We are entering one of those rare times when the fall cycle of Jewish holidays, except for the last two days (Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah), is celebrated in September. With September permeated by these observances, it gives pause to appreciate not only the flow of energy and purpose from Rosh Hashanah through Simchat Torah, but also a structure to Judaism that is found in many ways.
The Jewish observance cycle and our way of life is grounded in a three part molecular structure, found in a variety of ways throughout each day, on Shabbat and throughout the year. Those who observe the entire cycle of Shabbat will find it in the content of the Amidah, the standing prayer/visit with HaShem, beginning with Shabbat evening. In that service the focus is on gratitude for God creating Shabbat/stopping; in the creation of this unique day of non-creating, we focus on the miracle of new beginnings, all the time. On Shabbat morning the Amidah focuses on the gift of revelation, the gift of Torah, with the focus of this reflection/meditation on gratitude to God for the gift of Shabbat as given to us in the Torah. In the Shabbat Mincha/afternoon service the Amidah reflects on the rejoicing of the Ancestors celebrating the complete restfulness of this day, a feeling of redemption. The ultimate goal and purpose of Shabbat is to connect us with a taste of God’s blessings in Life Eternal, linking that world with ours and energizing us to do our part to make the week to come one that brings us closer to a world redeemed.
In the holiday cycle throughout the year we have the same structure: the theme of Creation expressed with our launch as a people with the Exodus from Egypt and our Passover celebration. 50 Days later we experience the second theme, Revelation/Purpose, with the gift of Torah given to us at Mt. Sinai and the celebration of Shavuot. The third theme, Redemption is associated with Sukkot, the harvest of life and appreciation for all the blessings of accomplishment, as we begin again, the New Year that now unfolds with the close of our holiday season.
The Daily and Shabbat prayer cycle that introduces each Amidah also reflects this molecular structure: Creation, Revelation and Redemption.
With the fall holidays almost entirely populating the month of September this year, we can even see this cycle in that context: Rosh Hashanah celebrates God’s creating the world with specific focus on this holiday on the creation of the human being, associated with Adam and Eve, and accordingly we begin a new year in the world cycle. What follows is the focus on revelation and lessons in life to apply, a ten day process of reflection on teachings and guidance, to change and transform our ways to become better partners with God in addressing the challenges and shortcomings in our world, and most significantly, in ourselves.
The three part cycle closes with the Sukkot harvest holiday and the rejoicing of transitioning from redemption and the completion of the reading of Torah to begin again the cycle that permeates our calendar and our year.
This cycle that we observe and celebrate this month, Tishri, in the Hebrew cycle, serves to provide transformative healing powers for individual and community health, wellbeing, and hopefulness for a better future.
The first part of the cycle, with Rosh Hashanah starting us off in this particular iteration of our cycle fills us with optimism and even happiness associated with apples and honey. No matter how mired we may feel about our world and conditions with which we live, we always have the next moment to turn to and with God’s partnership to transform energy and possibility to move in a better and holier direction than we may find ourselves as we approach these Days of Awe.
The second part of the cycle, with the Ten Days of Teshuva/change in direction, reflects God’s second greatest gift after a functioning mind/heart, the ability to change, to redirect, to learn anew; it is a reminder that we are never locked into a position that seems hopeless of generates pessimism or despair.
The third part of the cycle, with Sukkot culminating in Simchat Torah, gives us much to rejoice in, even in times that seem filled with worry, fear and alarm. With God’s help, as we connect with it through helping one another and addressing imbalances in our world, we will yet see a good and healthier world and lifecycle, as we honor and celebrate this molecular structure of Judaism.
These are known as the Days of Awe, because they are filled with promise for better times, thanks to God’s presence and guidance, in ways that are at times and often impossible to comprehend.
May the awe that fills these days fill our hearts with the promise of a better future as we do our part in reflection and commitment to change what we must to make it a good and better year in welcoming 5779.