The Days of Awe

We find ourselves amid the Days of Awe. These begin with the welcoming of the New Year on the evening of Rosh Hashanah, and end with the shofar blast at the conclusion of the N’ilah service on Yom Kippur. In Hebrew, the word for “awe” is yarah, using the root yud, reish and aleph. This root is also used at times to describe something deeply frightening, as well something uniquely wonderful. Awe exists in the dichotomy of great emptiness and individual meaning, in chaos and connection, in randomness and in forethought. Awe is the feeling of looking out into the cosmos, seeing the incredible vastness of the universe, but knowing there is also beauty and meaning, no matter how small we may be.

The tradition for these Days of Awe is to seek forgiveness from those whom we have wronged in our lives over the past year. In many ways, this is both terrifying and inspiring. We know, through a process of self-reflection, we have done wrong and can be inspired by our attempts to improve. However, we also know of the great amount of strife and suffering in the world, and we don’t know how our small actions help with any of the great atrocities of our time. These Days of Awe recognize the randomness and evil in the world, but still give us a task to help better the world.

The tradition we have between these two great holidays is one which looks at that fear, emptiness, chaos, and randomness and gives all of us a task. We may be unable to perceive the minute shift toward betterment that our individual action of self-improvement accomplishes, but it is there. The lesson from this holy time teaches us that no matter how great the universe, our actions have effect.