For us Jews, the time between Rosh Hashanah (The New Year) and Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) are known as The Days of Awe.
If I may take the liberty of paraphrasing the sacred liturgy, the basic concept is that during this time, God sits over a big book, writing out everyone’s destinies for the coming year. The major prayer we say in synagogue at both Rosh Hashanah and the fast day of Yom Kippur is the U’Netaneh Tokef, which gets down and dirty with the details, spelling out who will live and who will die by thirst, plague, strangulation and/or stoning, who will enjoy peace and who will be troubled, who will see their bank accounts fatten and who will see them drain.
It’s kind of nervewracking. Some people get a little freaked out that our destinies might be already written, that no matter how many miles we run or vitamins we take that we’ll end up with some terrible disease, or that a loved one will die no matter how much we pray.
On the other hand, it can take the pressure off if we realize we don’t control a whole heck of a lot of this life, and a good life just means playing the hand you’re dealt with grace.
The excellent news is that threaded right there into the U’Netaneh Tokef is our God-given Free Will: The Book is written on Rosh Hashanah but isn’t sealed until Yom Kippur, so we’ve got these ten days to change it up through acts of teshuvah, tefilah and tzedakah — respectively, repentance, prayer and charity.
So these Days of Awe can be either AWESOME or AWFUL, depending on what a shit you’ve been all year and whether you’re interested in becoming a better human being this next turn around the sun. This is a good time to apologize to people you’ve wronged or been rude to or maybe just ignored and for writing a nice check to your local homeless shelter and your synagogue.
However, as in other religions, someone always makes up a shortcut. Atoning for one’s sins can be haaaaaard, especially if you’re an asshole. There is an obscure Jewish practice called Kapores which involves swinging a live chicken over one’s head as a substitute for atonement—that somehow bad deeds can be imbued into the chicken and then flung into the ether.
I dunno, maybe it works—the Supreme Creator has a whole lot to do right now and distinguishing between honest acts of contrition and a few feathers is really too much to ask.
This is very tempting, considering what’s hanging out in my backyard right now:
Except I know these particular chickens and what comes out of the back end practically every time you pick them up, so I’m thinking it’s going to be a lot cleaner for me to just go ahead and write that check.