Holidays provide quality time with God
Just as the body needs certain nutrients to function well, human beings have an emotional need for connection with others that must be fostered. Connecting involves awareness that someone special stands before you—each person has a rich interior world—and then trying to give more to that person, or to understand them better. Actively setting aside time for those we care about is crucial for creating strong relationships, and even more important when it comes to developing the bond between parent and child. Simply being available or physically present is not a substitute for spending quality time together.
There are some parents, for example, who are commendably devoted to ensuring their family lead a productive and enjoyable life. They spend hours each week driving their young children around town—to movies, friends’ houses, to sports matches, to get Slurpees and more. The parent places an abundance of exciting material things around the children, but little nourishment inside them.
In turn, the kids may end up using the parents, who they see mainly as providers. In this case, the relationship becomes more about a means to get things they want, than a way in which to better know each other.
Another imbalance is a relationship based on excess fear. In such a situation, the child is cautious of every action, dreading punishment by a dominant authority figure, and constantly trying to live up to all the expectations.
Unfortunately, people project these distorted parental images when relating to God. So, even when they succeed in recognizing and internalizing the Creator of the universe as omnipresent and all-powerful, the interaction mainly entails asking for what they lack and desire, or worrying about the repercussions for some transgression. The true bond, however, is never discovered, uncovered or nurtured.
So, as we enter the most foundational period in the Jewish year, the High Holy Days, we must also prepare mentally, revisiting what kind of mindset we adopt when stepping into the shul (synagogue) to pray. Congregational leaders invest time crafting and delivering their most stirring sermons (which are hopefully devoid of personal political views), but the bulk of the work in building a personal connection is up to the individual. This is your “quality time” with God.
10 Days of Repentance
Explaining Isaiah 55:6, “Seek G d when He is to be found, call out to Him when He is near,” the Talmud addresses and implicit question: isn’t God always near? One explanation is that during this upcoming period—the days from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur, known as “The Ten Days of Repentance”—our spiritual efforts are particularly effective. The opportunity for personal transformation is ripe. And, while repentance and prayer are always appropriate, they are especially powerful during this special time, as they are immediately accepted.
But to “come nearer to God” first requires the person to overcome childish conceptions of the Creator as simply a provider or punisher. The superficial titles of Rosh Hashanah as “the day of Judgment” and the “Day of Atonement” for Yom Kippur don’t make this task easier; they may also create a narrow view of the High Holidays. But the deeper aspect of Rosh Hashanah — the “head” of the year — is rebirth, acceptance and rededication.
A new year brings new opportunity. In more mystical language, as the “soul” sustaining the previous year departs from existence, a new life enters, a loftier light than has ever entered this world. This renewal leads to a comprehensive assessment, or judgement, wherein we can tap into the source of all blessing and define our entire year. “For everything comes from You, and from Your own hand we give to You” (I Chronicles 29:14). As the brain guides and sends signals to the body, so the two days of Rosh Hashanah are the storehouse and control center of all the months that follow.
Closing Gates of Intimacy
The deeper aspect of Yom Kippur — atonement — is, as the Hebrew root word indicates, a type of “cleansing,” or, more than a pardon. The glue that binds these 10 days together is the potential of teshuvah, a “return” to the essence. Prayer is seen as a means to attach, not only to attain.
On a psychological level, Yom Kippur allows us to uncover a relationship with God that is not based on our performance, but on an essential bond that can never be tainted. On a spiritual level, we can travel beyond the usual boundaries of time and space, to erase all our undesirable deeds from existence and to polish our soul.
The introspection and toil during those 26 hours, the heartfelt prayer and fasting, the desire to grow and to be real with ourselves, washes away any moral grime. Like a dusty air conditioning unit that is replaced with a new filter allowing clean air to blow through the vents and into each room, so too the soul’s most essential energy can now penetrate our mind and limbs at full force, without obstructions. Our thoughts will be different. We become wiser and stronger inside.