Fall is upon us. Though it does not officially begin until September 22nd, we are starting to see all of the signs that summer is coming to a close. Kids are back in school, the weather is becoming cooler and we are in the middle of the High Holy Days. I have shared this in a previous Shabbat shalom message, but I liken the High Holiday Days to a football game, which coincidently are played primarily in the fall.
I break Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur into four quarters. Erev Rosh Hashanah is the first quarter. The fans (our congregants) make their way to their seats in anticipation of a great game. The ushers (in a normal year) pass out information about the services like vendors plugging hotdogs and frosty malts. Like football, it contains our initial kickoff. It sets the tone for the entire game before us. This year there was an added anticipation because of the unknown factors COVID would bring. In retrospect, it was like media day at the Superbowl. The teams (staff and clergy) were peppered with questions about how they prepared and what they expect the game to be like. The storylines were never-ending and weaved the narrative leading up to the big day(s).
Rosh Hashanah day is the second quarter. The players (our clergy) have settled in. The quarterback (Rabbi Cohen) is masterfully marching the team down the field with an empowering sermon. We close out the second quarter strong with energy from our children and youth services and kick a game-leading field goal with our special needs service.
The days of awe are our halftime. The team takes a collective deep breath and gargles down some Gatorade to get ready for the second half. We take some time to review the first half and put into action game changes for the second half. The first half of the game is crucial to the success of the team and fans watching, however, the second half is where we dig in and as the sign reads in the locker room of many football teams, “Play like champions”.
Kol Nidre is third quarter. The team emerges from the locker room reenergized and ready for the grind of the second half. The quarterback again shows his masterful ability to guide his team down the field. He flings a clutch touchdown pass with an awe-inspiring sermon. The chanting of Kol Nidre sales through the uprights like a long-distance kick. Yom Kippur day is the fourth and final quarter. It is the most grueling of all the quarters. The pace of the day is much slower. Both players and fans begin to show signs of fatigue (mostly from not eating all day). Yizkor signals the two-minute warning. The fans brace themselves for the final drive of the game. As the final benediction is spoken the proverbial confetti is dropped from the ceiling and both players and fans rejoice because the game has been won. Gatorade showers are replaced with noshing on challah as the fast is broken.
As we head into this Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat of Return, we take extra time to reflect on the year that was and what lies ahead of us. Like football players, we take time to review the mistakes we made on the field and plan ahead for the upcoming half. We make changes to our “game plans” and commit to being better people for the year to come.
L’Shanah Tovah and may you be sealed in the book of life,