A comment made in 2007 by Rabbi Label Lam on torah.org got me thinking about the Days of Awe in a whole new way. He states that it’s NOT about looking back or thinking about our actions over the past year, in order to make amends and repent. Rabbi Lam points out that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur focus on looking ahead to the coming year and making a committment about what you plan to do with that time.
In other words, it’s a job interview. And guess what? By cosmic coincidence (which I don’t believe in) it’s interview season for me.
You see, my current day job is coming to an end. My employer, a midwest bank, found itself on the wrong end of the mortgage crisis. So this fall I find myself back on the job market. This isn’t actually a shocking development for me. Having worked in the field of computers and IT for over 2 decades, it’s become common to change jobs every 3-5 years. There’s actually a joke that in most businesses, if you change jobs every 3 years, employers look at you and say “what’s the problem?” But in IT, if you *don’t* change jobs every 3 years or so, employers look at you and say “what’s the problem?”
I don’t mind job interviews. It forces me to evaluate what I know and what I’m comfortable sharing; it gives me a chance to really define what I bring to the table, and what I WANT to bring to the table.
Going on job interviews reminds me that I live in a state with an at-will employment policy, which means (broadly speaking) any job can be terminated by the employer or employee at any time, with no reasons given or needed. Of course, the reality is slightly better than that: employees usually give 2 weeks notice, and most employers give reasons for job termination. But if you feel your job has some kind of guaranteed stability, it’s an illusion. Going on job interviews Keeps It Real for me in that regard.
The parallels to Rabbi Lam’s view of the Yamim Norim (Days of Awe) are striking.
The current year is coming to an end. I find myself in synagogue being asked (by the liturgy and my own heart, if not God) what it is that I plan to do with myself this coming year; on what merit should my contract be extended? No matter what achievements I may have garnered over the year (and in retrospect they don’t look so impressive, compared to some of my more blatant – not to mention memorable – screw-ups), they only have a minor bearing on my negotiations. This is all about commitment to a future goal.
Having lived as Jew for over 4 decades , this is nothing new to me. It’s been part of my yearly rhythm for as long as I can remember. Perhaps this year the liturgy seems especially noteworthy because of the point I’m at in my Jewish journey, but if I think about it there was always something that caught my attention each year.
The U’Netaneh Tokef prayer, which asks (in part) “who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire” reminds me that I live in a state of at-will “employment” – that my next breath is not a sure thing and any sense I have of the security of life is only an approximate guess, at best.
I find that I don’t really mind the unspoken challenge. It’s a chance to re-commit and re-dedicate myself to doing what’s right. To resolve to make true t’shuvah. As I mentioned earlier this week, that doesn’t mean promising to stop being bad, but rather to return to my best self and be the person that the world – and I – need me to be. No crutches, no immature mind games, no excuses upon which our society has become so fond.
During a job interview (the regular computer-world ones, not the one that starts on the first of Tishrei), I make a point of stating my feelings about the job. It’s amazing how many people never do that – they never say “I want this job” or even “I think I can do this job”. What I usually say (assuming that I want the job in the first place) is: “Not only do I think I can do this job, I think I can do a good job doing this job. And I want you to know that I want this job.”
During these Days of Awe, as I consider the year ahead and all the things God might ask of me, I don’t plan on being coy about my feelings or intentions. Sitting in prayer with nerves rubbed raw by liturgy that forces me to admit I am imperfect and flawed; edgy and agitated by long services and Hebrew that doesn’t fit easily in my mouth; cranky from lack of food and attention that keeps wandering between my prayers and my kids and stray thoughts of work; In that condition I will be forced to admit that my soul is God’s for the taking, but that this job I’m being offered – the job of living in God’s world for another year – is a job I can do, that I will try with every fiber of my being to do a good job doing, and which I want very very much.