How Do We Prepare? (August 2021 KOL)
It’s nearly time. As much as I would rather stay in summer mode, I feel obligated as your rabbi to remind you that we are nearing the High Holy Day season. In fact, thanks to the quirks of the Jewish calendar, the month of Elul (the month before the start of the High Holy Days) begins on August 9. And Erev Rosh HaShannah comes on Monday night, September 6.
That means it is time to start our preparation for the High Holy Day season. I’m not talking about the myriad of plans and details undertaken by the TBS staff and volunteers (though those are important and already underway). I mean the preparation each of us is called upon to do. Reflect on the past year of our lives. Repent of our mistakes. Prepare to ask for, and grant to others, forgiveness. Renew our promises to be our best selves and to return to how we truly want to live. These are our High Holy Day preparations each year.
On the one hand, this year is no different. The soul-work of preparation is the same. And yet, on the other hand, this year is completely different. This has been a year like no other in our lifetime. How do we prepare to mark it spiritually? And, while we experienced a COVID High Holy Days last year, we are at a very different place in the pandemic now than last year at this time.
Originally, I had thought to write this month about the dual task of re-entering society as we enter the new year. After a year at home, do our High Holy Day dress clothes feel odd to wear? (Do they even fit?) We have to prepare to be in common spaces with other people. We have to remember how to talk and interact with others. We may need to regain some of the social skills that we may have forgotten. As we reflect and return, we need to be gentle with other people and with ourselves.
Recent news of the virus resurgence waylaid my original intention. In so many ways, we just don’t know what to prepare for nowadays. Do we prepare to wear masks again? Do we prepare to re-distance ourselves? Do we prepare for another long fall and winter of disease?
In many ways, the uncertainty we feel is built into our High Holy Day preparations. We never know what the year ahead will bring. We never truly know what to prepare for. But we do know how to prepare. We reflect on what the past year has been. We remind ourselves of who we can best be. And we prepare to be prepared for whatever the year ahead holds for us.
This is the knowledge I am holding onto as the summer ends and the holidays draw near. As individuals and as a community, we will do the healthy work of reflecting and returning and renewing. We will find ways to prepare for whatever may yet come. We will face the new year mindfully, sincerely, resolved to meet its challenges, and open to its opportunities. We will prepare and be prepared together.
May it be a good season of preparation for us all.
Rabbi David S. Widzer