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I am an Orthodox Jew and have been celebrating every Jewish holiday that exists for as long as I can remember. My favorite has always been Chanukah, because if the flickering flames aren’t enough to rekindle some passion within you, then jelly-filled donuts and latkes certainly will. Every year, I find myself in shul on the first two days, and the 10th of Tishrei, pouring my heart out to the King of the World. My face hidden inside my Machzor turns as red as the leaves outside, as I recount the endless list of sins I’ve committed the previous year. The ones I promised I was never going to do again. And I am not alone in this endeavor. Jews from around the world unite in synagogues big and small to face G-d on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, and beg to be written in the Book of Life. And while it may seem a bit too much, there is no measuring the feeling of hope and the connection with G-d that you create after speaking to Him.
The funny thing is, even non-religious Jews, who have absolutely no ties to their Jewish heritage, head to their local synagogue to do the same thing. Some might not step foot in a temple all year, and others may even celebrate Christmas, but on Yom Kippur all kinds of Jews join their brothers and sisters in praising G-d. What makes a “High Holiday Jew” commit to keeping the High Holidays as the sole link to their Jewish legacy?
While motivation comes in many forms, when the High Holidays come around, there may be no more impetus than guilt that gets a Jew up and running to pray. We are all human and therefore will all sin and make mistakes, because that’s how we were created. And G-d expects that from us. Just as a mother knows her toddler will fall before he begins to walk, so too G-d know we will fall numerous times before we rise to our greatest potential. If one recognizes this concept, he feels it within his soul and wants to make amends. He knows this is the basis for the High Holidays, to connect with G-d and repair the frayed connection he has with Him. He feels guilty for ignoring Him all year, for dismissing the opportunities that he’s been given to repent and when he gets a final chance, the crushing guilt urges him to take it. And he does take it, because as R.D. Laing, a Scottish psychiatrist, points out, “True guilt is guilt at the obligation one owes to oneself to be oneself.” A person’s guilt motivates him to be better and rise to his true potential.
These days, we drift through life wondering what our mission is and why we were put on this earth. Any good Jew knows that while he has a personal life mission to complete, as a member of the Jewish nation, he represents the One Above and must act accordingly. When he doesn’t, he feels that guilt, yes, but at the same time his soul feels shackled and it cries from the horrible things it bears witness to. Only when a person serves his Creator properly and follows the right path, does the neshama (soul) rejoice and feel elevated. Many Jews who don’t regularly practice Judaism often feel this void, but refuse to admit it. When Rosh HaShanah cards start arriving, the soul can’t take it anymore and begins to quake with longing for a connection with G-d. What better time than the High Holidays? While critics may argue that davening (praying) has no basis for holiness, in truth “Tefilla (praying) is an individual’s mirror, showing him his true, unadulterated, undoctored reflection,” writes rabbi Moshe Grylak is Mishpacha Magazine. There’s no hiding from yourself and definitely no hiding yourself from the Creator of the world.