Our calendar has just passed through the Hebrew “Days of Awe”. The Days of Awe refers to the 10-day period which encompasses the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah), and the Day of Repentance (Yom Kippur). Jewish tradition says that God has “books” where he writes down our names and decides who will live and who will die, who will have a good life or a bad life. A Jews’ behavior during those 10 days will determine their fate through the next year.
During this period, Jews engage in a type of purification of the soul. They seek to reflect upon their past behavior with man, society and God, and to improve upon those relationships in the future.
The tools available to mankind are repentance (teshuva), prayer (tef’ilah), and good deeds (tzedakah).
Prayer is the way through which we repair our relationship to God. We acknowledge that we are dependent on God, dependent on his beneficence, and that he can alleviate our hardship. The Hebrew word that characterizes our relationship to God is called yirah, a combination of fear and feeling overwhelmed by His power (awe). From the spiritual perspective of Kaballah, when we pray we are connecting our life intention with the divine. Prayer leads to a merger between the ratzon (will) of man and the (ratzon), will of God.
Through prayer God’s will manifests itself in man. God’s purpose becomes man’s purpose. Man therefore acts in the behalf of His creator, without ego, or personal needs operating.
This bonding (devekut) that takes place in prayer is a necessary prerequisite prior to engaging with our fellow man. We must first become holy so that we can act in God’s image (imagio dei), to repair the world of man. In this way, we channel God’s will.
Teshuva is both an act of self-purification and a way to repair our relationship with others. Teshuva begins with self-correction. Through Teshuva, a person seeks both repentance and self-improvement. Teshuva is an act of repentance for the sins of the past year. If done successfully and with heartfelt valor, God forgives and the repentant’s name is placed in God’s Book, the slate is clean and one moves into the New Year with a renewed and cleansed spirit. In order to reach a state of renewal, the repentant must take responsibility for past sins, make amends to those whom they have hurt, and commit to a future without a repeat of past sin.
Tzedakah refers to acts of charity. The literal meaning of tzedakah is justice or righteousness. Historically, charity began in agrarian Israel. Farmers were asked to leave the corners of their fields not harvested so that the poor could collect the leftover food for themselves. Subsequently, charity was not seen as voluntary but as an obligation. It is customary that Jews commit some part of their time and finances to benefit the disadvantaged.
During the Days of Awe, Jews are asked to make charitable contributions and commit to charitable goals for the following year.
What links the traditions of the Days of Awe together, is a focus away from our personal concerns and toward transpersonal concerns. In Judaism this means a focus on God, our intimate relationships and the improvement of society. In contrast we must transcend the Ego, our personal self-interest in order to truly repair the world (tikkun olam).
Michael Abramsky PHD, ABPP