Rosh Hashanah at Home: How to Embrace the Opportunity
How to use the Rosh Hashanah prayers to create a meaningful Rosh Hashanah wherever you are this year.
Rosh Hashanah at home? With no packed shul and rabbi's sermon? We can’t imagine it. How are we to approach Rosh Hashanah without these traditions in place?
A helpful first step is to remember that nothing happens without God's guidance. Our prayer services haven’t simply fallen victim to the blind menace of COVID-19. The High Holidays this year present us with an opportunity to reach new heights of meaning and connection.
In years past, we gained so much of our High Holiday inspiration from factors outside of ourselves. While external inspiration is unquestionably valuable, our Sages took care to caution us: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” If I don’t take ownership of my growth and inspiration, who will do it for me? Outside inspiration doesn’t last unless we rouse ourselves to internalize it. True growth can only come from within.
This year, we’ve been granted the chance to create a High Holiday experience from within, without relying on the crowd’s momentum. It's the opportunity to truly stand before God in isolation, sincerely on our own.
We can embrace the opportunity of the High Holidays at home by utilizing the prayers in a more reflective, deeper way than we are perhaps used do. On Rosh Hashanah, we accept God’s sovereignty. In shul, the communal prayer services bring these themes to life. This year will be different. At home, it will just be us and God. We’ll have the quiet time to slowly read the words, in any language, and contemplate them: What do they mean to us? How can we bring these ideas into our own lives?
Take some time during Rosh Hashanah to dwell on the following questions. Culled from different key parts of the High Holiday prayers, these suggestions can be used as models to help us develop our own points of exploration.
World Recognition of God
In both the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, we find that the third blessing of the silent Amidah prayer has been greatly expanded to describe a world where every inhabitant recognizes God’s existence and unites wholeheartedly with his fellow creations to serve and sanctify Him.
Try to imagine, in practical terms, what such a world would look like. You might find it helpful to utilize the image of sports fans uniting to root for their team. What would life be like if we all joined one universal team honoring and promoting God’s agenda? How would the world change? Where in your own personal life could you do more to welcome God's presence?
God Remembers Us
Three topics dominate the Mussaf prayer on Rosh Hashanah – God’s kingship (“Malchuyos”), God’s remembrance (“Zichronos”), and the Shofar (“Shofros”). In the Remembrance section, we discuss how God “remembers the world” and calls to mind our previous actions, and uses them to determine our fate for the year to come.
What does it mean that Gd “remembers” us on Rosh Hashanah? Was there a chance He has forgotten us?
God “remembering” us means that He invests extra focus and attention into each of us individually. He is intimately concentrating on every aspect of who we are – what we’re capable of, what we’re struggling with, and what we need to succeed in actualizing our life’s purpose, understanding the full context of our life, past, present and future.
Take this idea and concretize it. Imagine that you were invited into God’s “office” for a consultation about your life. God tells you, “We’re here to discuss exactly how to help you best succeed and thrive. Let’s examine your life together so we can figure out how to best achieve our goal.” Continue this conversation in your mind, inserting your personal details – your strengths, your struggles, and your dreams for the future. Become a partner in God’s “remembrance” and connect to Rosh Hashanah on an unprecedented level.
Today is the Conception of the World
The Talmud teaches that Rosh Hashanah is the conception of the world. IT's the time God resets all of existence and recreates it anew, investing all potential growth for the upcoming year. As we say in the Rosh Hashanah prayers, "Hayom harat olam – today is the conception of the world."
We turn to God and beseech him: "Zachreinu l'Chaim – remember us for life!" God is dishing out life and everything we need for us to fulfill our unique mission in bringing His light to the world. God has no limits; He can give us everything. The key is clarifying what we truly want, understand how it serves God's agenda, and sincerely commit to bringing it to fruition.
Take some time during Rosh Hashanah to clarify your goals for the year. This is the time to dream big and think practical. What do you want to commit to accomplishing this year? What spiritual goals are you ready to take on? Be specific, and be very practical. Take on small action steps that you know you can do and make a genuine change, and stay clear from huge undertakings that are pipe dreams that have very little chance in fulfilling.
Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe shared that the most memorable Rosh Hashanah of his life occurred in Sweden, post-WWII. Without minyan or even family, his isolation enabled him to deeply experience the reality of God’s presence in his life. If he could do it in 1940s Sweden, we can do it this year in the comfort of our own homes. Let’s grab the opportunity – and surprise ourselves with one of the most meaningful High Holidays experiences of our lives.