THE JEWISH NEW YEAR – 5779
Rabbi Susan Elkodsi — Long Island Herald
As with many Jewish Holidays, Rosh Hashanah, the “Jewish New Year,” has many names, and interestingly, this holiday is never called that in the Torah! In Leviticus, the Israelites are commanded, “In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts.” (23:24).
Hence, the name, Yom Teruah (teh-roo-ah), the “Day of Loud Blasts,” which we create by blowing the shofar, or ram’s horn. In reality, a horn from any kosher animal (that has horns) can be used, but the ram has special significance because of the story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son, Isaac. The Torah tells us that at the critical moment – when Abraham’s hand was raised – a messenger of God told Abraham not to hurt Isaac, but to look in the thicket where a ram was caught by its horns, and sacrifice that instead.
Our tradition (Ethics of the Fathers 5:8) teaches that this ram, along with more than 10 other significant things, was created “at twilight,” generally understood to be of the sixth day of creation, just before Shabbat, to be brought forth at the appropriate time, when each is needed in the world.
We all have special abilities and gifts just waiting for the right time to be revealed to the world, and perhaps even to ourselves. Unfortunately, our liturgy, and as a result, what we’re taught about Rosh Hashanah – with its emphasis on teshuva – examining our past year in an attempt to do better in the coming year – doesn’t really reflect that. Of course, no one is perfect, and no matter how hard we try, we’re going to continue to make mistakes. Hopefully we learn from them and make new mistakes, instead of repeating old ones.
One mistake many of us continue to make, and I include myself in the “us,” is undervaluing ourselves and our contributions. Let’s ask ourselves: In the past year, have I hidden my light under a bushel because I was afraid people would think I was bragging? Did I accept a compliment graciously, or did I try and explain it away? Did I believe that I am worthy of love, acceptance and belonging simply because I exist? And, did I help others to recognize and share their special gifts?
Another name for Rosh Hashanah is Yom haDin, “The Day of Judgment,” when we believe God is judging our deeds and actions, and those of the entire world, human and otherwise. As worried as we might be thinking about how God will judge us for the coming year, I’m convinced that we’re better off letting God do the judging than judging ourselves; there’s no question most of us are our own worst critics.
Beginning with Rosh Hashanah and in the days leading up to Yom Kippur, we offer our heartfelt prayers and contrition hoping to move God from kisei din, “the throne of judgment,” to kisei rachamim, “the throne of compassion.”
In this time of teshuva and introspection, may we be blessed with the courage to share our gifts, and to encourage others to share theirs. May we show ourselves the grace and compassion that God shows us, and that we freely give to others.
I wish you a happy and a healthy new year full of blessings.