There are only a few days left to Rosh Hashanah and I am so unprepared, spiritually and otherwise, that it is quite frightening. The only thing I have to hold on to is my computer document “Rosh Hashanah Prep” in the folder “Yom Tov Notes”. As the years go by I am growing in experience, if not in wisdom, and each year I commit new bits and pieces of that experience to the eternity of Microsoft Word.
“Cooking MUST be started the day BEFORE Erev Yom Tov” was a deeply felt urging one year that reeks of desperation. “KEEP IN MIND to wear comfortable shoes” on Rosh Hashanah, because the Amidah, the standing prayer, is awfully long, and hard enough to concentrate on, without the agony of too tight, or too high-heeled shoes. One year I even added a note not to wear long necklaces on Yom Kippur (costume jewelry is my mainstay!), because they interfere with the beating fist of the Viduy, the confession of our sins, when we strike our chest in remorse.
There is a list of the people, near and dear, who must get a phone call or an email, because near as they may be to my heart, they live in foreign lands with many hours of time difference, and if I don’t plan in advance I might suddenly discover that it is too late!
Those of you who read my post about traveling and packing will not be surprised to hear that I have a list of what to pack in the (specially designated) little Yom Tov tote bag I bring to shul. My own holiday Machzor, obviously, but also a little book rest, so I can comfortably prop it up in front of me instead of having to hold it the whole time. Try it – it is very convenient. Tissues, because hopefully I will be moved to tears; and a shawl, because the air conditioning can be ruthlessly effective sometimes.
Then there is a certain thick, white, fringed pillow case that I must remember to bring, in order to have something to kneel on. Yes, usually I am the only woman prostrating myself, and I used to be embarrassed about this, but it is such a dramatic, emotional thing to do that I just can’t let “what are they going to think” stand in the way. And if you know me at all, which by now you should, it must be eminently clear to you that I would never dream of making do with a few paper towels beneath my knees, like I see many men do. Perish the thought!
For Yom Kippur there must also be something sweet-smelling, such as a pomander or a bottle of Eau de Cologne. Once, a few years ago, I went to the shul of a certain close friend for Yom Kippur. She had beseeched me to try it, promising that I would appreciate the heart-felt davening there. “I will save you a seat next to me”, she promised. I came, and discovered that not only was my seat reserved, but she had taken the time to prepare a number of pomanders for scented reviving purposes, and had set aside one specially, just for me! Every time I think about it I am touched by this lovely gesture of caring.
Last year I added a new item to my packing list: a seat cushion. As everybody knows, after 4-5 hours, the benches can get quite hard. Luckily, I already possessed a rectangular cushion, covered in burgundy velvet. So synagogue-appropriate…
Then there is the Rosh Hashanah food shopping of course – all the simanim to symbolize the many blessings we need for the new year; the honey and an extra-nice apple for dipping; the sheep’s head – grilled and delicious!.... glistening pomegranate seeds… chicken soup with curlicues of fat… carrot tzimmes with sweet potatoes and veal neck bones… and tongue, my once-a-year treat… mmm! My husband won’t eat tongue – he is worried it might lick him back, or something. So fortunate for me – I get to eat it all by myself.
I am telling you – without my Yom Tov notes I would be completely lost.
“But what about your spiritual preparation?” you are now saying, scratching your heads. Well, yes. It seems so easy, doesn’t it? But WHEN, is the big question – WHEN am I supposed to scrutinize my conscience and take stock of my soul? WHEN do I gather my thoughts enough to realize what it means to make G-d the King of my universe?
The only thing I can say in my defense is that I talk to Hashem about it every day – I thank him for bringing me safely across the street; for keeping food in the stores – and providing me with enough money to buy some of it; for getting me a coffee in the morning; for helping me find those earrings I had misplaced; for getting me a parking space, and helping me park without causing damage and mayhem around me; and for inspiring me to write these blog posts. And I thank Him fervently for my children – that they are healthy and kind and bright like shining lights, and that the oldest one is talking to me again; and I thank Him for the husband that He found me; and for my good health; and that He made the world so beautiful and I am allowed to live in it and breathe and enjoy the sunshine. I have never been a good davener, but I talk to Him a lot, and I thank Him often. Does that count?
Of course I need to become a better person – who doesn’t? I have my challenges, and I like to think I am working on them, and occasionally I see a little bit of improvement, but it is one of those uphill things. But there is always the chance of a break-through! Hopefully, this year will be the one – the year of great strides, of enlightened souls, of jubilation and salvation, for each one of us individually, and for the entire K’lal Yisroel!
Kesivah Vechasimah Tovah!