A Journey from Rosh Ha-Shanah to Yom Kippur (and back)

We enter Rosh HaShanah with a powerful awareness that H’ is Other; the liturgy insistently employs the image of King, a majestic, all-powerful being that governs our destinies, weighs us in the balance, is unpredictable in judgments, and is barely approachable. The gulf is almost unbridgeable.

יהוה מלך

Ten days later, the Yom Kippur services conclude with the exultant cry, repeated seven times, “H’ is All,*” in which we proclaim the Unity of all Being. God and the world, Creator and Creation, are One. The veils are gone.

יהוה הוא האלוהים

These are not two opposing theological propositions — monotheistic vs pantheistic, as it were — but beginning and end points of an inner journey that we undertake during these “days of awe.” The intermediate steps — the outpouring of soul, repentance, prayer and righteous action, the fellowship, the feasting and the fasting — are all stations on a trajectory of spiritual ascent.

The climactic vision attained at Neilah is brilliant, but fleeting, and when it fades we set out upon the next limb of the journey, the descent. Reluctantly, perhaps, we relinquish the sense of unity and prepare to embrace the sacred in multiplicity. Though less dramatic than the preceding phase, this “path of return” is no less important. Ascent and descent are two parts of a single whole, as inseparable as breathing in and breathing out.

[* Kabbalistic interpretative translation.]

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