The two days of Rosh Hashanah and the single day of Yom Kippur are three days in our lives filled with awe. More than any others, those days awaken a sense that a biological clock is ticking; it’s time to reexamine.
Would one day be enough, or perhaps two? The Bible is replete with three-day allusions, nearly all a transition from one state to another — a completion. According to Jewish law, what is done three times is considered permanent. This is called a chazakah — stronghold.
The idea of three days plays an important role within the liturgy of these days of awe. On Rosh Hashanah, we begin with Abraham going to the Akeda, intending to offer his son Isaac to God. “On the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place from afar.” (Gen. 22:5) We conclude the season of repentance with Jonah, who tries his best to escape the divine calling and ends up in the belly of a fish for three days. To complete his mission, it takes him three days to
cross Ninveh until the whole city repents.
Standing in front of God for three days is a “long-standing” tradition. The theophany at Mount Sinai was on the third day. Moses adds that before the revelation, men and women should separate for three days. (Ex. 19:19) Then, on the third day, God descends in fire and to the sound of the shofar. Somehow on the third day, God reexamines the connection between heaven and earth. Going back to creation, even back then God separated the earth from the waters under the heaven. It is the only day God says twice, “It is good.”
Some of the most notable references to the three-days theme can be found in the stories leading to the redemption in Egypt. To start with, in Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s ministers’ dreams in jail, he explains that in three days the verdict would be given to both ministers. As we say in the liturgy of the days of awe, “who will live and who will die.” Indeed, on the third day, Pharaoh releases his chief cup bearer from death row, and executes his baker.
(Gen. 40:21) Similarly, Joseph releases his brothers from prison on the third day. (Gen. 42:18) Later, Moses requests of Pharaoh that to let his people go on a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifice to their God. (Ex 3:18) And just before the Israelites leave Egypt, Moses stretches forth his hand toward heaven, and a thick darkness shrouds all the land of Egypt for three days. (Ex.10:22)
So we see that it often takes three days. The biological clock we feel has deep roots in our Biblical DNA. A spiritual regeneration is not a moment, but a three-part process — a short time of intense experience followed by divine restoration. God gives us three days to decide which way we will be going, which world to connect, which world to create next. God reveals to the prophet Hosea that a time will come when His covenant people will return to Him and cry out, “Come, and let us return to the Lord, for He has torn, and He will heal us; He has smitten, and He will bind us up. After two days, He will revive us, and on the third day, He will raise us up that we may live in His presence.” (Hosea 6:1-2)
May we have a Shana Tova of restoration,
—Rabbi Gadi Capela