The Days of Awe, ten days on the Jewish calendar bookended by Rosh HaShana (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) couldn’t evoke more disparate emotions. Rosh HaShana is the world’s birthday. We read the creation story; we come around again to the sweet custom of eating apple slices dipped into honey; the final service of the new year ends with the resounding blasts of the shofar. And with that minute-long note still ringing in our ears as we leave synagogue, we turn to the day of dread that is in the offing: Yom Kippur.
It is called a day awesome and full of dread because it is the day we will be judged and our names will or will not be written into the Book of Life for one more year. Just one more year, God; not a decade, but just a year. Over the next ten days, will we atone properly? Will we do the work of asking sincere forgiveness for the times we bumbled, the times we hurt loved ones, the times we were stingy with our attention, encouragement and love? Will we do the even harder work of forgiving those whose own human errors seared us to the core? The music is haunting; the prayers stirring; the sermons move us to tears.
Each year one paragraph or another catches me by the shoulders, looks me straight in the face and takes my breath away. This year the paragraph came to call at the very end of the very end of the concluding service. How can we find words to thank You for Your goodness, and how can words alone be fitting thanks? How indeed does one paltry human express gratitude for being given another year to embrace our children, enjoy our friends, spend time with parents and siblings, pursue those endeavors that matter most? We will thank You with our lives; we will offer You the work of our hands.
We will thank You with our lives. That’s that line that took my breath away this year. What that line said to me was this: The task before you, Debra, is to shape your very life, day by day, interaction by interaction, kindness by kindness, so that it becomes a recitation thanks for the privilege of one more year of life.
I backslide not 72 hours later. But I catch myself: changing the tone of my voice, ridding myself of the easy habit of pissiness. Nothing I do may look like thanks yet, but the year is young. For all its imagery of awe and dread, Yom Kippur is a day of great hope. We fast; we confess; we atone. The slate is wiped clean and we begin again. And again and again; each day, one thank you at a time. Out of this, God willing, another year comes to be.