Weekly Dvar Torah: Fearsome Days? Joyful Days!
The High Holidays are known as Yamim Nora’im, Days of Awe, which in a more literal translation should probably be ‘Fearsome Days’.
Why are they fearsome? Because these are days of judgment, and we are apprehensive, frightful and fearful, of what the verdict will be.
There’s an old classic; Moshe meets Yankel during the High Holiday season, and Moshe sees that Yankel looks very distressed. Moshe asks, “Yankel, why are you so nervous and frightened?”
Yankel responds, “how can I not be apprehensive when tomorrow is judgement day in front of this mighty fearsome judge, I’m nervous thinking how I will fare, I didn’t do so well last year.”
“But Moshe, you look so relaxed and calm, why are you so happy?” Asks Yankel.
“Oh Yankel, this judge is my father, so I’m confident that I’ll do very well, I have nothing to fear.”
Conventional wisdom calls these days ‘fearsome days’, we reflect on last year and we realize that there was a lot to be desired, we take stock of how well we did, and we try to make amends and repent.
But when you repent, you’re nervous, how will G-d look at me, I have a lot to make up for, how will I survive judgement day, you get panicky and distressed, this is no time to party.
Let’s examine how Torah instructs us how to behave during these days of awe.
For Rosh Hashanah we are instructed to dress our best, prepare the sweetest and most sumptuous delicacies, for Yom Kippur we are instructed to dress in our best and most festive clothes, and the reason we are told is that we are sure and confident to be victorious in judgement.
But wait a minute, aren’t we now in time of judgement, what kind of party mood can we really be in?
Torah, a guiding light as to how a Jew must conduct himself, tells us that now is not a time to be sad and distressed, now is a time to be in a joyous mood, and we must do everything in our power to create a festive atmosphere.
Everything a Jew does must be done with joy.
When we repent and regret our misdeeds, instead of distressing over them, be happy that you’re ridding yourself from them.
The whole idea of repentance by itself is reason to make you happy, the mere fact that G-d gives us a chance to make amends is reason to be happy.
Furthermore, after we repent we reach such high levels that our sages teach us that the heights where a master of return (one who repented) reaches, not even the most righteous Tzadikim can reach.
We are also told that during the ten days of repentance, G-d is most found and nearest amongst the Jews, a single individual can attain the same closeness to G-d as it takes an entire minyan during the rest of the year.
So how would you feel when the awesome judge is there alongside you, caressing and hugging you, and reassuring you during such frightening days?
Our entire approach to these days has to be one of joy, we are so lucky and so blessed that our reaction to the days of awe should be awesomely joyful for being so close to Hashem.
Teshuva, repentance, is all about return, we are in a state of returning to ourselves, to our source within G-d’s chamber, and G-d with open arms embraces us with such hugs that only returnees are gifted to receive.
The fearsome days are the key to entering the gates of return, it triggers within us a desire to repent and return, and when a child sees his father’s doors wide open for his return, there can be no greater moment of absolute happiness.
This Shabbos, when we read the Haftorah of Shuva Yisrael, return oh Israel, we hear G-d’s call for us to return, the gates of return are being swung wide open with a huge welcome from Hashem.
And in a few days when we move on to Yom Kippur, the day of forgiveness, even before the day starts we are already told that this is the day of forgiveness, what more of a reason do we need to be joyful.
Then we will conclude the Yom Kippur prayers with a march of victory, because we were inscribed in the book of life for a happy and sweet new year.
Where there is life, there is joy. Joy is the symbol of life.
Have a safe and happy return of a Shabbos, and a forgiving Yom Kippur,
Gut Shabbos, and an easy fast
Rabbi Yosef Katzman