Artist: Camille Corot
Here, we find the haunting biblical image of Hagar and her son, Ishmael, crying out to God from the wilderness. The urgency, distress, and desperation are palpable. We may not be pleading in the wilderness but, like Hagar, we find ourselves, at this season, exposed and in need of help. The stakes are high and we are vulnerable.
Untaneh Tokef is perhaps the most haunting piece of Jewish liturgy. The words break down all of our illusions and strip us bare. We recognize the truth that life is far more fragile than we like to believe. We do not know who will live and who will die, but we recognize our own vulnerability and our own mortality.
Mishkan HaNefesh, Yom Kippur p. 209
This year of all years, we are acutely aware that we are vulnerable. The language of the High Holy Days may come from another era, but the message rings as true as ever. Whether we admit it or not, we walk through our lives exposed and susceptible. The call to "take hold of your life" is here and it is urgent.
Today we call it by its rightful name: A Day of Dread - nora v'ayom. Unwelcome visitor, for we want to live in a sunny world where God is love and all endings are happy. But the drumbeat sounds and the words tumble down and even the angels tremble with fear. For all things are judged and all things will pass and life ends in a heartbeat, and death knows our name. At the start of the year, in the season of truth, comes the Day of Remembrance for all we forget and all we deny; and we fall on our knees in the depths of our hearts for we know that the bell tolls for us. The words are old and the language was theirs, but the call is real and the message is ours: Take hold of your life while you still have the chance; for your story will end and it might be this year in a way you don't know. Take hold of your life: make things right while you can; and don't miss the call of the Day of Dread.
Excerpts from Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe © 2015 are under the copyright protection of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and used by permission of the CCAR. All rights reserved.
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?”
And God said, “I will be with you; that shall be your sign that it was I who sent you. And when you have freed the people from Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.”
וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל־הָאֱלֹהִים מִי אָנֹכִי כִּי אֵלֵךְ אֶל־פַּרְעֹה וְכִי אוֹצִיא אֶת־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מִמִּצְרָיִם׃
וַיֹּאמֶר כִּי־אֶהְיֶה עִמָּךְ וְזֶה־לְּךָ הָאוֹת כִּי אָנֹכִי שְׁלַחְתִּיךָ בְּהוֹצִיאֲךָ אֶת־הָעָם מִמִּצְרַיִם תַּעַבְדוּן אֶת־הָאֱלֹהִים עַל הָהָר הַזֶּה
Here Moses introduces us to the concept of the reluctant prophet. In the initial moments of his Divine call to action, he feels uncertain and unworthy of the mission asked of him by God. In his unwillingness to act, Moses expresses a vulnerability rooted in the errors of his past which cloud his self-confidence. But in his greatest moment of self-doubt, Moses is reassured that God will support him and all of B’nei Yisrael throughout their journey from bondage to freedom.