are violated by man; from a spiritual perspective violations occur when we cater to our ego needs rather than the transcendent needs of God. Transcendent needs are the welfare of others, our community, of history and the best interests of our people.

Teshuva includes three steps: 1) acknowledgment of our misdeeds. We must examine our past behaviors and judge them through God’s eyes as proper or improper. 2) Compensating others. Compensation may be monetary or in the form of an apology. And, 3) A commitment to change. It is imperative that in future similar situations we will not repeat the same mistakes. Thus God’s presence on earth is manifested through correct behavior.

On the spiritual level we participate in a relationship of “awe” with our God. The term “awe” is the way many Jewish scholars describe man’s relationship to God. The closest word in Hebrew is yirah which signifies both wonderment and fear of God.

According to Jewish theology, God is unknowable, as he is not of this world. He is not accessible through our senses, and we cannot even use our thinking to understand him. God is responsible for those events not subject to the laws of this world, most notably whether we will be born and when we die.

So how do we relate to what we cannot understand? We experience awe, wonderment toward Him mixed with fear at defying His will. The sense of fearful wonderment is unique and only manifests itself in the man-God relationship. It is this body-mind understanding of God, a unique experience which is transformative.

Repentance reflects the two streams of Judaism. The first stream is that of laws. In this tradition we bond with God by following his mitzvoh , or commandments. This is the tradition of Moses. The second trend is Abrahamic, it is the faith tradition, where we bond with God through a type of primal trust, an emotional experience of wonderment and fear.

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About the writer: Dr. Michael Abramsky

Michael Abramsky PhD, ABPP is a licensed psychologist with 35 years of experience treating adolescents and adults for anxiety, depression and trauma. He is nationally Board Certified in both Clinical and Forensic psychology. Dr. Abramsky also has an MA in Comparative Religions, and has practiced and taught Buddhist Meditation for 25 years.

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