Maybe you spent Elul mentally preparing yourself for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, thinking back over the past year and contemplating what you could have done differently, or maybe Tishrei just snuck up on you without warning. The realization that that the next 12 months of your life will be signed and sealed over the coming days is daunting, and it’s hard for any of us not to be overwhelmed by the enormity of it all.
As you find your seat in shul, there really is only one thing you can do - take a deep breath, open up your machzor and reach down into your heart to connect with the words on the page and bring them to life. Still, if you’re anything like me, no matter how much you try to focus on the davening all around you, there’s an endless loop that plays through your mind throughout the Yomim Noraim that goes something like this…
Please Hashem, give me and mine a good year and keep us all safe from harm and sickness.
Let us be people who make the world a better place, people who make you proud.
Please write me and those I love down for a year filled with happiness and brachos.
But I want you to take a minute and look around you as you try to remember the things that matter most so that you can include them in your private prayers. Maybe the person sitting next to you is a total stranger, or perhaps they are someone you have known for more years than you can possibly remember. It doesn’t really make that much of a difference, because no matter how well you know someone, you don’t always know what is going on in their life.
Let me tell you about the people in your shul whose lives are far more complicated than you think they are. That person in front of you that looks like they don’t have a care in the world? There’s no way that you could ever know that all they think is how they can’t wait to drink their next glass of bourbon, dreaming of that warm feeling they get as they down a double in a single shot. Your neighbor on the right wearing new Ferragamos and a limited edition Cartier on their wrist? Their life seems so perfect, but no one knows that their 18 year old daughter isn’t in seminary, she’s in rehab. Your friend two rows over who is the ultimate coffee snob? They need that daily caffeine fix because the trauma they suffered after being sexually abused as a teen still haunts them in their dreams, and they rarely get a decent night’s sleep. And while you might think that you and your best friend share everything, you have no idea that they’ve been sworn to secrecy about their father’s devastating diagnosis, and have been having panic attacks ever since they got the awful news.
Filling your Yomim Noraim with tefilos is a wonderful thing, but it’s not enough to daven just for yourself and the people in your immediate circle, and to be honest, it’s not what we’re all about. Even as we ask Hashem to inscribe us for a year filled with goodness, we need to keep others in mind, because I promise you, there are people you know who need your tefilos more than you can ever imagine.
As you make your way through your machzorim over the yomim Tovim, by all means, daven for yourself, but make an extra effort to open your heart to your friends, your neighbors and the people all around you, because that’s who we are. We are people who look out for each other and continually strategize new ways to help those facing challenges large and small. And in the zechus of our heartfelt tefilos over the Yomim Noraim for ourselves and for others, may we all be blessed with a year where our prayers are answered l’tova.
Zvi Gluck is the CEO of Amudim, an organization dedicated to helping abuse victims and those suffering with addiction within the Jewish community and has been heavily involved in crisis intervention and management for the past 23 years.