Friday, September 11, 2020
Twenty-Second Day of Elul 5780
One of the most memorable and famous prayers of the High Holy Days is Hineni, which is sung by the cantor as a meditation on the sacred duty of leading the congregation in prayer. The cantor sings, “Behold, here I am, impoverished in deeds and merits…” In this prayer, the cantor contemplates the awesome responsibility of being the shaliach tzibbur, literally, “The representative of the community” before God.
In Hineni, the prayer leader pleads to God, “Accept my prayer as though it were offered by one more worthy of this task.” The prayer sets a tone of humility for the entire congregation. We do not come to God with the arrogant belief that on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur our words alone will wipe away all our sins. In order for t’shuvah to work on us, we have to be willing to enter it with the humble recognition that we depend on God’s grace and mercy to forgive us. We have to know that forgiveness is a gift we receive – not despite the fact that we are unworthy of it, but rather – because we are unworthy of it. God forgives us because forgiveness is our only path to escape the mistakes of our past.
Letting go of our ego is one of the most difficult spiritual tasks of the High Holy Days. There is a part of our minds that insists on saying, “I don’t need to be forgiven. My actions are all justified. Why should I have to plead for forgiveness?” On Rosh Hashanah, we enter a period when we realize that this part of our minds will destroy us if it is left unchecked. It will isolate us from other people and from God. It will harden our hearts and make us believe that the universe revolves around us. It will turn us into selfish, self-centered ingrates.
That thought should terrify us even more than our fear of humbling ourselves before God.
Practice for this day:
Take some time today to remember all the ways in which you depend on others for your survival and happiness. Recall all the ways in which your life is bound up with the lives of other people. Think of the many times when others came to help you recover from your shortcomings and mistakes.
Write down one or two of these powerful memories.