There is much that’s beautiful in Jewish culture and religion, and we are currently living part of it. The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which started Sunday, are called the Days of Awe, or the Days of Repentance. It is a time during which adherents to the Jewish faith take stock of their lives, and especially of the last year, and repent. I remember the first time I learned this, when I was maybe 19 or 20 years old and the son of one of the partners in the law firm where I worked came up to me and said, “If I’ve given you any offense this past year, I’m sorry.”
He had barely spoken to me. How could he have given me offense? It was then that he explained about the Days of Awe and why he was saying those things to me.
I was reminded of this tradition when I read this beautiful and moving piece about Rabbi Kenneth Berger and his “Five Minutes” sermon. He wrote it in reaction to the Challenger disaster in 1986, which happened when I was sixteen, and the revelation that the astronauts might have been alive as the crew compartment plummeted to earth for five entire minutes.
What might you think about or do if you knew you were in the last five minutes of your life? Are you living the kind of life in which you’ve said everything you want to say? Done everything you want to do? Said “I love you” to all the people that matter?
What makes his words perhaps even more prescient is that some three years after he wrote this sermon, the rabbi and his family were on a plane that became disabled and crashed. For many minutes as the plane plummeted to Earth, the rabbi held his children’s hands. He and his wife died. His children survived.
The sermon makes a point that we too often forget in the hustle and bustle of life. Whether it’s five minutes or fifty years, death is “a door through which we all pass.” It is scary, but clarifying. It reminds us to make our choices well. I am not Jewish, but I like to learn from all the world’s traditions when I can. So in these Days of Awe, I will take stock and say the things I want to say. Let me begin with you. Thank you so much for reading this.
To read the Rabbi’s story (and for a link to his beautiful sermon) click here.