Thursday, September 10, 2020
Twenty-First Day of Elul 5780
As we approach Rosh Hashanah, we begin to think of the day’s complex and seemingly contradictory meanings. Rosh Hashanah is a day of celebration and joy for the beginning of the new year. Paradoxically, it is also a solemn day of introspection and asking God for forgiveness. In the Torah it is called It is Yom T’ruah, the Day of Shofar Blasts. Just as the shofar was sounded in ancient times both for celebration and as an alarm, Rosh Hashanah remains a day that contains both types of messages.
Rosh Hashanah is not unlike our secular New Year’s Eve, which is observed both as a time for merrymaking and for making resolutions about overcoming our faults in the new year. It is a moment when we stand at the crossroads of life, looking backwards and forwards at the same time – happy about a new beginning and trepidatious about repeating the mistakes of the past.
In the Jewish understanding of Rosh Hashanah, though, there is an added dimension. The changes we seek to make in ourselves at this time of year are not just about self-improvement, they are also about our relationship with God. Rosh Hashanah calls us to see ourselves not just from an egotistical, self-centered perspective. We begin the new year by considering that we need to make our lives right, not just for our own sake, but for the sake of the world and for God. We remember that we are loved by a God who wants the best for us. God does that by helping us become the best people we can be. But we are not the final judge of our behavior. God is.
That may be the best way of resolving the apparent contradiction of Rosh Hashanah being both a day of celebration and a day of solemn introspection. It is the day when we recall how God loves us and also asks us to become better.
Practice for this day:
As we approach Rosh Hashanah, think back on how you have observed Rosh Hashanah in the past. What memories do you have that seem particularly joyful and celebratory? What memories seem solemn and serious
Write down some memories of Rosh Hashanah that seem most important to you.