Those who have been raised and lived their whole lives in cities, and never ventured beyond them, can be awed when they first encounter another landscape – the sweeping plains of the Australian Outback or the American Midwest, or a first glimpse of the ocean, or a mountain range.
Similarly those who have only known isolated towns or villages can be almost overwhelmed at the vast cities created by modern architecture and engineering.
The landscape of the mind is no less great, no less powerful, and no less complicated, than the widely varied physical environments that make up the magnificent planet on which we live.
Observing the High Holy Days is largely about taking the time to explore that internal landscape. We are told to perform cheshbon nefesh, literally an accounting of the soul. But it can be so much more than the ancient idea of reviewing our deeds to identify the bad ones that need repentance.
If it were that simple, then the penitential prayers that some Jews say on a daily basis would be more timely and entirely adequate. We wouldn't also need to spend Yom Kippur on it, let alone the entire penitential period.
As we go about our lives, day by day, we accumulate little changes, learn little lessons (and sometimes big ones, but even these take time to “sink in”). From one day to the next it is hard to see any difference. A year is probably long enough to see how our experience has changed us, how we might have grown. From one year to another, we can hope to find something fresh, something new, something better in us that wasn't there a year ago, or perhaps was there but wasn't as strong. We might also find things within us that aren't better, resentments or greed or jealousies for example, that we didn't have before, or perhaps weren't ready to acknowledge.
So instead of daily penitential prayers, once a year we need to do so much more. Then we are truly in a position to resolve to be better in the year to come, no matter what it may bring.
-- Cantor David Bentley, Temple Shalom, Gold Coast Queensland
Click on the sound file below to listen to Rabbi Gersh Lazarow sounding the shofar: