In the months, weeks and days leading to the Yomim Noarim—more commonly known as “Days of Awe”—I annually struggle to make my prayers both meaningful and void of vanity. Standing before the Gates of Heaven requires piety, modesty, humility and diligence. To paraphrase the late-Bette Davis, it “ain’t no place for sissies.”
How is it that so many of us fall short of observance throughout the year but, filled with hope, still aim to cleanse our souls for another trip around the sun?
Despite committing minor-to-heinous spiritual felonies, we don finery and—whether in synagogue, a corona virus-safe courtyard or via Zoom—sing in unison, beat our chests, cry at the wail of the shofar and request abundant mercy and blessing.
Can it be that beneath our requests and protestations, we hope that G-d is a tad forgetful, minorly overwhelmed and, consequently, will not call us to task on the previous 12 months of gossip, envy, anger, judgment and generally sloppy accountability? Awash with fear, we tend to imbue G-d with human sensitivities and traits that we can contemplate and relate to.
If only we were blessed with the gift of nevuah (prophecy), which would allow us to tick off a Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur checklist, know the answers and pass the figurative psychometric examination! And graduate, with or without honors, to Year 5782. Woo-hoo!
And herein lies the rub: If we can’t know what G-d wants, if we can’t see the consequences of our sinful commissions and omissions, how can we level the playing field and, at this terribly late date, better ensure a kindly outcome in the year ahead?
Presto whammo. All is not lost. Hillel says, “V’Ahavta Lereiacha Kamocha”—Love your fellow man/neighbor as you love yourself. Or, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man.”
Today is the day to start giving in and giving up. Now is the moment to discover that the greatest source of lasting happiness is not taking away from others, but giving up that crippling sense of entitlement which can never be satisfied.
Today, cheating stops, replaced by helping. Swapping the chase for personal pleasure with acts that please others. Not just giving, but giving generously. Hillel adds, “He who loves and practices justice is righteous and his conscience is clear.”
In preparing for this upcoming season of prayer, I chanced upon a comment of the Dubna Maggid. Regarding tzedakah/charity, he says, “Do not over investigate the recipient to ascertain whether he is worthy of your donation or whether he really needs it. Give him the benefit of the doubt. Doing that, G-d will reciprocate by not taking a close look at your failings. … Precisely because you do not ask too many questions and you do not look for flaws, G-d will send you His blessing without scrutinizing your deeds.
Aspiring to squelch an inborn inclination toward finger-pointing, my face reddens with awareness that while I have many bones to pick with others, I pray that G-d overlooks my nastiness, rage, jealousy and nit-picking. I desire worthiness in His eyes. Created in His image, I’m encouraged to appear more G-d-like and behave more like Him. Judge less, bless more.
Easy-peasy? We’ll see. Outcomes aside, the game plan is clear. After 17 months of COVID-19, it is readily apparent that while we are not in charge, choices abound. Prayer is not a “last resort.” Prayer remains the first line of defense in the campaign for contentment, clarity and blessing.
Shana tovah u’metukah!
New York native Andrea Simantov has lived in Jerusalem since 1995. She writes for several publications, appears regularly on Israel National Radio and owns an image consulting firm for women.