Don’t Dread Rosh Hashanah
Unencumbered by past mistakes, now is the time to start anew.
“I can’t wait until Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are over,” I said to my kids. “They are so heavy and serious that I really dread them. I’m looking forward to relaxing over Sukkot.”
Oops! I don’t think that was the full credit reaction to the prospect of the approaching High Holidays. I think I need to do a little tweaking and reframing before they are upon us.
In my defense, I do think it’s good to recognize and appreciate the seriousness of the days. Ours is not a New Years of party hats and noise makers. It is a time of introspection and spiritual accounting. It is a time to evaluate our growth over the past year – to see where we accomplished and where we fell short – and to plan anew for the future. That’s heavy.
It is a time to make our case for another year of life, to explain to the Almighty how we plan to use it productively and why He should grant it to us. The stakes are pretty high. I’m not wrong to dread it.
Or am I?
In focusing on the fear and dread, am I missing the opportunity? Am I losing sight of the gift of the day? Of the hope inherent within it?
Every year the Almighty gives us a chance to start over. He allows us to wipe the slate clean and begin afresh. This is a precious opportunity.
A good friend of mine moved to another town just as her son was beginning high school. While this can be a traumatic time for some, she told me that her son was eagerly looking forward to it. “I want the chance to start over,” he told his mom, “in a place where no one knows me.”
No one has any preconceived ideas or expectations. He’s not labeled or put in a box.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur provide a similar opportunity for us. We’re not trapped by past mistakes. We’re not limited by old character flaws.
We can start anew. We can be that same person that “no one knows” because we can change who we are. And while adolescents are complete slaves to the opinions of their peers, as adults we recognize that we don’t need to subject ourselves to or limit ourselves by the perceptions of others.
We are truly free to be who and what we want to be. This is always true, not just on the High Holidays. But we’re so busy. We’re so distracted. We’re so overwhelmed. We’re so tired!!
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur force us to stop. They force us to think; the shofar ensures that we don’t sleep through the moment.
There may still be some dread because change can be painful. And it is definitely hard work. But it can be outweighed by the excited of new possibilities, by the thrill of new beginnings, by the anticipation of second chances.
On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we get a do-over. I won’t enjoy Sukkot half as much if I don’t take advantage of these prior opportunities!