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Why Rosh Hashanah Sneaks Up On Us

September 13, 2020 | by Emuna Braverman

Part of us wants to avoid thinking about this holy day until it's just no longer possible.

Somehow ever year, whether it arrives early in September or much later in the month, it seems like Rosh Hashanah sneaks up on us. It almost catches us unawares. We walk around with stunned looks on our faces, “Can you believe it’s Rosh Hashanah already?”

I don’t know why this is so. We have the whole preceding month, the month of Elul, to prepare. Yet, even with that awareness, we are still caught off-guard, slightly dazed by the fact that Rosh Hashanah is here again.

Perhaps it’s because we don’t want summer to end. Perhaps it’s because we’re caught up in the challenges of back-to-school. Perhaps because for some of us during coronavirus, one day just bleeds into the next with little demarcation in-between.

Or perhaps it’s because we’re ambivalent about the approach of this holy day, this Day of Judgment, so we avoid thinking about it until that strategy is no longer possible.

We don’t want to face the fact that another whole year has gone by; we can’t quite believe it. We're amazed by how fast it’s flown, by the aging process that seems to be picking up speed with each passing year, and by the need to step back and make an accounting.

How was the past year? Did we accomplish? Did we grow? Did we flounder? Did we stagnate? For most of us, this past year has been one of the more challenging ones of our lives. And the questions bombard us, fast and furious. Did we make the most of the time we were given? Did we kvetch and wallow in self-pity, or did we refocus and try to make the most of this new and unique situation? The answers are individual, the accounting personal.

But we all need to look back, like it or not, comfortable or not. And all of us, no matter how hard we tried, will find places where we failed, where we weren’t the best versions of ourselves, where we didn’t live up to our aspirations, where we didn’t make the more elevated choice.

We all have those moments; it’s part of being human. We don’t want to beat ourselves up over them, yet neither should we deny them. The real growth comes through owning them and then committing to moving forward.

On Rosh Hashanah, when we stand before the Almighty, we can acknowledge our missteps – and our plan to do better in the future. That’s all we ask of our children; that’s all (!) the Almighty asks of us. We can’t get the time back and that’s a sobering thought. But it can also motivate us to make better choices in the future.

It’s so much easier to make a beautiful round challah than to work on our character.

If we continue to ignore the fact that Rosh Hashanah is coming, then we can also be “too busy” to do the work necessary to approach the holiday with joy, with excited anticipation of the changes and growth to come. Instead we lose ourselves in making challahs and fancy desserts and elaborate meals (guilty!) …this can be necessary and beautiful, or it can be a way of avoiding looking inward, a clever strategy for not facing the job at hand.

I think we’ve all been there. It’s so much easier to make a beautiful round challah (anyone trying the ones with the dish of honey in the middle?) than to work on our character, than to look at the ways we’ve been petty, jealous, resentful, frustrated, lazy, unproductive, kvetchy…we have our lists.

I think Rosh Hashanah seems to sneak up on us because, on some level, we want to avoid dealing with the heaviness of the day. But the irony is that, while that seems like a comforting strategy, it’s actually more motivating, effective and yes, exciting to tackle our issues, to recognize the possibility of true change and to understand that the Almighty has given us this holiday because He believes we can.

Whatever negative choices we may have made in the past year, we can leave them behind and move forward. We can commit to a new way of being, a more proactive way of approaching our days. This is a tremendous gift, and rather than something to avoid, it’s an opportunity to be grasped with energy and determination.

Time is closing in; Rosh Hashanah is arriving soon. Let’s grab it by the horns and make the year to come a year of joy, a year of growth, a year of unity for the Jewish people and a year of true connection to our Father in Heaven. I certainly plan to. Just as soon as I take my challahs out of the oven…

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