Monday, September 19, 2011

Elul 20: Just a Spoonful of Humility

As we prepare for Rosh Hashanah and the opportunity to seek forgiveness, it might be helpful to access our humility.

Sometimes the key to finding our own humility is to remind ourselves of the fragility of human life, of how insignificant and ephemeral our individual existence is.  There is a moment during the tefillot / services of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when we recite a litany of biblical similes that speak to the temporary nature of our time on Earth.  It comes during the latter half of the Untaneh Toqef segment of the Musaf Amidah, arguably the central holy moment of the holiday:

אָדָם יְסודו מֵעָפָר, וְסופו לֶעָפָר
Each person's origin is dust and end is dust

בְּנַפְשׁו יָבִיא לַחְמו
We spend our lives seeking sustenance

מָשׁוּל כְּחֶרֶס הַנִּשְׁבָּר
Scripture compares humans to a broken shard,

כְּחָצִיר יָבֵשׁ וּכְצִיץ נובֵל
withering grass and a shriveled flower,

כְּצֵל עובֵר וּכְעָנָן כָּלָה
a passing shadow and a fading cloud,
וּכְרוּחַ נושָׁבֶת וּכְאָבָק פּורֵחַ
a fleeting breeze and scattered dust,

וְכַחֲלום יָעוּף.
and a vanishing dream.

The images are drawn from various places in the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Psalms, and Job, and they agree on the following point: we walk this Earth for a short time, while God is eternal.  As such, this passage paints a poetic picture that helps us swallow our pride and ask for forgiveness.

Rosh Hashanah is ten days away.  Think humble!

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