Making Days Holy

For those of you who don’t know, the Jewish High Holy Days begin with Rosh Hashana (the New Year) and end with Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).  During this ten day stretch, those who observe go through a period of deep introspection, evaluate the choices and actions we’ve made over the course of the last year and decide where we need to shift – in the hopes of becoming a more divinely inspired spiritual being living our human experience.

One of the aspects of Rosh Hashana that I like the most, is that it promotes family gatherings and a togetherness with friends that is not experienced often enough during the year.  It is an inclusive time, one where the measure of our soul is reflected in how we treat others and, according to the liturgy, how we have treated ourselves.

I had the opportunity, over this long holiday weekend, which began Wednesday evening with Erev Rosh Hashana services, to be a guest Cantor for Congregation Habonim on Manhattan’s West Side, near Central Park West.  Led by Rabbi Joshua Katzan and Cantor Bruce Halev, I was invited to join them this year to sing for the “main” services held at the Society for Ethical Culture, a fitting place for such soulful activities.

As a guest in their midst, these clergy, along with their lay leaders and congregants, treated me with warmth and respect in a way that can only be described as gratifying and humbling for the sacred duty I was asked to perform.

It is fitting that during this time of evaluating the relationships we hold with ourselves, our family, our community and the Divine, that I felt connected to people I just met, and they in turn embodied the best qualities of what it is we are honoring during this holiday.  In fact, this sentiment has long been echoed throughout Judeo-Christian philosophy.

The Talmud teaches: “greater than the reception of God is the practice of hospitality.”  (The Torah, a Modern Commentary, p. 125, based on Shev. 35b, and Sab. 127a)

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.” Hebrews 13:2

In Genesis 18, Abraham extends hospitality to three strangers and is blessed.

Clearly then this period is also a good time to reflect on who the “guestsare in our lives.  Whether it is visiting family, close friends in from out of town, visiting co-workers or other not usual attendees in our daily circle, these guests deserve our very best and simply deserve to be treated the way we ourselves would like if the tables were turned.

So think of someone who is in your life right now, who might not be there in a day or two, and offer them the same kindness and consideration that I was shown by my “temporary” congregation and you will be the better for it as will all who come your way.

And isn’t that why we congregate, reflect and inspire each other in the first place?   To me that is what puts the holy in the High Holy Days.

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