It is in the stillness of the early morning that I sense the approach of the new year. The pale outline of the moon fades into a faint imprint on the blue of the sky, and the sun’s warmth and light gradually bring a new day into being. So it passes one day to another, one year to the next.
Yet it is in this liminal space that I glimpse the meaning of the holiday season. The quiet weeks before, the month of Elul, time for reflection and introspection, a personal accounting of days past, of what was done, of what was not. Then the joyous celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the birthday of the world, replete with its promise of new beginnings, resplendent with sweetness and wholeness, apples dribbled with honey and round challahs plump with raisins.
And then the solemnness of the intervening days of awe, time to confront our shortcomings, our failures, and seek recompense, offer restitution. Teshuvah, tefillah, tzedakah, repentance, prayer and righteous acts, hold the possibility of turning away from our misdeeds and towards forgiveness. And, lastly, the gravity of Yom Kippur, with its litany of al chets, confession of wrongdoings, an integral part of the liturgy, and the prospect of divine judgment weighing heavy. Who shall live, and who shall die, we intone. And who shall be inscribed for another year in the book of life.
So the world turns, and so do we, suspended between the comforting constancy of the calendar’s cycling and its discomfiting threat of our undoing. It is that very precariousness of our existence that imbues life with inordinate meaning, that reminds us of its innate preciousness. It is that very in-betweenness that draws us back, even as it thrusts us ever forward. It grounds us with a compelling rootedness inscribed in obligation, in responsibility, in memory, as we recall those who came before us and are no longer here, and it imbues us with an arresting anticipation of those yet to be, of what it is yet to come. It locates us within that great swath of time spanning generations, within that space that seems limitless, yet circumscribing us, binding us tightly to each other in this time, in this place for all the days we are given.
And so as one year passes to another, as we take a measure of our days, we look inward, outward and upward. We reflect on our magnitude within the infinitude of God’s space, on our infinitesimal smallness within the expanse of time. Our sages teach of our innate duality, that we are both big and small, each of us created in God’s image, each with a divine spark within, each of us created from flesh and bone and sinew, and each of us at the end of our days but dust and ashes.
Our lives, ours to make in-between, wrest of all things great and small.
G’mar Chatimah Tova.
May you be inscribed in the book of life.