What is the purpose of the holidays? All of our celebrations are not merely commemorations of historic events but rather opportunities for spiritual growth. Each holiday embodies a unique message and our goal is to unlock the potential for change within each experience. The holiday of Passover is not simply about eating matzah and remembering the slavery and exodus from Egypt but a touchstone for exploring the meaning of freedom of the spirit. Similarly, the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are times during the year for us to unlock our hidden potential. Rosh Hashanah celebrates the birth of mankind. In business, we can only determine success if we gauge our progress against goals and objectives. On Rosh Hashanah we reevaluate the success of our lives. What is our mission in life? What gives us inner joy and meaning in life? Do our priorities and time allocation align with our life aspirations Rosh Hashanah and the forty day period are the best times to develop a personal mission statement (see option on website) and become a better you.
Similarly, Yom Kippur represents more than a fast day and a time for reunion (we see all the people we have seen since last year). Rather, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar signifies G-d’s love for us. Jewish tradition describes Yom Kippur as one of the two happiest days of the year. Wow! I know most of us do not associate Yom Kippur with joy. Perhaps by going back in time, we can gain a deeper understanding of the holiday.
When was the first Day of Atonement in history? The first Yom Kippur occurred on day 40 of our count over 2,300 years ago. Following the revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai, the Jews worshipped a golden calf. Imagine a person sleeping with another woman on the day following his marriage. The Jewish people are compared to the bride, G-d is the groom and the Torah is the marriage contract. Forty days after Moses ascended the mountain; he came down and witnessed many of the Jews swept up in the ecstasy of idolatry. From G-d’s perspective, the Jews were no longer worthy of being his representatives of ethical monotheism to the world and told Moses he would create a new nation from him. For another 40 days, Moshe prayed to G-d to have mercy on the Jewish people and not destroy them. Moshe succeeded in averting the decree but like a woman who decides not to divorce her husband after infidelity, the trust is broken and relationship precarious. Finally, Moshe ascends the mountain a third time for another 40 days (from the beginning of the month of Elul until Yom Kippur) to rebuild the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people. Finally, on Yom Kippur, 2,300 years ago, G-d gives Moshe and the Jewish people a second set of tablets as an expression that he has forgiven them. The Master of the Universe says to the Jewish people and to us: Welcome home. Every Yom Kippur we have the possibility of experiencing the power of G-d’s love for us and his forgiveness.
During the forty day period culminating with Yom Kippur, we ask G-d for forgiveness in those areas between man and G-d and we ask others who we may have hurt during the year for their forgiveness. It only works though we do Teshuva. The Hebrew word for repentance is Teshuva (Return) which alludes to the possibility of renewal and reunion during this spiritual zone of the year. The components of Teshuva include identifying my error, experiencing remorse and pledging to act differently in the future. All of us can improve ourselves. Identify one of two areas in your life you want to change. Choose a new mitzvah to adopt for the New Year. Think of Rosh Hashanah as the “forest’’ of your life – the Big Picture and Yom Kippur as the “trees” – the details. Both components are critical to harnessing the forty days to become a better you!
The Forty Day Period offers so many opportunities for connection and education. Whether the sounds of the shofar (which begin on Day 1 of the 40 days), the High Holiday liturgy, or the symbolic foods, the rituals are merely tools to deepen ourselves spiritually, strengthen our relationships to our families, communities, Jewish people and the world.
The website 40 Days to a Better You was designed for you to maximize this unique time in the year. Take advantage of the multiple avenues for growth and camaraderie and Take the 40 Day Pledge and receive a special gift of the High Holiday survival guide the website offers links to valuable resources for learning about the high holidays. If you have any questions or thoughts, feel free to reach me at [email protected]