September 18, 2007

Yom Kippur thoughts: Our choices do matter

Blowing the shofar (greeting card image)
Eastern Europe, early 20th century. Courtesy of
the Fund of the New Synagogue Berlin, Centrum Judaicum.

The shofar calls
Awake, you sleepers from your sleep, rouse yourself you slumberers . . . Examine your deeds, return in repentance and remember your Creator. Those of you who forget the truth in the follies of the times and go astray the whole year in vanity and emptiness, which neither profit nor save, look to your souls, improve your ways and works, abandon your evil ways every one of you!
Maimonides, in Hilchot Teshuvah, The Laws of Repentance 3.4

"And when the great shofar is sounded. . ."
. . .  a small quiet voice is heard, and the heavenly beings are thrown into fright, and, seized by a terrible dread, they declare: Behold, the day of judgment has arrived, when even those in heaven's court are judged for none can be exempt from justice's eyes! . . . You do not desire a person to die, but only to change and to live. . . 
Unetaneh Tokef, a Hebrew liturgical poem (English translation in Mahzor Leyamim Nora’im, Prayerbook for the Days of Awe, The Reconstructionist Press)

* * * 
Since the Hebrew month of Elul that precedes Tishrei, when Rosh Hashanah begins, the shofar has been calling, its sounds ringing in my ears. And I am eager to continue this evening, Yom Kippur, the difficult spiritual work during this mandated pause in Jewish time. Guiding the congregation and service leaders will be the High Holy Day machzor, a rich anthology of prayers, hymns, and passages from the Bible, Mishnah, Talmud, and Zohar that tell the story, vision, core values, and history of the Jewish people.

The hard part of spiritual work is reflecting on my specific deeds and thoughts (intentional and not) and critically assessing my mis-takes (split word intended) the preceding year. Without this work, how would I recognize my past choices and discern the possible consequences and results each choice entailed? How else could I identify my responsibilities and make wise choices today?

It is this ability to choose that makes us human. And I want to know, How will I make choices that matter?

Last month, the popular author of the children's classic ''A Wrinkle in Time" died, at age 88. From The New York Times' obituary of this deeply faithful Christian:

Why does anybody tell a story? [Madeleine L'Engle] . . . once asked, even though she knew the answer. . . . It does indeed have something to do with faith, she said, faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically [emphasis mine].

My related Yom Kippur posts

No comments: