Monday, April 15, 2024 -
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Forty days

The Days of Awe are coming.

This Sunday at sunset, a special time in the Jewish calendar will begin, the 40 days leading up to our holiest day of all: Yom Kippur.

The number 40 in both the written and the oral Torah symbolizes transformation.

The flood that destroyed one world and then ushered in a new, different world, lasted 40 days.

Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days before receiving the Torah from G-d.

After leaving Egypt, the Jewish people wandered in the desert for 40 years, an opportunity for psychological transformation, from a slave mentality, prior to entering the land of Israel.

Jonah gave the city of Ninveh 40 days to repent before the day of doom would come and the city would be destroyed.

In our oral Torah tradition we are taught that the alchemy of grape juice to wine takes place over 40 days.

A fetus becomes viable and takes on the physical features of a face and is thus considered a person 40 days after conception.

The minimum amount of water necessary to make a kosher mikveh, which transforms a person from one halachic state into another, is 40 se’ah.

And so it is, our 40 days are upon us. They offer an opportunity to prepare and re-engage in a relationship with our Creator in a more intense and intimate way than we do in the remainder of the year.

Throughout the year we live through the ascents and descents, the peaks and the valleys of our relationship with G-d, with each other and with ourselves. Life becomes cluttered and busy. Wonders all around us are eclipsed by worries and distractions.

When the 40 days commencing on Rosh Chodesh Elul are translated as the “Days of Awe,” awe, in this context, signifies dread — for the retrospective and introspective quality of these days, when we take a look back at the wrongs we did, so that we may right them and change for the better.

As the year stretches on, the high we once felt at the conclusion of the previous Days of Awe often fades or, at the very least, diminishes. Since that time the incomprehensible has very likely touched us again, perhaps leaving us strengthened, but at times leaving us dispirited, or with a feeling of grim resignation, or a great big void.

Now is the opportunity for transformations. It is these Days of Awe that can also mean awe in the sense of wonderment. How many times do we experience ordinary moments, take them for granted and let them pass by, unnoticed?

Here is a chance for 40 days to heighten our awe of life, of relationships, of nature, of our Creator.

Here come the 40 days that give us the opportunity to touch the void in our life. To pause and savor those “banal” moments and details that are all around us, to see them for their gift and richness — to stand in awe of them.

In aw of the merest whisper, a most obvious, yet intricate aspect of creation, be it a flower, our toes, the breeze of a cool night, or a sunset. A breath.
A gaze at the moon and the stars. A tear drop . . . let us be in awe of the amazing planet we live in, the wonderful people we share it with.

The Days of Awe are coming. It’s almost autumn now, when we begin to prepare for our inner spiritual transformations.

Now is the time to dust off our souls and unlock our hearts. To let them break open wide and receive the power of the alchemy that these 40 Days of Awe have to offer.

Tehilla Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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