Nations, states, provinces and even some Japanese corporations have anthems.
An anthem is a piece of music that expresses the essence of the entity it celebrates, a common theme which unites all of the diverse people and variegated activities of life in that place.
For example, there are a lot of different types of gatherings at which the “Star-Spangled Banner” is played in the United States. Some are happy and some sad. Some are deeply serious and some are frivolous. Some are large and some quite small. The common theme the anthem gives voice to is: we are proud to be Americans, and are grateful for the opportunities this country has given us; we know that our felicity and security has been bought with sacrifice and blood, and we know that only absolute steadfastness in protecting our liberties will retain them. We are cognizant of these truths both when swearing in a new president and when enjoying ourselves at a baseball game, as they are equally crucial to both.
The High Holiday season also has an “anthem.”
We are now entering a season of profound, powerful and experientially diverse days on the Jewish calendar. The festivals and special dates of this season pluck every string of our being, and sound virtually every note our soul can sing.
During the month of Elul, we engage in introspection and self-evaluation.
On Rosh Hashanah, we explore our personal and communal connection to G‑d and renew our belief that we can make a difference in our world.
During the Ten Days of Return which climax on Yom Kippur, we confront the negativity in our past. We then connect ourselves to our ultimate Source at a level deeper than our shortcomings can reach, and with the power of that bond transform the bitterness of the past into the sweetness of a better future.
With this newfound closeness to the transcendent, we then enter the festival of Sukkot, where every aspect of our lives is embraced and suffused with the presence of G‑d’s love for us and our reciprocal love of G‑d—an experience that engenders the great happiness which culminates in the consummate joy of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.
These experiences are very varied, yet are part of a single continuum. They have an anthem that expresses that continuity.
The “anthem” of the High Holiday season, which spans the Jewish months of Elul and Tishrei, is Psalm 27, “G‑d is my light.”
For fifty days—from Rosh Chodesh (“the head of the month”) of Elul to the seventh day of Sukkot (“Hoshana Rabbah”)—we recite this psalm twice a day, morning and evening. Its opening line is the key to all of the aforementioned experiences: “G‑d is my light . . .”
The purpose of light is to reveal. It enables us to see clearly that which it shines upon. This anthem gives voice to our sense that during this time of year G‑d is uniquely accessible, and we therefore can open the doors of our consciousness to G‑d and allow His light to reveal all that we possess, but have somehow missed in the dimmed corridors of everyday life.
This light is the overarching theme of this season:
The light reveals our flaws.
It reveals our potential to transcend those flaws.
It reveals that our negativity runs no deeper than a bad dream from which we can awake with a surge of willed consciousness.
It reveals that our dream of perfection is a vision we are empowered to attain.
It reveals that we are not as far from G‑dliness as we thought we were.
It reveals that we are not a separate entity from G‑d, but an extension of G‑d’s essence.
It reveals our ability to see this divine quality in everyone else as well.
It reveals our capacity to rise above the pain of the transient and ephemeral.
It reveals our capacity to rejoice in the real and eternal.
As we say these magnificent words each day during this crucial period, let us open ourselves up to the G‑dly light within us, and transform ourselves and our world—for good.
Tehilim (Psalms), chapter 27
1. Of David. G‑d is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? G‑d is the stronghold of my life; from whom shall I be frightened?
2. When evildoers draw near to me to devour my flesh, my adversaries and my enemies against me—they stumbled and fell.
3. If a camp encamps against me, my heart shall not fear; if a war should rise up against me, in this I trust.
4. One [thing] I ask of G‑d, that I seek: that I may dwell in the house of G‑d all the days of my life, to see the pleasantness of G‑d and to visit His Temple every morning.
5. That He will hide me in His tabernacle on the day of calamity; He will conceal me in the secrecy of His tent; He will lift me up on a rock.
6. And now, my head will be raised over my enemies around me, and I will sacrifice in His tent sacrifices with joyous song; I will sing and chant praise to G‑d.
7. Hearken, O G‑d, to my voice [which] I call out, and be gracious to me and answer me.
8. On Your behalf, my heart says, “Seek My presence.” Your presence, O G‑d, I will seek.
9. Do not hide Your presence from me; do not turn Your servant away with anger. You were my help; do not forsake me and do not abandon me, O G‑d of my salvation.
10. For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but G‑d gathers me in.
11. Instruct me, O G‑d, in Your way, and lead me in the straight path because of those who lie in wait for me.
12. Do not deliver me to the desires of my adversaries, for false witnesses and speakers of evil have risen against me.
13. Had I not believed in seeing G‑d’s goodness in the land of the living!
14. Hope for G‑d, be strong and He will give your heart courage, and hope for G‑d.