At the midnight hour after Shabbat that precedes Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish community gathers as the Gates of Heaven begin to open to receive the petitions of forgiveness of the community.
Each year we change our Torah mantles to white symbolically revealing the deepest purpose of these High Holidays, to do Teshuvah, to turn away from an alienated life and to return to our loved ones, community, Torah, one’s own soul, and to God.
The moment is pregnant with possibility, as these verses suggest:
This is the midnight hour. / The Psalmist said: “At midnight I rose to acclaim you” (116:62). / We, who are his descendants, would follow this tradition. / For midnight belongs neither to today nor to tomorrow.
It is a moment alone in time. / It is an interval with a magic all its own. / As we grow weary with the weight of the late hour, / We become introspective, / Concerned with the nature of life; / Especially our own.
Time is fleeting. / Midnight becomes tomorrow. / A day is behind us / And the New Year beckons. / How shall we use our days? / What is the meaning of our lives, our goodness, our power? / Shall we use them only for ourselves / Or for the good of others? / This midnight service summons us / to the true purpose of life.
Summer is passing. / The days grow shorter. / The sounds and colors of nature, / The stirring of the wind, / Speak to us of changes in the world, in life, / And in a human being’s course on earth.
Now is the time for turning. / The leaves are beginning to turn / From green to red and orange.
The birds are beginning to turn / And are heading once more towards the south. / The animals are beginning to turn / To storing their food for the winter.
For leaves, birds, and animals / Turning comes instinctively. / But for us turning does not come so easily.
It takes an act of will for us to make a turn. / It means breaking with old habits. / It means admitting that we have been wrong; / And this is never easy.
It means losing face; / It means starting all over again; / And this is always painful.
It means saying: I am sorry. / It means recognizing that we have the ability to change. / These things are terribly difficult to do.
But unless we turn, / We will be trapped forever in yesterday’s ways.
Author of above poem unknown.
Photographs by Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh