Contemporary society presents many challenges vis-a-vis connecting to the high holidays. With all the death and terror we struggle with the idea of the Benevolent God from whom we ask for forgiveness, and with a tradition that pushes us to forgive others. As I have been preparing for Rosh Hashana I have been thinking about how we can connect better to these holidays. We are told that on Rosh Hashana we are judged and on Yom Kippur we are forgiven; however, for those of us who believe in a transcendental God it is hard to really feel this processes. So how can we feel the power of being judged and use that feeling to compel us onto a new path of life?
I believe the answer is vulnerability. This manifests itself in two ways. One is facing one’s own flaws. When one is told what they have done wrong publicly, one normally feels embarrassed, ashamed, or scared. This feelings could render someone speechless or bring them to their knees. These feelings can cause one to change their ways. Being confronted and called out can be a transformative experience. To fully feel this type of vulnerability one needs to think about getting indicted. When one is indicted the judge reads all the charges to you. The gravity of one’s transgressions are piled on you. This type of vulnerability is applied externally. Even though few of us are indicted, we can connect to this external vulnerability through experiences when we are “called out” for our misdeeds to others. The problem with this mode is that it is external, thus we only change because we feel bad and therefore the change does not last.
The second manifestation of vulnerability is an internal transformation. It occurs when one is confronted by one’s mortality. When one realizes that they will die one day one reevaluate their life objects and puts situations into perspective. An example of this type of vulnerability is experienced when one is hospitalized. This past summer I was a Chaplain in a hospital. As I went from patient to patient throughout the summer I found an incredible message resonating throughout the population. Patients were sad about the state of violence and destruction in the world and believed that God, irrespective of religion, wanted us to all work to make the world a better place. Religion for them was a personal choice towards a unified end. In a hospital one is surrounded by death and confusion; one is confronted with their mortality, one is confronted by their life’s work. These types of experiences cause people to think about there obituaries and strive to be the person they want to be.
So as we approach the high holidays we are exposed to both types of vulnerability, when we read the confession (Viduy) we are reading the list of sins brought against us. We read them to ask for forgiveness but more importantly so we can avoid doing them in the future. We also pray for our lives, we see our lives in a balance. By using both types of vulnerabilities we can start traveling down a road towards peace and prosperity in the coming year.