There are many fads that come and go. The current one is to take pictures of oneself (and friends, if present), “selfies”, anywhere and everywhere. We do not seem to have a filter on what we share, whether it is private information that should stay private or activities that maybe we should not be so proud of. And yet, in this age of increased self-absorption, we spend far less time actually looking at ourselves and examining our actions.
Apparently, the ability to take selfies has an age limit, and it is a skill I am finding difficult to develop. At the same time, I don’t really mind lacking this talent, so most pictures I post have other subjects. At this time of year, though, I think it’s helpful to be able to look back on the past year and have photographic proof of what we have been doing in our lives. These Ten Days of Repentance started with the Day of Judgement, and end with the Day of Atonement. From the time I was old enough to understand what those words meant and what the days were about, I always thought it strange that they fell out in that order. Shouldn’t we atone before we are judged? Now that I am older (and supposedly more mature, even if those close to me may say otherwise), I understand the order of holidays better.
On Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgement, we sing, we eat, we enjoy being together. Later, we get down to the business of repentance; regretting what we have done and apologizing, promising to change for the better. Why is this the order and feeling of the days? How are we smiling and laughing on a day where we say that today is THE DAY where G-d decides the fate of us all, together and individually? We say that G-d is, right at this very moment, deciding who will live through the whole year, and who will be gone before it is over, even if they are here until almost the end. When someone you know passes during this time period, it makes you wonder if it was decided last Rosh Hashsanah or this one, and if it meant they were given more time, until the end of their final year (or close to it), or whether this upcoming new year is the one that they are losing. The part of davening (prayer ) that gets to me the most is where we note that G-d is right now also deciding how we live, whether we will suffer or have a good year, have pain or joy, peace or torment. How can we say these things and then go home and eat? I think it is because we are human, and have a hard time facing the hard things until we have no other choice. There is a Leonard Cohen song that always goes through my head at this time, and it always makes me shiver to hear it. It repeats the prayer of “who will”, and plays up the part about who it is we are standing in front of. “Da Lifnei mi ata omed” is a quote that always makes me think when I am praying. “Know in front of Whom you stand.”
This time of year also usually makes people think of family. Family they have and are able to share the holidays with, family who are far away, and family they have lost or who are lost to them. Since I lost both my parents in this month, I think of them. I wish I could call and bless them with a happy and healthy New Year just once more, hear their voices and feel their love. I am also thinking of others who lost parents recently, and are feeling this loss so strongly now. In particular, I remember how my mother would not admit how bad things were, even at the end. It was this trait which kept her going, I am sure, and which enabled her to live so much longer than any doctor or hospice nurse predicted. But I sometimes feel a little angry that this same stubbornness kept her from looking at things clearly, facing the facts, and being able to deal with certain final affairs. Still, I understand this denial. It is the same rejection of reality which allows us to stand in shul (synagogue) on the Day of Judgement, in front of a G-d of Judgement, and not realize the seriousness of our situation. We are standing in front of the Judge of judges. How do we not tremble and cry? If we, G-d forbid, stood in front of a mortal judge, we would be quaking, hiring the best lawyer, and praying for redemption, even if we knew for a fact that we were innocent. But instead, very many of us (I certainly include myself) enjoy the singing, try to keep up with the prayers, and think of the nice meal we will get after this long morning of standing and sitting and standing again. Then comes Yom Kippur- the Day of Atonement. We had our chance before the Judge, and we took it lightly. Now it hits us; we have been sentenced, and all we can do is appeal and hope for a reprieve. We had to pass the point of denial and get to the part where it just got real.
This is when I look back at the pictures of my year. Have I changed—for the better? Did I try to do things differently? If I am honest with myself, some yes, and some no. Back to the idea of judgement; we may not even realize how often we set ourselves up to evaluate others’ actions, deciding without even half the information whether what they are doing is okay. My New Year’s resolution is to judge—myself. If I do it from now, if I look at what *I* am doing and wonder if that was the right thing to do, maybe, when next year’s Day of Judgement comes around, I will already know the answer.
Someone sent out a short story of how a small girl (Nechama Leibovitch) came home and told her father that her teacher said that they should be especially good at this time, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The father said yes, of course, but that it is also important to remember to be especially good between Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah.
The other Leonard Cohen song I think of at this time is where he says, in the end, that it is all in G-d’s hands; we can do our best, and make sure that our selfies show a self that we would want the world to see, but our fate is ultimately, of course, Hashem’s to decide.
Wishing all of us a healthy, happy and peaceful year.