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Rosh HaShanah

September 8, 2006

What Will You Be Wearing?
By Peg Kershenbaum

I remember how my brother and I used to get new clothes for the holidays: something new for Rosh Ha-Shanah and something else new for Pesah (by which time we would have grown). It was difficult for my mother to pick out clothes that would fit us and fit the family budget. Even though I would get school clothes during the same outing, I would save three dresses for Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur. (Yes, believe it or not, there was a time when we had to wear dresses or skirts to school and to shul!)

I was never much of a ‘fashion plate’, but seeing the new clothes in my closet always made me anticipate the holidays eagerly. I wanted to look my best. Yom Tov was a time when I felt pretty and special and accepted and a little proud, all at once. As a child, I didn’t worry about the true essence of the High Holy Days: a chance to reflect, repent and repair ourselves or our relationships.

As an adult, I began to understand that these holidays were times for alterations. The ‘self’ of the last year didn’t always fit who I wanted to be in the coming year. I would wonder what I could change to help me feel the old feelings of being special, accepted and a little proud. Like many people, I would find a few faults or flaws for focus, but then I’d forget or lose motivation. Year after year, I’d find the same ‘items’ in my ‘closet’: the same mistakes or bad habits. They never seemed to wear out!

Recently I heard a teaching that was inspiring for me; perhaps it will help you, too. According to the Zohar, every deed a person does is directly translated into a stitch on a garment. That garment is what the person will wear for eternity when he or she enters Gan Eden (heaven). If you are stingy, for instance, there will be very tight stitches and the garment won’t hang right. If you are careless about the environment, the stitches will be knotted or loose. But if you are kind or helpful to another person, a neat stitch appears on that garment. Things hang together better. (See Zohar I:224ab)

The month of Elul and Rosh Ha-Shanah itself provide us with the time really to examine the garments as if we were counting stitches on a knitted sweater gone awry! Where did we first drop a stitch? How did we ever overlook it? How disheartening the thought of unraveling row upon row of work! If we want the pattern we choose for our lives to be reflected in our work, we may need to pick up where we went wrong. Despite all the searching and undoing and recasting in store for us, making the corrections now is much better than letting our relationships unravel.

One of the important elements of the ancient Yom Kippur ritual may be related to this idea. In order to officiate on this sacred day, the High Priest had to put aside his ornate, impressive priestly garments. Instead he wore a white linen suit of simple stitching. For us, as well, the Day of Atonement helps to remove some of those careless stitches in our garments. I don’t know how many of the messier stitches come out each year, but I like the idea of sewing my garment for the World to Come. I like the idea that I can pick out the faulty stitches and replace them with neat ones. I can even look forward to wearing such a garment for eternity (but not for a while yet!) I can tailor my actions and perhaps even carefully patch the places that I’ve worn threadbare by thoughtless behavior.

Now, I’m still not a fashion plate. But I know what suits me. And I’m sure that we all have that ‘innate’ sense of the right style of behavior. So, let us take the opportunity each day to construct the best garment we know how to create, one stitch at a time.

Such a garment will go very well with the Crown of our Good Name. May we construct it carefully and with pride. And may we wear it well’but not for a long time yet.