In less than 48 hours, we will find ourselves at the threshold of the New Year. On one hand the days are long, and at the same time, the weeks feel short. Although we are blessed to have a month designated for preparation for this Holy Day, the month of Elul is quickly drawing to a close. The years as a student in Yerushalayim and at Stern College, during which I had the gift of endless hours to dedicate toward study and mental preparation for the Yamim Noraiim, are a distant memory (the post-it notes and margin notes in my machzor remain, and bridge the time gap back to the year 2005). The reality is, that this time of year is a hectic one. The transition from summer to the new school year, getting the kids settled, catching up on work and Yom Tov preparations… I feel lucky that I have the opportunity to hear the shofar blasts even once during Elul - at my children’s first day of school orientation.
Ready or not though, the Day of Judgement, the Day of Remembrance, is upon us.
Many enter this period of time with feelings of trepidation and fear. Many decisions that will impact our lives this year stand in the balance. The gravity of these holy days is captured in the poignant tefilla of U’nesane Tokef: “On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed - how many shall pass away and how many shall be born, who shall live and who shall die, who in good time, and who by an untimely death… who shall have rest and who wander, who shall be at peace and who pursued, who shall be serene and who tormented…”
As the new year approaches, I look back at the last 12 months, and wonder at the enormity of it all – that the unexpected challenges and tragedies that transpired in my personal life, in my community, and within our global community over this last year were decided exactly one year ago.
Now more than ever, there is much to pray for.
With Rosh HaShanah only a few days away, I try to take time and space to reflect on my life over the last year, and really think about the experiences, and the people, those who I have known for many years, as well as those who I have only recently just met, who have impacted my life and shaped who I am.
Each year, intuitively there is a specific emotion that rises to the surface, which captures where I am vibrating, as the door of one year closes, and the door into next year begins to crack open. There is no right or wrong here. There is just what is. And for each of us, it will be different. Last year, for me, the feeling with which I entered Rosh HaShanah was a feeling of G-d’s shefa, or abundance.
As I wonder which feeling is the emotion that I bring with me into the new year, as I leave last year behind, I know it instantly, in every fiber of my being. It is a feeling of deep gratitude and steadfast hope. Gratitude for all the blessings of the past year – physical health, meaningful relationships, memorable experiences and cherished memories with beloved friends and family, miracles big and small performed before my eyes, the gift of parnassah, emotional growth, and the challenges of this past year, without which growth and self-transformation would not be possible. Equally strong this year is a feeling of everlasting, unextinguishable hope – hope for a year ahead of yeshuos, and in which mishalot libeinu will be answered l’tovah and speedily. In the meantime, we work hard to remember that G-d accepts all of our prayers. G-d’s delays are not G-d’s denials.
For some, Rosh HaShanah is a not an easy holiday – this isn’t a particularly festive one – it is literally two days straight, spent praying. I genuinely look forward to these two days, as it gives me a chance to dive into tefilah and focus my attention on connecting with G-d, whereas typically, when I daven, the tefilah is quick, and my mind wanders.
Over the Yamin Noariim, there are many beautiful tefilos, sung by the chazan and echoed by the tzibur, that give us the chance to really sink in, connect with, and communicate, verbally or otherwise, directly with G-d. There is one particular tefilah I’ve been playing on repeat over the last few days as I try to mentally prepare, amidst the chaos of everyday life, translated as, “I will bring them to My sacred mount and let them rejoice in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices Shall be welcome on My altar; For My House shall be called A house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7).
Towards the end of Sefer Yeshaya, after prophesizing the Exile by the hands of Sancherev, King of Ashur, Yeshaya gives us promises of hope and redemption. During the Rosh HaShanah davening, at the very end of Chazarat Hashatz of Mussaf, we recite this pasuk. As the morning of prayer and connection draws to a close, we sing this pasuk joyously, reminding ourselves that although we are galus now, we are yearning and we are ready, today, to be brought “with happiness and joy to the rebuilt Beis Hamkidash in Yerushalayim”
The Gemara in Berachot 7a:1 discusses the significance of this very same pasuk from Yeshaya. “Rabbi Yoḥanan said in the name of Rabbi Yosei: From where is it derived that the Holy One, Blessed be He, prays? As it is stated: “I will bring them to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in the house of My prayer” (Isaiah 56:7). The verse does not say the house of their prayer, but rather, “the house of My prayer”; from here we see that the Holy One, Blessed be He, prays.”
I have heard many things ascribed to G-d, and as I write this article, I discover something new about Him.
He prays. He prays for us!
We are not forgotten. There is hope.
During this time of year, G-d descends from His throne and is among us. He is our gracious King, our loving King, and we His willing servants and children. This year, as we send up our heartfelt tefillos on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, we remember that G-d is alongside us, praying with us – for all that we need, for all that we desire, for all that we hope for, and for our speedy return.
Wishing you and yours a git g’benched year.
This Rosh HaShanah, “May ours and the entire community’s prayers and supplications be accepted before our Father in heaven.”