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Thought for the Day: Rosh Hashana 2022

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“Awe is the combination of vastness and accommodation… forcing us to re-evaluate the way that we think about ourselves and the world around us.”



“Awe inspiring”.

 This comment by James Clifford, a former soldier, who was interviewed after filing past the coffin of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth, captured the atmosphere so beautifully. 

I’ve heard so many people reflect on how the aura of the Queen’s  funeral, the immaculate pomp and ceremony, 500 foreign leaders and an unprecedented global audience, just took their breath away. 

Yet, the funeral of Her Late Majesty The Queen was, for many, unforgettably awe-inspiring, at a time described by psychologists as an era of awe-deprivation.  With instant access to mesmerising images and experiences in the palms of our hands, moments of unalloyed wonder are rarer than they have ever been.   

So now, four days later, having experienced something that was truly awesome, will we simply allow it to fade into the recesses of our collective memory?  

Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, which commences on Sunday evening, will usher in a ten-day period called ‘The Days of Awe’. Awe and connection go hand in hand. We will come together in large numbers in our Synagogues to experience stirring services through which we will feel connected to community, to cherished values and to tradition. But that’s not all. The Days of Awe challenge us as individuals to recognise that we are part of something much larger and more significant than ourselves and to retain that connection throughout the ensuing year. And with that recognition come empowerment and responsibility. 

Psychologists Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt describe awe as the combination of vastness and accommodation; the experience of something which makes us feel a part of a much larger whole, whilst also forcing us to re-evaluate the way that we think about ourselves and the world around us. 

This explains why the American astronaut, Leland Melvin, described his reaction to the remarkable sight of earth from the International Space Station as a ‘cognitive shift’ which made him feel ‘so much more connected’ to everyone around him with a deep recognition of a common purpose. 

For me, that very recognition has certainly been the most awe-inspiring element of the past two weeks. United in grief, many of us have felt more connected to our British identity, our rich history, our shared values, and, most importantly, to each other. We are indeed part of something truly special and great and that realisation should inspire and empower us to move forward to even greater heights of achievement in the future.