Apples and honey are tasty, but sweet rituals are just one aspect of what Rosh Hashanah is about. Rosh Hashanah translates as the ‘head’ Rosh of ‘the year’ Ha Shanah. In the Jewish tradition it is a time for self reflection and introspection, a time for new beginnings, a time to ask the questions: ‘Who am I?’ ‘What kind of life have I been living?’ ‘What do I want to change?’
According to the story of Rosh Hashanah the fate of our coming year is decided during the high holidays. Our financial fate, our health, our relationships, who is going to be written into the Book of Life and who is not, are all decided on this day which is why Rosh Hashanah is also called ‘Yom HaDin’, the day of Judgement. It’s also why one of the traditional greetings during Rosh Hashanah is, ‘May you be written and sealed for good in the book of life.’
A number of years ago the night before Rosh Hashanah, I was walking on the street and I overheard a woman speaking to someone about “writing off” a friend because she had neglected to call her back. The two phrases ‘to write someone off’ and ‘to be written in the book of Life’ began to contrast themselves in my mind. I began to realize that, at times in my own life, I have not only written off other people but, for reasons that seemed good at the time, I have written myself off as well. Unfortunately, people write themselves out of life all the time. They write off their bodies because they think they are not good enough, they write off their personalities because they want to fit in, and they write off their dreams because of external pressure and despair.
I saw that if I wanted to be written in the book of life, I had to live an existence that was an affirmation of my life. And, I had to write everyone else in the book of life too – which means treating them with the love, respect, and the compassion they deserve.
Rosh Hashanah is also considered the birthday of the world – the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. According to Jewish mysticism, the energy of the creation of humankind is available for us to access on this day. That means we can start over and return who we really are – to our good authentic selves. In Judaism the act of returning to our highest self and living from there is called ‘teshuvah.’ Rosh Hashanah is one of the best days of the yearto connect to teshuvah.
There is a saying from the sages which goes, ‘nothing stands in the way of teshuva.’ This means that if a person wants to change their life for the good, nothing can stop them. If the most powerful prayer is a prayer put into action, then Rosh Hashanah is our time to take active steps, like the ones below, that will guarantee us inclusion in the book of life. This Rosh Hashana may, we all be blessed to do teshuvah, be the people we want to be for the rest of the year, and be written and sealed in the book of Life!
Teshuvah Action Steps
- Call out the good. Pick someone in your life whom you interact with on a regular basis, write down five good things you see in this person and them tell them. Do the same thing for yourself!
- Write a letter describing what you would like to have written into the book of your life for the coming year. Pick three simple goals based on your letter to start building your life.
- Volunteer your time for a cause you believe in! Find an issue you want to do something about, find an inspiring organization who is working on this cause, and arrange to volunteer to help do what they are doing.
- Tzedakah. Set aside some money to donate to an organization you believe is doing good work or to a person who is in need.