In 2007, Rabbi Label Lam made a comment on torah.org that the Days of Awe are NOT – contrary to popular belief – about looking back or thinking about our actions over the past year, in order to make amends and repent. Rabbi Lam points out that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur focus on looking ahead to the coming year and making a commitment about what you plan to do with that time.
In other words, it’s a job interview.
I don’t mind job interviews. They force me to evaluate what I know and what I’m comfortable sharing; it gives me a chance to really define what I bring to the table, and what I WANT to bring to the table.
Going on job interviews reminds me that I live in an American state with a policy of at-will employment, which means any job can be terminated by the employer or employee at any time, with no reasons given or needed. The reality is slightly better than that: employees usually give 2 weeks notice, and most employers usually give reasons for job termination. But if you feel your job has some kind of guaranteed stability, it’s an illusion. Going on job interviews Keeps It Real for me in that respect.
The parallels to Rabbi Lam’s view of the Yamim Norim (Days of Awe) are striking.
The current year is coming to an end. I find myself in synagogue being asked (by the liturgy and my own heart, if not God) what it is that I plan to do with myself this coming year; on what merit should my contract be extended? No matter what achievements I may have garnered over the year (and in retrospect they don’t look so impressive), they only have a minor bearing on my negotiations. This is all about my commitment to, and suitability for a future goal.
The U’Netaneh Tokef prayer, which asks (in part) “who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire” reminds me that I live in a state of at-will “employment” – that my next breath is not a sure thing and idea that my future has some kind of guaranteed stability is an illusion.
Rather than give up hope, I see in this a chance to re-commit and re-dedicate myself to doing what’s right. To resolve to make true t’shuvah. As I mentioned earlier in the blogelul challenge, that doesn’t mean promising to stop being bad, but rather to return to my best self and be the person that the world – and I – need me to be.
During a job interview (the regular computer-world ones, not the one that starts on the first of Tishrei), I make a point of stating my feelings about the job. It’s amazing how many people never do that – they never say “I want this job” or even “I think I can do this job”. So I always take the time (assuming that I want the job) to tell the interviewer:
“Not only do I think I can do this job, I think I can do a good job doing this job. And I want you to know that I want this job.”
During these Days of Awe, as I consider the year ahead and all the things God might ask of me, I don’t plan on being coy about my feelings or intentions. Sitting in prayer with nerves rubbed raw by liturgy that forces me to admit I am imperfect and flawed; edgy and agitated by long services and Hebrew that doesn’t fit easily in my mouth; cranky from lack of food ; and frustrated by an attention span which keeps wandering; In that condition I will be forced to admit that my soul is God’s for the taking.
But on that day I’m going to make sure that I state clearly that this job I’m being offered – the job of living in God’s world for another year – is a job I can do, that I will try with every fiber of my being to do a good job doing, and which I want very very much.
(edited slightly from the original, which was posted on the Edible Torah here)