Every year at about this time, I return to re-read This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation, by Rabbi Alan Lew, of blessed memory. When Rabbi Lew wrote that book in 2003, he could not in his wildest dreams have imagined the Covid pandemic world in which we will be observing Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur this year. And yet his title feels even more relevant, more arresting, and more important than it ever has before: This is real, and we are completely unprepared.
We face an extraordinary spiritual challenge this year: to make these pandemic Days of Awe a “Journey of Transformation.”
I am writing these words in the midst of my summer sabbatical, and I am thinking deeply about this year’s High Holy Days. I am convinced that if we seize the opportunity offered by this mysterious, global, soul-shaking crisis, we can experience the most meaningful High Holy Days of our lives.
Never before have we felt so vulnerable.
Never before have we felt so interconnected with the rest of humanity.
Never before have we been so forced to re-examine all of our priorities.
Never before have we been so in need of wisdom, of guidance, of meaning.
Never before have we felt so unprepared.
All of which points us toward Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Days of Awe.
So much will be missing this year: the bustling crowds, the chance to hug and kiss old friends, the voices of the choir, Cantor, and congregation vibrating through our bodies. The loss is heartbreaking.
But even missing all of this, if we seize the opportunity this year…. to truly open ourselves to the power and wisdom of our tradition, in a spirit of humility and vulnerability and a commitment to transformation….we may experience the most meaningful High Holy Days of our lives.