In the description of the mystical journey of the Prophet Yechezkel, it says that the prophet saw four different figures surrounding the bottom of the chariot (G-d’s throne): the figure of an eagle, a bull, a lion and that of a man.
Based on this description, a Midrash tells us that four proud creatures were created in the world: The proudest among all the creatures that G-d created –according to the sages– is man.
The proudest of the birds, the eagle.
The proudest of the beasts, the bull.
The proudest of the animal, the lion.
They all received greatness, and they all were placed under G-d’s chariot…so that none would take pride in the universe, and would know that the King of Heaven is above them… (Shemot Rabbah 23:13).
The Midrash says that G-d placed the figures of these four creatures beneath his chariot so that they would know that He is the King.
This is the point of the Days of Awe. The king of creatures, man - taking pride of the entire world, having conquered the land already in the days of Bereshit, descended upon the fish of the sea, upon the birds of the skies and upon all of the creatures that walk upon the land – clears his place on center stage and anoints the King of kings with the sound of the Shofar, through prayer and in hymns.
Only yesterday we were the kings of creation, but the liturgy of the Days of Awe presents us as slaves begging for mercy and compassion.
How can we deal with such a dramatic change?
Perhaps we can learn from one of our partners in pride, one of the figures located beneath G-d’s chariot, the eagle.
The life expectancy of the eagle can be very long, as much as seventy years. However, in order to reach this age, he must make a very important decision upon reaching the age of forty, a decision will permit him to live out his full life’s potential as nature grants him.
At this age, the talons which all these years had been flexible, can no longer successfully hold the pieces of meat from which he gains his sustenance. His sharp curved beak is too bent and weak. He has difficulty flying because his feathers are too thick, his wings too heavy, and he lacks the strength to spread his wings to their fullest length and breadth.
At this age, the eagle faces two alternatives: to deteriorate until death, or to choose a process of renewal, during which he faces with courage the painful process which will allow him to create himself anew. He flies to find himself a safe haven between the high and isolated cliffs. When he finds himself a secure place, he begins to smash his beak with great force on the wall, time after time until his beak is torn off at the base. Then he waits until a new beak grows in its place, and with it pulls out his old talons.
When his talons are regrown, he uses them to pluck out his old, heavy feathers. In this fashion, after one hundred and fifty days, he will take renewed flight.
The Days of Awe represent our own flight of renewal.
We need them, not G-d.
This flight of renewal places our lives into proportion, because only creatures that view themselves as mortal require stations along the way.
We know that most of the parameters that caused us to stop will repeat themselves in the coming year…
Our feathers will again thicken and our wings will become heavy, but thank G-d, we won’t have to wait forty years; in another twelve months we will receive the wonderful gift that is called “The Days of Awe”.
I feel that a good example to help us understand this principle is that of a car wash. Washing a car doesn’t pay – we wash our car and within a couple of days it is dirty once again.
If this is so, why do people stubbornly repeat the same mistake time after time? Have you ever washed a car after two years of not washing it?
It is impossible to do. The dirt has been absorbed into the paint and washing it has become too difficult a task.
We don’t wash our car in order to prevent future dirt. We wash it so that it will look like new for a certain period of time and so that in the future it will be possible to wash it more easily.
The Days of Awe do not promise us eternal purification, rather a necessary process of renewal in order that we will appear for a certain period of time as pure creatures and so that we can, in another year – G-d willing – return to the same place at the same hour to renew our flight.
Oh Lord, bring us back and we will return unto you, renew our days as of yore. May you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life!