I love the High Holidays. I think a lot of people feel the same way. While every day, we can pray to G-d and ask forgiveness for snapping at our children, snearing at our spouses and smearing our best friend's new dress (well, it was a little tight and that color is totally not right for her), the High Holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are official days for Repentence. The official stamp gives us the license to really pour our hearts out, and pull all the strings we can to get a positive verdict (Remember my dear old Aunt Hazel who reads psalms from morning until night, feeds the poor, and knits hats for chayalim [soldiers] with her twisted arthritic fingers? Well, I visited her this week, and she said that it made her happier than anything else!! Honestly.).
And while we might show up in synagogue at 9:30 AM every Sabbath morning, we're bright and early on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and then stay most of the day, on the chance that G-d takes attendance at 9 and then 5 PM.
I love the positivity of the High Holidays. Folks come into shul with big smiles. Instead of dwelling all the night before on their ashamnu bagadnus... (we have become guilty, we have betrayed...), they spent the evening after the inspirational Kol Nidre service thinking of all the reasons they should be given a blessing for a new happy healthy year. (Remember when no one else would take the early morning shift at the Pina Chama [soldier's hospitality hut], I said I would. Remember when the neighbor's washing machine broke, I really came through for her there. Remember when I wanted to write a nasty email to that pest, I held my peace and just deleted his annoying note.) Everyone's got the "It's gonna be a good year" confidence.
Like Noah in the Ark
Then I am bolstered in my confidence when I read the prayer book. I think it was written just for me (well, the rabbis did have Divine Inspiration - maybe they were thinking of me...you too).
On Rosh Hashana during the service of Zichronot (Remembrance), we say, "You lovingly remembered Noah and You recalled him with words of salvation and mercy, when You brought the waters of the Flood to destroy all living flesh because of the evil of their deeds...G-d remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark..."
Well, in our last Raise Your Spirits production of In Search of Courage, I played Noah. I sang a song called about Noah called "Mentsch" and another after the flood called, "Why was I Saved?" As I read about Noah on Rosh Hashana, I was able to imagine the scene perfectly, and really reflect on Hashem's chesed and mercy.
On Yom Kippur we say, "The arrogant generation [of the Flood] erred and snarled at You...[Noah] who was borne on a gopher-wood [ark] was saved when You shut its door behind him..."
I can still remember my monologue about the rebirth of the world after the destruction. Recalling Noah on Yom Kippur adds to my faith in the future, and my determination to be worthy (along with all my brethren) of a new year, which is really a new world.
The Anti-Sisera Shofar
On Rosh Hashana, as we stood silently listening to the shofar blasts that awakened our souls and strengthened our desire to improve our ways, I read the commentary on the bottom of my Artscroll Siddur. We blow 100 blasts of the shofar on each day of Rosh Hashana (when it is not Shabbat). Artscroll quotes Sefer HaToda'ah, "The source of this custom is the Scriptural narrative of the triumph of Deborah the prophetess over Sisera, the Canaanite conquerer. In her song of gratitude for the victory, Deborah noted that Siseras mother whimpered as she worred over the fate of her dead son. Her friends comforted her that he had surely won a great victory and was apportioning spoils and captive women among his officers and troops. (Judges 5:28-30) ...she groaned 101 times. Although one cannot help but feel sympathy for a worrying, grieving mother, one must be appalled at the cruelty of a mother who could be calmed by the assurance that her son was busy looting and persecuting innocent victims...By sounding the shofar 100 times, we seek to nullify the forces of cruelty exemplified by Sisera and his mother, and bring G-d's compassion upon us. Although she whimpered one time more than 100, we do not sound the shofar 101 times, because we too, feel the pain of a mother who loses a child, even one as loathsome as Sisera."
Well, if you read a previous blog, http://voices-magazine.blogspot.com/2010/07/history-and-me-sisera-discovery.html, you know that in the upcoming Raise Your Spirits production, Judge - The Song of Devorah, I play Sisera's mother. Yes, for the first time in nine years, I play a woman and won't have to worry about beard-shadow (which lasts for about three days, and is sometimes very embarrassing).
As the shofar blasts, I think of my viscious and despicable son, Sisera, played superbly by Yael Goldstein, and the love of a mother for a child, even one as slimy and loathsome as Sisera.
Then, B"H, I thank Hashem for my own real-life wonderful children and beseech Hashem to give them and all our family, as well as our family Am Yisrael, a blessed new year - a year of awakening to Torah and mitzvot (commandments), a year of good health and happiness, a year of prosperity, safety and most of all, unity for the Jewish people. Together, with G-d's help, we can overcome any trouble that comes before us.
One Last (musical) Note for the New Year
B"H, having had the zechut (privilege) to found the Raise Your Spirits theater company, produce four of its Biblical musicals, and perform in six, my friends often tell me that this or that parsha (weekly Torah reading) reminds them of me, and of our shows. That gives me much joy and feelings of gratitude.
On Rosh Hashana, my friend Ayala said, "I thought of you during the Haftara. And I was humming 'They'll come down from the mountains.'"
The finale of our production of Ruth & Naomi in the Fields of Bethlehem (at left - photo by Jill Kuchar) talks about the Jewish people returning to the Land of Israel from all over the world. "They'll come down from the mountains. They'll come from the skies. They'll come up from the valley with music and with sighs..."Ayala said that as she read Hashem's promise to the prophet Jeremiah, she thought of us. G-d said, "Behold, I will bring them from the northern land and gather them from the ends of the earth...a great congregation will return here." That made me feel great, and gave me the hope that this year, our brethren would indeed be gathered in great number from the northern lands, and the south too, from the mountains and the country clubs to return home to Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, with laughter and song.
5771 - Tuf Shin Ayin Alef - Tehei Shana Aliyat Artzeinu - may it be a year of return to our Land.
Shana Tova - G-d wants to hear from you on Yom Kippur, and He wants to bless you with all good things! Be joyful and confident that you've tried your hardest, are going to try even harder next year, and IY"H, it's going to be a great New Year.