The Real Challenge
Ahhh...the High Holy Days. These are the days that rabbis and cantors stress most about. After all - we will have our largest crowds and the most pomp and circumstance. But what is it that makes these days so high and so holy.
Truth be told, Rosh Hashanah isn’t nearly as intrinsically “high” or “holy” as Sukkot, Passover or even Shabbat. Yom Kippur is technically more sacred than Rosh Hashanah but mostly because it is a Shabbat - the Shabbat of all Shabbats. So if Rosh Hashanah is less “important” than Passover and Yom Kippur is merely a Shabbat, why is it that so much time and energy is spent on these “High Holy Days”? Why are we all going to flock to shul on these days? Why are we so stressed?!
Let’s begin our answer with a question. Why do we kiss the Torah when it comes around the sanctuary? Do we kiss the Torah because it is holy? Are we recognizing something intrinsic about this scroll that makes it worthy of our affection? Or is it actually our affection that imbues the Torah with holiness?
There are, of course, two answers. Some will argue that the Torah is holy in and unto itself. Others would say that the Torah, and in fact everything in life, only becomes holy when we make it holy. And the truth probably lies somewhere in between. But contemplate for a moment the immense power that we have just been given in this teaching - we have the power and capacity to create holiness. God has given us the power to bring holiness to space and time - and even to the Torah, simply by giving it a little kiss.
The same is true with the High Holy Days. These days may not have any unique intrinsic holiness but because we all come together to sing, celebrate and recreate ourselves on these days - we make them holy. We imbue these days with sanctity by our very presence. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are as important as they are because we make them important and that is something worth celebrating.
The real challenge comes after the final shofar blast is heard. When these holy days are gone and we are back to our everyday routines - that’s when our power to create holiness really becomes evident. It is easy to feel Jewish and holy when we are all together praying - it is far more challenging to bring holiness to every other day of the year.
Perhaps that is the lesson of these High Holy Days. If we can make these days sacred and special then we can make any day and every day sacred and special.