There is something to be said about taking a ten day period to celebrate the New Year, reflect on past mistakes, acknowledge them inwardly and outwardly, set intentions for the coming year, and move on. That is what the “Days of Awe” are all about. It is a way to draw a line in the sands of time and become a better person.
The “High Holy Days” refer to Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement ten days after.
Rosh Hashanah is considered a time of celebration — similar to any New Year’s celebration. It is customary to eat apples dipped in honey to signify the hope of a sweet year. Special honey cake and challah bread with sweet golden raisins is baked in the form of a spiral, instead of the traditional braid, so as to indicate the round cycle of the year. Toward the end of the Rosh Hashanah prayer service, a shofar (ram’s horn) is blown to loudly mark the beginning of the High Holy Days or Days of Awe.
The days of awe are the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We are instructed to think long and hard about our past year. How did it go? Did we miss the mark? Hurt someone? Hurt ourselves? Where could we improve? Once we’ve spent time looking back, it is customary to find those people who we may have hurt, directly acknowledge our missteps, and apologize to them before Yom Kippur. If someone has hurt you, tell them. Work it out! It is also a good idea to give time or money to charitable causes, and food to the poor. This is all a part of renewing or returning your soul to its pure state. This process is not always easy!
Finally, Yom Kippur arrives. It is the culmination of the past 10 days. The literal translation is “day of forgiveness”, although the more commonly used translation is “day of atonement”. On Yom Kippur some people wear white and refrain from eating or drinking from sundown the night before to sundown the night of — approximately 24 hours. By this time you may have already apologized to the people around you that you may have hurt. Now it’s time to apologize to God for crimes against yourself, nature and the powers that be. It is also time to look toward the upcoming year and set your intentions. How will you improve next year? What are your spiritual goals?