We are coming upon the Jewish High Holidays again. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins at sundown on September 28 (the Jewish calendar is a lunar one, and days begin at sundown); ten days later is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The ten days between are known as the Days of Awe, when Jews are supposed to contemplate the past year and areas in which they have fallen short, resolving to do better with the coming year. It is also a time to seek forgiveness from those whom we think we may have wronged through our actions or inactions. Such apologies are meant to be given sincerely, and in turn we are commanded to accept such apologies sincerely offered.
I was thinking about the circular nature of our Jewish calendar as I flew home from Dallas to Kentucky, the yellow-green tobacco patches, the picket fences, and the ant-sized horses gamboling below. The browning of fields and just-turning leaves are harbingers of autumn just ‘round the bend, as was the full harvest moon just a couple of days ago.
We seem focused on a linear, always-marching-forward in our culture, and yet it seems to be good to pause and reflect on the circular nature of time. In our temperate Eden of Kentucky, the browns, reds and yellows of autumn are followed by the white and grey of winter, after which the green and white of spring erupts, after which green summer comes. The never-ending cycle of renewal in our celebration and in our calendar should give us pause from the single-mindedness of linear pursuits, of the next job, the next task, the next duty. And yet, in the midst of such dedication, ambition, or dare I say obsession, the seasons of weather, of life, of even geologic time goes on. Winter follows autumn, mountains rise and fall, only to rise again over millennia. Perhaps we can take a certain comfort from such, realizing that a balanced view of linear progression and the circularity of time might enrich our lives. Yes, we have to work to survive, but yes, too, we have to celebrate the coming ‘round of celebratory seasons to truly live, just as we have to function as individuals, and yet to truly live, we must also acknowledge a whole greater than our individual selves, be that whole family, community, religion, or other entity. Balance and process, we must strive to live in that dynamic and healthy zone between the myth of American rugged individualism (which, let’s face it, never existed: we’ve always been interdependent upon one another in one context or another) on the one hand and being subsumed by the collective on the other.
So it’s the Jewish New Year, not the raucous celebration of the secular New Year, but an acknowledgment of the birth of the world. Following shortly thereafter, it’s the Day of Atonement, a day in which, examining ourselves, we realize that as individuals and as a community we have a long way to go, that it’s always process, and an end result is not forthcoming. That acknowledgement, however, does not give us license to abstain from constantly attempting to improve ourselves and our community.
Such were my thoughts as the plane descended to Bluegrass Field, to my Commonwealth of Kentucky. And even in the midst of celebrating the coming of the holidays, just around the corner from those holidays is my favorite Jewish holiday, Sukkot, the “Jewish Thanksgiving,” of which I’ll write later.
Let us celebrate linearity and circularity in our lives, both needing and leavening the other.