Tonight Begins a very special and important Shabbat. It is the Shabbat before Yom Kippur. For 35 days now the Shofar has been blown to announce the season of Returning to God. It is a time of repentance. Tonight, Debbie and I after our Shabbat meal went into every room in our house and blew the Shofar, anointing every door along with anointing entrance doors. Declaring a new Season of Mercy and Grace. Sanctifying our home again for God’s purpose and destiny.
This Shabbat falls in the ten-day window of time known as the yammim nora’im (ימים נוראים), a term that literally means “days of awe” or “fearsome days.” The term “days of awe” refers to the heightened sense of the fear of the LORD that we feel during the high holidays. From Rosh HaShanah to Yom Kippur, we are ever conscious of God’s impending judgment, the punishment due our sins, and the short amount of time we have left to do anything about it. The days of awe are days of uncertainty and anticipation. We don’t find out what happens next until Yom Kippur.
According to tradition, the heavenly court convenes for judgment on Rosh HaShanah, opens the books of judgment, and issues an initial verdict for each and every person on planet earth. For the next ten days, the court reviews our deeds and considers the verdict. On Yom Kippur, the tenth and last day of the heavenly court’s annual session, everyone’s verdict is sealed with his or her name recorded in either the book of life or the book of death. Those with their names in the book of life are granted another year of life whereas those sealed in the book of death will soon find their cases commuted to another courtroom, as it says, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
We call the Sabbath that falls between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur “Shabbat Shuvah,” which means “The Sabbath of Repentance.” The Hebrew word for “return” is the imperative shuvah (שובה), a word that we might also translate as “repent.” The name Shabbat Shuvah comes from the synagogue reading for the day. The reading begins with the words, “Shuvah Yisra’el,” i.e., “Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity” (Hosea 14:2). Those are the survival instructions that the heroes in this drama need if they are going to survive to a happy ending.