If you don’t know anything about Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, I urge you to read this first, as it will provide context for today’s post.
It’s always rough to find seats on the High Holidays.
This year, we found ours in the balcony.
I’d never sat up there before, above the rest of the congregation.
Above the rabbis.
Above the sacred scrolls.
It was weird.
Because we usually sit facing forward, facing the Torahs at the front of the room, normally I can only see the few people sitting in front of me and on either side.
This year’s bird’s-eye view allowed me to see all the way to the back of the sanctuary.
I could see people come late and settle in the uncomfortable green seats in the rear, rather than come farther up to find half-empty pews up front. I could see people holding their prayer books – going through the motions, standing and sitting at the right times – but whispering and laughing during much of the service. I saw people sleeping. And I saw people sending text messages. I watched as they tried to hide their devices on their laps or below their seats or behind their prayer books.
I have always wondered about people who attend temple on the High Holidays but don’t really listen to the message.
Our rabbi noted that the more difficult a holiday is to keep, the more people actually do it. He said this is why more people show up on Yom Kippur – a fasting day – than on any other regular old Jewish holiday.
I would argue it’s the life and death thing that packs the house.
For many Jewish people, there is a sense that if you don’t show up for the High Holidays, you are risking some serious bad karma: Why take the risk and stay home? Maybe some people think that just by showing up they might tip the cosmic scales.
So they come.
But why come if you are just going to talk? Or text?
Why come if your heart isn’t in it?
During his sermon, the rabbi called upon us to think about how we can be better people in 5773.
And then I was caught.
Because what was I doing but sitting there judging others?
I was ashamed.
Being a Smuggy Schmostein is rarely productive.
After temple, my husband, my son and I put on our street clothes, and walked to a nearby creek to perform tashlich, a ritual where Jews gather near a live body of water to recite a prayer in which we ask G-d to “cast our sins into the depths of the sea.”
As we emptied our pockets, removing all the lint and crud that had accumulated in the littlest nooks and crannies and shook out our clothes, I felt better. These rituals, strange as they might seem, do offer comfort. In performing tashlich, I felt like I had been given an opportunity to leave old shortcomings behind, thus allowing for the chance to start the year with a clean slate.
Standing by the creek with my long list of transgressions, I silently apologized for judging the back-of-the sanctuary-sitters, the chitty-chatters, and the temple-texters.
And I promised not to sit in the balcony again.
Because, really, who am I to place myself above anyone else?
Who am I to judge?
I made a mental note to add “honey” to my grocery list.
As is the tradition, we wished each other a sweet year, one filled with good health and peace.
And I extend the same wishes the same to each of you.
We could all use a little less bitter and a little more sweetness in our lives. Don’cha think?
So what’s on your real and figurative grocery list this week? I definitely need honey, but I’ll leave judgment on the shelf, next to the Ho-Ho’s.
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