The Chirp of the High Holidays

Learning to see the Day of Judgment as a day of opportunity

The Chirp of the High Holidays photo

After observing that it's the chirp of the chicks that triggers maternal instinct in the turkey, animal behaviorist M.W. Fox published a fascinating experiment in 1974. He found that a mother turkey would nurture a weasel -- archenemy of the turkey -- if it too chirped like a baby turkey.

When presented to the turkey, the weasel was attacked, but when it chirped (through a recording inside of it), it was embraced as part of the flock, then attacked again when the chirping stopped. Gosh, turkeys are so stupid, eh? Nothing like us people … right?

Similar experiments were later performed on people. In 1978, social psychologist Ellen Langer and her co-workers performed a famous study in which they tried cutting in line for the copy machine. (Yes, people used to make copies through a machine … the era was called PC - "Pre Cc'ing.")

Based on the principle that people are more likely to do you a favor when a reason is given, when someone asked to skip ahead of the line to use the copy machine because they were in a rush, 94 percent of people let them skip ahead. When they asked to use the machine without any explanation as to why, 60 percent of people asked allowed them to skip ahead. That supported the concept that people are more likely to respond positively when they are given an explanation. But here comes the surprise: They then tried the experiment with telling people, "May I use the machine because I have to make some copies?" No real explanation was given, yet they received 93 percent accommodation to skip in the line. Why? The word "because" was used, and just like a mother turkey, that activated a response of acquiescence. (No, this is not going to work as marriage advice on how to get the kitchen renovated "because I would like to renovate the kitchen.")

What does this have to do with the upcoming High Holidays? Well, I think many of us have a visceral response (perhaps it's genetically ingrained by now …) to the High Holidays. Some of us feel anxious about Judgment Day. Others feel doomed to another long day of torturous stand up, sit down, all rise, you may be seated -- a true atonement for our year's sins. Others feel disenchanted with the concept of feeling inspired by another sermon about the political climate of America.

So what can we do about these reflex reactions to this day? Well, we have to realize these impressions are chirping weasels that we are embracing as truths. But what if we could reprogram our assessment of the High Holidays? What should the "chirpings" of the upcoming apples with honey really awaken within us?

A great rabbi of the early 1900s, Rabbi Abraham Gradzinski, writes that we have it all wrong about our internal feelings towards the High Holidays. In a one-word description of what Rosh Hashanah and the time building up to it is all about, it's really "opportunity." That's it.

What do you dream you'd like to be? We're not talking about surface-level dreams of fame, wealth, or even health. Rather, we're talking about you , at the core. That dream of being a person who is truly giving, loving, warm, confident, insightful, helpful, needed, loved, connecting and connected emotionally and spiritually with G-d, the Jewish people, community, the world … all those passions and dreams for your core self. This is the time of opportunity when dreams become goals and goals build steps to reality. Rosh Hashanah is really a time to contemplate what life is really about. What am I here to do? What am I here to become? How do I make that happen?

Many people don't know, but Rosh Hashanah is actually timed on the calendar to come out on the day G-d created humanity. It was the sixth day of creation, and in a certain way, it's still a day of creation. We are partners in the creation -- of us. What kind of a "mensch" do I really want to be? Now is the time to make it happen.

In the business world they have strategic planning. What are our goals for the company in the next six months? 12 months? Five-year plan? Ten-year plan? In Judaism, we also have spiritual strategic planning, and now is strategic planning time.

On Rosh Hashanah, we stand before our Creator, and we make a presentation of our dreams and aspirations. And as the partner in our project, we hope G-d continues to support us and invest in our endeavor. Lucky for us, the primary investor is Avinu Malkeinu, "Our Father, Our King." It's a beautiful precious time. It's the time of opportunity. This year, let's create a new response to the High Holidays where we feel joy and excitement as the window of opportunity opens up to us.

For anyone who would like an uplifting inspirational Rosh Hashanah, please join us at the CTN Rosh Hashanah Experience on Oct. 3, Rosh Hashanah morning, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. I will be leading one in Northbrook and Rabbi Moshe Katz will be leading one in West Rogers Park. Details and registration for Northbrook can be found here and in WRP here . Shanah tovah!

Joshua Marder photo 375
Voted #1 Skydiving Rabbi of 1997, Josh joined the Peace Corp in 1998 working with Indonesian youth in Russia for three years. After realizing there wasn't much hope (nor population to work with), he moved on to write English textbooks in Japan for ... Read More

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