The Promise of the High Holy Days

Yael Eckstein  |  September 13, 2023

Yael Eckstein and children on beach, contemplative ahead of High Holy Days

because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins. — Leviticus 16:30

At sundown on Friday, Sept. 15, my family will join Jews around the world in celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. My devotions focus on this very holy day, a time when our attention is on repentance and starting afresh.

The High Holy Days season, which we are in right now, begins a full month before the holidays. The month leading up to the holy days is a time for reflection and repentance as we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, which is also known as Judgement Day, followed by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

While Yom Kippur is the most solemn day of the season, it is also celebratory. On this day, if we have sincerely repented for our sins, God will forgive us for everything. Well, not quite everything.

When it comes to our relationship with God, He can forgive us for anything. But God does not forgive our wrongdoings to other human beings until we have asked for forgiveness from the person or people we have harmed. We are required to seek forgiveness up to three times, and then God will grant forgiveness even if the person we have wronged does not grant it.

The Promise of the High Holy Days

This is why, as the New Year approaches, asking forgiveness becomes commonplace in Jewish communities. It is common in Jewish schools that principals, teachers, and other authority figures in the lives of our children ask for forgiveness in case they inadvertently hurt a child’s feelings. Imagine the impact that has upon a child—seeing the adults and authorities in their lives humbly asking for forgiveness!

In addition, my children and their friends will exchange apologies in advance of the holidays. And while the apologies may come more from a place of tradition instead of sincere regret, this practice trains our children to ask for forgiveness and to forgive. It gives them the tools to become mature adults who are able to humble themselves when they are wrong and make amends.

Having 40 days out of every year when our entire faith community focuses on asking forgiveness from God and from others has helped immeasurably in guiding my children to be comfortable with apologizing. Moreover, it’s a reminder to all of us that if we have been putting off asking forgiveness from someone, the time is now.

The promise of the High Holy Days is that God can wipe the slate clean and we can have a fresh start. But first, we must take responsibility and make amends for our past. Only then can we enjoy a brighter future.

Your Turn:

Reflect on the past year and notice if there is anyone you may have wronged—intentionally or unintentionally—and then, ask for forgiveness.