Jewish High Holy Season

I will not pretend to be an expert in Judaism or its important “high holy days,” Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year, Sept. 18-19 in 2020) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement, Sept. 27-28 in 2020).  I do think, however, that we can learn and utilize so much from an elementary knowledge of this significant season, which as a Christian reminds me of what Lent and Easter can offer as a time for self-examination, re-commitment, and forgiveness (of others and ourselves).  I have always been puzzled by Christians (me included) historically paying so little, if any, attention to this important annual practice and ritual of our Jewish friends.  As a Jewish Rabbi in his time, Jesus would have been part of such wonderful traditions.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

In a nutshell, Rosh Hashanah focuses on thankfulness for God’s creation.  On a personal level, it also starts an intense 10-day personal faith and life related examination of one’s past year, including wrongdoings and things each person would like to change and put behind them.  Stated differently, this annual hard and honest look at how one has lived relative to faith and life related priorities and intentions should lead to repentance toward authentic, actual changes in day-to-day living.  The culmination is Yom Kippur: reparation for wrongdoing (i.e., “atonement”), forgiveness, and an intentional fresh start for the upcoming year.  My understanding is that traditionally, some groups gather near water and utilize comforting words from the end of the prophet Micah, including: “[God] will again have compassion upon us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. [God] will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Mic. 7:19).

Formative and Practical Result

As Rabbi Harold Kushner expresses the potential experience and result in his most recent book, Echoes of Sinai (Curtis Brown Studios 2018): “It can liberate you from your shadow…and let your new self emerge [with] a brand new start….[R]ather than the person you have too often settled for being [,y]ou will have become the person God has wanted you to be all along.”

Adaptation for Christians and Others

Christians (or any others) adopting a similar framework any time of year can enhance our faith-journey and ethical quality of life.  The model includes important steps: (1) intentional annual self-examination; (2) accepting God’s and our own forgiveness; (3) asking forgiveness of people we might have wronged in some way; (4) resolving with God’s help to actually transform who we are and how we act; and then (5) engaging in the hard, disciplined work to make it happen.  For Christians, using Lent and culminating in the celebration of new life at Easter might be ideal.  Yet, there is no magic in the time we do it, only in the seriousness and regularity of the practice.