Thursday, September 17, 2009

A brake for the holidays

Reflecting upon Rosh Hashanah reminded me of an incident that happened many years ago. I was driving my parents to work while their car was in the shop. At the time, they owned a knitting store in a strip mall on Carling Avenue in Ottawa. Carling is a fairly flat street but there was a steep decline before the mall. At the top of the hill, we came to an intersection, and I felt something odd about the brakes as we stopped. Spongy. As we started down the hill I thought to myself, if there's something wrong with the brakes I need to know now and not at the bottom of the hill after we've picked up speed. I slowly started to depress the brakes. My foot went, down, down, down until the brakes were completely depressed to the floor without any affect.

All this time my parents were chatting away, and so without interrupting them, I casually dropped my hand to the emergency brake and started to pull up. I geared down to engine brake, and continued using the handbrake all the way down, into the mall, and up to their store where I finally pulled the brake up all the way and stopped the car. As my mother got out of the backseat, she remarked, "You were going a little fast, I think" but my father, who had been sitting in the passenger seat, leaned toward me and whispered, "Your brakes were completely out, weren't they? Then he smiled and patted me on the back.

Rosh Hashanah feels a little like that trip down the hill to me. I would normally have braked automatically, without even thinking about it. The brake situation forced me to heighten my control of the car and be completely aware of my actions. Likewise, on Rosh Hashanah we are required to truly take responsibility for our actions. We consider our behaviour and repent; we consider our relationships with each other and with God, and commit to improve.

And while many (especially those who don't regularly attend synagogue) are overwhelmed by the quantity of prayer-giving during the High Holidays, this is really a time, in my opinion, when the goal is quality not quantity. Not amplitude but attitude. Not immensity but intensity.

I would go so far as saying that although there are a number of prayers which are considered essential, if you feel that a small dose of high-powered prayer is the best you can do, then go for it. If you're not someone who usually attends services, I sincerely hope you will consider 'stopping by' for a little quality time. Don't worry about ritual or tradition; just make the most of a few moments there, in whatever form that may take (I don't recommend 'speaking in tongues' but you know what I mean.)

I must also say, it's always struck me that both my Father, (z"l) and Grandmother (z"l) were born on Rosh Hashanah, and my Grandfather (z"l) died on Yom Kippur. It is impossible for me to think of the imagery of a book of life being opened and closed during this season without taking it a little personally. I'm sincerely a little uneasy during the High Holidays. Well, maybe that's the point.

Alissa and I wish our family and friends, those we already cherish and those we look forward to meeting, a sweet and healthy New Year. May this be a year of simchas and blessings for everyone.

L'Shana Tova, Ktima v'Chatima Tova!


OneTiredEma said...

Wow, what a story!

Ktiva v'chatima tova to you. Hope you have a lovely holiday up north and we'll catch you when you're back :)

Alissa said...

Hope you guys had a lovely chag here - looking forward to hearing about it!