Days of Awe:

The Yamim Nora’im, (Days of Awe) are generally regarded as a festival unit in themselves and consist of two holidays: Rosh HaShana (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and the intermediate days between them.  They should, however, also be regarded as an integral part of the annual Jewish festival cycle. This cycle begins with Passover which represents the birth of the nation. Although freed from bondage, Israel did not become a nation until it received the Torah on Shavuous, (Pentecost) which made it unique among the people of the world. Shavuous, which concludes the “national” festival unit, is therefore, also called “Atzeret”, a festival of termination. The national unit emphasizes the relation between the Almighty, the individual Jew and the Jewish people. The Almighty chose the Jewish people to be His people during the holidays of Passover and Shavuous. The following unit, the Yamim Nora’im, stresses the striving of the individual and the nation to reach God. Sukkos, the “Feast of Joy”, is the final stage in this festival cycle, followed by Sh’mini Atzeres, the concluding festival, which completes the cycle.

    The Yamim Nora’im (High Holy Days) consists of two festivals: Rosh HaShana (New Year), and Yom Kippur. These two festivals are the most solemn days of the whole Jewish year and represent some of Judaism’s most basic beliefs.  The acknowledgement of the Almighty‘s sovereignty and might instills a feeling of awe, and for this reason the two festivals are called Yamim Nora’im, the Days of Awe.

    Rosh HaShana, the first day of the Hebrew month Tishrei, is the day on which all people are judged, both collectively and as individuals. (Tractate Rosh HaShana 8b) On Rosh HaShana there is a general accounting; a person’s every deed is placed on the scale of justice. Our sages speak in the allegory of man’s deeds being recorded in the ‘Book of Remembrance’ to underscore the fact that the Almighty remembers everything. Our belief that the Creator controls and guides every aspect of the world, and the acknowledgement of the Almighty’s providence and omnipresence on Rosh HaShana leads to the realization of man’s inadequacy in the face of the Divine. Paradoxically, this very realization of man’s dependence on the Almighty permits him to reach new spiritual heights.

    In contrast to the levity and merriment with which the new year is celebrated in many parts of the world, the Days of Awe are marked by an atmosphere of reverence and sanctity.

    On Rosh HaShana, the Almighty is acknowledged as King of the Universe, who sits in judgment over all His creatures, tempering justice with mercy. On Yom Kippur, man seeks the Almighty through repentance and receives His pardon and atonement.

    The entire month prior to Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, the month of Elul, we prepare for the Yamim Nora’im, (Days of Awe). Each morning we blow the shofar and recite Psalm 27.

    Because of the Almighty‘s mercy for His creatures, we have been given the opportunity to repent and be spared the consequences of our misdeeds. The Talmud tells us that the best time for individuals to do teshuvah (repent) is during the days between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur; these days are known as Aseres  y’Mei  Teshuva – the Ten Days of Repentance (Tractate Rosh HaShana 18a). This is the time when the Almighty is most willing to accept repentance, as the prophet says, “Entreat the Almighty when He can be found, call out to Him when He is near.” (Isaiah 55:6)

    During this period it is proper to adopt pieties not ordinarily observed the rest of the year, such as praying with a minyan (quorum), answering Amen in a careful fashion and taking care not to speak during the reader’s repetition of the Sh’monah  Esrei (Silent Amidah).

    Yom Kippur is the climax of the 10-day period of repentance. The tenth of Tishrei, Yom Kippur, was established as a day of atonement. It was on this day that Moses returned from Mount Sinai with the second set of tablets and announced to the people the Almighty’s pardon for their sin of the golden calf. (Tractate Bava Basra 121a)

    Yom Kippur atones for our sins only if the individual abandons his transgressions, expresses regrets for those transgressions and resolves never to do them again.

Last updated on: 10/20/2019
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