According to history as I was taught, during World War II, when the leaders of the Japanese armed forces presented their plan to attack Pearl Harbor to the emperor for approval, after all the parties involved had stated their case and guaranteed the success of the mission, the emperor had one question: “And then what?”
Sure, the strategists and those in charge of logistics had everything worked out to the smallest detail. There were back-up plans to the back-up plans. However, the one thing the generals and admirals and commanders had neglected to map out in their strategy sessions was the consequences of their action … what would it mean the day after the attack?
As the emperor queried then, so should we be asking ourselves today: “And then?” … or, perhaps even better, “Now what?”
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are quickly fading from our memories. Those moments were so precious in so many different ways. Their power still resonates in the depths of our souls.
And now? Let the emperor ask for us: “And then” … or, perhaps even better, “Now what?” And let our tradition answer: “This is what!”
“This” would be our observance of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. “This” would be the way we endeavor to do at least one more mitzvah during the coming year. … And “this” would be the way we put our thoughts into deeds, allow our prayers to come to life.
For all the time that we spent over the High Holy Days in thought and in prayer, the experience, as soulful as it might have been, was, by definition, cerebral at best. Now it is time to make the words we prayed come to life in everything we do. Now it is time for what would be best called hands-on, do-it-yourself (with everybody else!) Judaism.
So we paused over the course of the High Holy Days. Now what? We paused to contemplate the manner in which we may or may not be living our lives, dreamt and prayed that life might finally become what we want and deserve it to be, paused and said “Thank You” for that which we cherish as our own. However, the most important part of the High Holy Days is not what we may or may not have done then as much as it is what we are doing now.
So I would ask that we pause again and ask ourselves: And then what? How can we make our High Holy Days the meaningful and significant experience that we want/ need them to be? It is not too late! Pick up a lulav and etrog, sit for a moment in a sukkah, come and dance with me with the Torah … read a Jewish book, eat a Jewish food, say one more prayer … find one new mitzvah that you can make your own … ensure that there are consequences to the moments we shared on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — consequences that make those moments that much more.
Robert Eisen is senior rabbi at Congregation Anshei Israel.