Today is 9/11. Of course I remember September 11, 2001, and we should take a moment to commemorate those whose were robbed of the rest of their lives by a major terror attack. Let this sad day remind us all that none of us knows what the future will bring. Let’s be kind to one another today.
For me 9/11 is directly linked to the High Holidays. Next week it’s the Jewish New Year. Rosh HaShana (literally, the head of the year) is a two-day holiday that is usually in September or October. I won’t get into the religious details and questions; you can look those up yourself.
Rosh HaShana is the beginning of a 10-day period that will end with Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). In English, these days are called The Days of Awe. In Hebrew they are called the much scarier yamim nora’im (The Terrible Days). It’s traditional to take a spiritual accounting (heshbon nefesh) of the past year – determine if you did well, where you can improve, make some adjustments for the upcoming year. It’s more than the January New Year’s resolutions that go out the window on January 2nd. Not so the spiritual accounting of Rosh HaShana. It’s not about losing weight and taking care of your health. This spiritual accounting is internal and focusing on becoming a better person.
The bureaucratic joke in Israel is that if you have a project starting at any time in September it will likely be pushed off to “aharei ha-chagim” (after the holidays). However, this is not after the two-day holiday of Rosh HaShana. Not even after Yom Kippur ten days later. No, “aharei ha-chagim” means after Sukkot is over. In Israel if you start anything in September, you can count on at least a 3-week delay. Because there are so many holidays and kids are out of school (even though they only started last week), the entire country grinds to a halt and everyone is on vacation (again!).
On one hand, there is something really powerful about taking the time to reflect on the year that passed and look to the future; or, more likely, taking the time to be with your family during the holidays. The rhythm of life in Israel allows for both (without mandating either one).
On the other hand, this is 3 weeks of sanctioned procrastination. “Acharei ha-chagim” can be used for just about anything. All your big plans and aspirations? Meh. Leave them until later. Perhaps some real soul-searching is going on in these 3 weeks and it might be a legitimate way to pause and take a breath. But who can honestly say that they are taking the full 3 weeks to do an internal spiritual cleanse?
And so we come back to 9/11. What is the spiritual message that I heard in this tragedy? You never know when the end will come. Around this time I ask myself: Is my spiritual accounting up to date? Was I kind enough? Did I let the important people in my life know that I care about them and they matter to me? Was I true to myself? If today was my last day, would I have regrets? Am I procrastinating or am I regrouping? What can I do to make tomorrow/next year better?
Well, I don’t want to end on such a blue and morbid note. Rosh HaShana is a happy holiday! We are given the opportunity to clean our slates and start fresh. So let me wish you all a Happy New Year! A Shana Tova u’Metuka (a good and sweet year)!