Return: Daily Inspiration for the Days of Awe
By Erica Brown
Maggid Books & OU Press, 2012, 147 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - October 22, 2012
The ten days between and including the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, New Years and Day of Atonement, were instituted by rabbis as ten days during which Jews should recall and examine their past deeds and thoughts, think why mistakes were made, decide not to repeat errors, and consider ways to improve. People should, of course, think about their mistakes at all time and remedy them immediately. However, many culture, like the Jews, recognize that most people fail to do so; so they remind people to check their behavior at the onset of a new year and make resolutions to improve. Thus it is well known that many people go on diets and promise themselves to study more during new year holidays. The Jewish practice, stimulated and enhanced by many ceremonies and prayers, is a strong inspiration to "return" to the teachings of Judaism.
Moses Maimonides (1138-1204) wrote a code of Jewish law called Mishnah Torah. One section of ten chapters is called Laws of Repentance. Since the Days of Awe are also ten, many Jews decided to read one of Maimonides' chapters each day and use the readings to inspire improvement. These readings are helpful since Maimonides includes ideas how improvement can be achieved.
Erica Brown, a writer, lecturer, and scholar-in-residence at the Greater Washington Jewish Federation, has a similar approach. She devotes her book about the ten days to ten chapters that can be read on each of the Ten Days of Awe together with a Forward, Preface, a fourteen page introduction, and an epilogue. She writes that the ten days is an opportunity "to improve, to change, to forgive, to apologize, to become what we've always meant to become, to return, to come home…to recover, to revisit our best selves, to become whole again."
The ten chapters address faith, destiny, discipline, humility, compassion, gratitude, anger, joy, honesty, and holiness. Each chapter includes quotes and thoughts of famous thinkers, Jews and non-Jews, for as Maimonides taught, the truth is the truth no matter what its source.
Each of the ten chapters begins with a quote from a holiday prayer that addresses repentance. The essays that follow include stories to highlight its message. Each essay is followed by a small section "Life Homework," with a practical way of implementing the essay's message; quotes from Maimonides, Luzzatto, Abraham Kook; and notes.
Brown concludes her book with a summary and encouragement: "an act of return takes place every day, not merely on one day or in one month or over a few holidays. We return and then we return again. We have to keep returning because we change, and the world around us changes…. The majestic endeavor of discovering human purpose beckons each and every day."