The season of the High Holidays is finally here, and we can feel the new year in the air. We started the year with a serious and intense atmosphere. We all stood in a court room filled with prosecutors and defense lawyers. Each and every one of us was judged by the Judge of judges. And we all prayed and pleaded to be inscribed in the Book of Life. We heard the shofar cry loud and clear, replacing the power of speech and soaring higher than any words. We begged the Almighty to have mercy on His creations and on the whole world.
We leave this intense time and go into the next few days until the Day of Atonement, the day that we fast and pray all day, pleading with G-d to sign us in the Book of Life and Happiness.
Shabbat Shuva falls within these ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Its name comes from the first words in the week’s haftarah and from the word teshuvah, “to repent.”
There is a feeling of awe and trepidation. The beginning of the year isn’t just the numerical marker of the New Year. It’s not just a date and then the next day everything goes back to normal. When Rosh Hashanah comes around it’s a beginning for the entire world. Hashem looks at the world and all His creations; He sits on his throne and decides what will become of His world and all its inhabitants. Rosh Hashanah isn’t a New Year’s party or celebration. It’s a day that everyone’s fate is written down for the coming year.
Therefore the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are such intense days. The beginning of the year isn’t just one day, it’s a series of days, it’s a time period.
Anything that is real, important, meaningful, and lasting, takes time to develop. A child comes to the world in nine months, children start school and study for twelve years until they accumulate enough information to set out on their journey of life. Any respected job has its long-term training or studying that is required before they can become something special and important. If a person is accused of a crime, they are allowed a certain amount of time to prepare and defend themselves, and so on. Even a fancy meal for a special event takes time to plan. We see that every important decision takes time.
This is also true with the beginning of the year. Our entire fate, the outcome of the whole year to come is decided in the Heavenly courts on Rosh Hashanah.
So G-d in His infinite wisdom and mercy gave us these ten days to repent and to pray for forgiveness, in order that we may go into the coming year with days filled with goodness and growth.
During the year we are so busy with our daily activities that we seldom remember to stop and look up at the Heavens and thank G-d that He chose to grant us another healthy and happy year. A year in which we can worship our Creator and glorify His name. We pray every day by rote, we go through the motions of being Jewish and all its laws almost by heart. But where is the heart and feeling of awe and trepidation all year long? Where is that sensation of feeling helpless and uncertain as to what will be with us and our lives?
The way of the world is that we get used to whatever we are doing, and that has its positive side to it. However Hashem gives us a reminder and wakes us up every year again and again so that we don’t become robotic. Hashem has mercy on His creations. He reminds us that He is Master of the world. Hashem reminds us that He is in charge and not us, even if we are rich and famous. G-d reminds us that He is the one who made it possible for us to rise and become strong.
By starting the year with this feeling of who we really are and who really is in charge, this makes us humble. It reminds us to look up at the heavens and thank Hashem for all He does for us. To thank Hashem for giving us last year and all its goodness and for granting us a new year which will hopefully be filled with life and prosperity.
Shabbat is always a special day, a time that we stop all our daily events and connect to a higher place. We are not running to work, and we have all the time to pray, learn Torah, eat, and be thankful for the week that has passed. Shabbat Shuva is not just another special Shabbat; it’s the Shabbat right after Rosh Hashanah. We are still filled with the uplifting prayers of the New Year, the shofar sound still echoes in our ears and heart.
The thoughts of what book we were written in still looms over our heads and hearts. And the hope and desire that we will be signed in for a good New Year hovers in our minds. With these thoughts and feelings we enter this special Shabbat and pray that G-d indeed will accept all of our prayers and accept our request for forgiveness and indeed sign all of His children in the book of life and all good things.
May we take these special feelings of connection to Hashem and inspiration to do better, into the entire year to come.
Shana tova, v’chasima tova.