“A Meditation on the Days of Awe:
From Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur and Beyond”
Tamar Frankiel, Ph.D.
From the time of Tisha b’Av, the fast of the 9th of Av, we began setting our sights toward the days of Awe and the great “Shabbat” of Yom Kippur. In the journey of the Israelites in the Torah, Tisha b’Av is the day that marks the punishment for the sin of the spies, the second of two collective sins – the first being the golden calf – that echo through the ages. After the first, we received Yom Kippur itself, and the second set of tablets. To follow the mourning of Tisha b’Av, the Sages established the custom of reading seven “Haftarahs of Consolation,” one on each Shabbat between Tisha b’Av and Rosh Hashanah. These are passages from Isaiah that look toward a future redemption – a return to our land and a reconsecrated way of life.
The intensity of the season amplifies when, at the end of the third Week of Consolation, Rosh Chodesh Elul arrives. This marks the month where “the king is in the field,” where God comes among us and is ready to hear any prayer – an enlivening of our awareness and also of the possibilities for consolation and reconciliation. We begin saying the beautiful Psalm 27, which will take us through Yom Kippur and beyond, to Hoshanah Rabbah, the “Great Salvation,” the seventh day of Sukkot.
Seven weeks of consolation, seven weeks of Psalm 27, seven days of hoshanos of Sukkot. I want to focus on Psalm 27 as it offers us a mirror of these times, alluding to each of the holidays.
In verses 1-3, the voice is given to David, who offers heartfelt inspiration:
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
When evil-doers came near me to eat up my flesh, troublemakers and enemies to me, they stumbled and fell.
If a host encamps against me, my heart shall not fear; if war rises up against me, in this I trust.
Then he expresses his deepest desire, modeling for us the yearning for continual closeness to God. At the same time, he alludes to Sukkot as the promise of this intimacy:
One thing that I asked of the LORD! – this I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze at the grace of the LORD, and to awaken in His chamber. For He conceals me in His sukkah on the day of evil; He hides me in the cover of His tent; upon a rock He lifts me up.
Rosh Hashanah and its shofar blowing are alluded to in verse 6:
And now may my head be lifted up above my enemies surrounding me; and I will offer in His tent sacrifices with trumpet-sound; I will sing songs and melodies to the LORD.
Verses 7 through 10 express a plea that could encapsulate Yom Kippur:
Hear, O LORD, my voice calling, and haneni v’aneni be gracious unto me, and answer me.
On your behalf spoke my heart: ‘Seek My face’; Your face, LORD, will I seek.
Do not hide Your face from me; nor push away Your servant away in anger; You have been my help; don’t cast me out or forsake me, O God of my salvation.
For though my father and my mother have forsaken me, the LORD will take me in.
Our own hearts are pleading with us to seek God; and we are, poignantly, like orphans. We will echo haneni v’aneni when we sing Avinu Malkeinu, hanenu v’anenu, ki ein banu ma’asim.
The Psalm then begs “Teach me, O LORD, Your way,” an allusion to Torah and our rejoicing over that teaching, hinting at Simchat Torah. Then it returns to the first theme:
And lead me in a straight path, on account of them that lie in wait for me.
Don’t give me over unto the soul of my enemies; for there have stood up against me false witnesses, and they exude violence.
David’s voice pleads with us: if we will only turn to God, we will have in these weeks a refuge, a source of strength, a father / mother during our times of brokenness. The alternative is too painful to contemplate:
If I had not been steadfast, to look to the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!
Hope to the LORD; be strong, and may courage be in your heart; and hope to the LORD.
May we find strength, protection, comfort, and feel God’s grace upon us; and may the seeds of these holidays bear fruit in trust and courage for the coming year.