When I was younger, I had the opportunity to camp and hike in some of our most majestic national parks. In addition to the natural beauty of those impressive spaces, it gave me the chance to pause, to not hear any of the noise we hear in our everyday lives, and to be able just to think.
Today, we rush from one appointment to the next, from one task to another, with little time to reflect on our lives and our conduct. Our various faith traditions encourage us to slow down and look at ourselves. We all are works in progress, and there are opportunities to improve and redirect our own behavior.
In the Jewish tradition, there is an especially important time that is about to occur on our annual calendar — the High Holy Days, a 10-day period that begins with Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) and concludes with Yom Kippur (the Day of Repentance). Judaism encourages daily reflection on our conduct and the importance of personally seeking out anyone whom we have wronged or failed, but these actions particularly are essential during this period. Additionally, the High Holy Days are meant to inspire us to connect more deeply with our faith.
Just as many of us who are parents tell our children, “You are not leaving the table until you help clean the dishes,” or “Finish your homework before you can go out,” Judaism teaches we must enter the new year having worked at cleaning up our spiritual house.
A small but powerful verse in Psalm 69:29, “May they be erased from the Book of Life, and not be inscribed with the righteous,” has been amplified as part of this holiday season as a metaphor for each of us seeking to be inscribed in a divine Book of Life and blessing. For this reason, it is a practice during the High Holy Days to greet others with the phrase, “May you be inscribed for a good year.”
In Atlanta, we are surrounded by nature, and there are times when I return to those moments when nature is so awesome that it makes us catch our breath. I hope we can seize these moments and remind ourselves to pause — just for a minute — and look inward to see how we can move forward and be better partners in this ongoing world of creation.
– Rabbi Joseph Prass is the spiritual leader of Congregation Ner Tamid in Marietta. In addition, he serves as the director of Holocaust education at the Breman Museum in Atlanta.