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The Days of Awe and Repentance in Judaism

Cultures all over the world keep track of time – from seconds to millennia. The New Year is often seen as a time to mark the turning of a new leaf, and in this respect Judaism is no different. For Judaism, however, the New Year is also accompanied by deep reflection about one’s relationship with God and other people.

Along with prayer and works of mercy, repentance (teshuvah) is one of the three pillars that form a base for the rich heritage of Judaism. The Hebrew Scriptures are replete with exhortations such as that of the prophet Joel: “Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful…” (Joel 2:13) that indicate the willingness of the Lord to forgive and restore the truly repentant sinner.

In Judaism, repentance is directed not only to the Creator, but also to other human beings. Following Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the New Year, comes a ten-day period known as the “Days of Awe” (Yamim Nora’im) – a time for serious introspection, repentance and reconciliation. It is a time when the Jewish person is called upon to make amends with any members of the community he or she may have offended in the previous year.

This emphasis on reconciliation with others is very much consistent with Judaism’s emphasis on ethical relationships and a faith that views righteousness largely in terms of God-centered values that are lived out in practical application. Jesus’ own words, spoken almost 2,000 years ago, reflect this understanding: “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).

Written by Alan Shore

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