The Days of Awe is the name that we give to the time which begins in the first minutes of Rosh HaShanah and ends with the last minutes of Yom Kippur. The term Days of Awe is often used to describe the season between Tisha B’Av and Sukkot, however, more specifically, it is the ten day period between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. During this time, we are meant to feel an awesome burden we feel both individually and collectively, to atone for our misdeeds, to make peace between people, and then to face God’s judgment. This time is meant to cultivate awe, where we feel a sense of both wonder and fear as we stand before God.
There is a Talmudic story where one of the rabbis, Rabbi Eliezer, becomes sick. His students came to visit, and asked for one last teaching.
In this last teaching, Rabbi Eliezer said, “when you pray, know before whom you stand.”
The traditional understanding of this story is that when you are praying, it is important to remember that you are standing before God. When we pray, especially at this time of year, we recognize that God sees and knows each of us. But we need to know who we are in our relationship with God in order to atone. Over the course of the next several weeks, the liturgy uses strong metaphors that help us imagine the God we are turning to. This imagery might evoke the feelings of awe we might have towards God. Tomorrow during Selichot services, we will begin admitting our shortcomings this past year, and asking God for forgiveness.
However, if we exclusively focus on God, and facing God’s judgment, during these days, we are missing something about the Days of Awe. We are not just standing before God, we are standing before one another.
It is just as important to reflect on our interpersonal relationships, where we have missed the mark, and what we can do to improve in the year to come. Part of that process requires us to look deeply at who we are, and our part of a relationship. In order to do this, we must know who the other person in the relationship is. It is important to recognize that the same remark made might be received differently, depending on the nature of our relationship with someone, and who they are. We must know before whom we stand, not only to truly apologize, but in order to use the fresh start as a stronger foundation for the year to come.
Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi once wrote that “we talk too much and feel too little.”
Perhaps, by talking less and feeling more we can find a new balance in the year 5783. Talking less provides us with more opportunity to listen to God and to one another. May this practice help us pursue deeper feelings of fear, wonder, and partnership as we navigate through these Days of Awe – both as individuals and in community