The period between Rosh Hashanah, this year beginning sundown on September 29 and ending with Yom Kippur the evening of October 9, is known as The Days of Awe. This reference was first noted in the Jerusalem Talmud and expressed the idea that this 10-day period provides us with the opportunity to reflect on our actions of the past year and ask for forgiveness of those whom we may have transgressed against.
All the way back to the third century, there was a belief that three books are opened in heaven on Rosh Hashanah: one for the wicked, one for the righteous and one for those in between. The righteous are immediately inscribed in the Book of Life. The wicked are inscribed in the Book of Death and the fate of those in between is suspended until Yom Kippur. If they do well, they are inscribed in the Book of Life. If not, they are inscribed in the Book of Death.
Remarkably, even in today’s technological world where religious beliefs are often muted, synagogues worldwide are packed during these Days of Awe. Something very strong still draws us to seek forgiveness from our G-d as well as our fellow human beings. In fact, for many of us, it is harder to seek forgiveness from our family members, friends and colleagues than G-d, because it can be embarrassing to dredge up and rehash the things we are not particularly proud of and regret. However, this is what has made the holidays even more special to me in recent years. I have really tried to go the extra step to apologize to people for things I may have said and done, sometimes as far back as elementary school. And when those friends forgive me, I am bathed with a sense of relief and growth.
In our Jewish tradition, one must apologize to his fellow human beings at least three times. If still unforgiven the third time, the one seeking forgiveness is relieved of responsibility for the original sin. In fact, the sin becomes the responsibility of the one who won’t forgive.
During these Days of Awe, I extend my hand and ask you to join me in seeking forgiveness of those we may have hurt in our homes, businesses and communities. If you join me, I suspect you too will receive the joy of forgiveness. So I humbly ask that any of you whom I may have offended or hurt to please forgive me. I am sincerely sorry.
Wishing you and your families a meaningful and healthy High Holiday season.
Shana tova U’mituka!
Marty Haberer is the president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix.