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The High Holy Days are not so much days, but a season. The High Holy Day season begins with Elul, the Hebrew month that leads up to Rosh Hashanah, towards the end of which we observe S’lichot as we begin our penitential prayers. While our tradition teaches that the Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are for us to draw nearer to God, Elul marks the first step, which is for us to draw near again to the people in our lives.
Rosh HaShanah then celebrates a new year, a new start, and no matter what the past year has brought, new hope for a brighter chapter ahead. In the secular new year, we often hope to have — a better job, better habits, and a better waistline. But on Rosh HaShanah, we hope to be better — kinder, more generous, more understanding.
Ten days later we observe Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur recognizes the gap between the people we have become and who we, last year at this time aspired to be. We deprive ourselves of food and water on Yom Kippur to acknowledge our mortality and remind ourselves that now is the time to make amends.
Just as Yom Kippur ends, we begin to build a sukkah in preparation for Sukkot. On Sukkot, we step outside- outside of our walls, our roof, our foundation, all that we have accumulated in our lifetime, and are commanded to find joy in having less. The High Holy Day season ends with Simchat Torah, which celebrates the completion and beginning anew of our cycle of Torah, simultaneous with the completion and beginning anew, of another chapter in our lives.
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