Shpilkes is Yiddish for “pins.” Like “sitting on pins and needles” in English, being “oif shpilkes” implies being highly agitated while waiting for something to happen.

The proper Yiddish pronunciation is SHPIL-kess (or SHPIL-kiss), but many English speakers say SHPIL-keys.

A classic instance of shpilkes would be the Jewish mother waiting to hear from her daughter who has gone out on a shidduch date. “Please call me the second you come home!” she may say. “You know I am going be sitting on shpilkes until I hear how things went.”

And as anyone who has ever been to court knows, waiting for the judge or jury to reach a decision is always shpilkes-inducing.

Yet, oddly enough, on the High Holidays, when G‑d decides whether or not to grant us another year of life, we are shpilkes-free. Instead, we celebrate joyfully, confident that we will emerge victorious from our court-date with fate.

In the words of the Midrash:

What nation is like this nation! Generally, when a person must appear before the court, he wears black clothing, covers himself in black, and lets his hair grow wild, for he does not know the outcome of the judgment. But not so Israel, who wear white [clothing], robe themselves in white, cut their hair, and eat and drink and are joyful, knowing that G‑d, blessed be He, performs miracles for them.”1

The lesson for the rest of the year: Whenever you feel like life is spinning out of control and metaphoric shpilkes begin to appear on your seat, take a deep breath, and remember that G‑d is right there at your side. You may not know what the next moment will bring, but He does, and He knows what’s best for you.