Rosh Hashanah is here again, the beginning of the Jewish new year, Yom Teruah (יוֹם תְּרוּעָה).
It is the day that the shofar is blasted, and is the first of the High Holy Days, or Days of Awe. (יָמִים נוֹרָאִים) It is the ultimate Sabbath, a time to rest and devote completely to G-d.
Rosh Hashanah, the “head of the year,” always begins on the first day of Tishrei on the Hebrew calendar, and the year is now 5781. It usually coincides with the Autumnal equinox, roughly, give or take some days.
Jews worldwide are invited to reflect on teshuva, or repentance and atonement. How have we fallen short of G-d’s commandments in the last year? What can we do to make amends, and reach our more full potential?
No matter how pious one is, there’s always room for improvement; G-d’s wisdom, grace, goodness, and joy knows no bounds, and as finite humans, we can only ever better approach our Creator with time and applied effort, as well as a loving heart. There is no end to this process.
The books of G-d are opened, and it’s time to write a new chapter; work diligently to be among those whose names are inscribed within the pages of the Book of the Living! It can be done! Use the remainder of the High Holy Days to reflect and repent, and forge a new way forward, and pray for a path out of your confusion and for a clearer direction toward your worthy goals.
The shofar is blown as a reminder to repent and give the Creator His due. You, me, all of us, and everything in this universe, seen and unseen, are the handwork of G-d, Blessed Be He.
With life moving so fast, even for those living in religious communities, it’s easy to lose the soul of our Practice, even if we devote the time each day to giving G-d His due. Actions need to have “Soul”; religious life can’t become rote or ordinary.
This is a time for introspection. This is a time for excitement and enthusiasm knowing that one can change, not sadness over “spilled milk.” Errors are just learning experiences; don’t beat yourself over “mistakes.” Embrace the new year with vigor! You can do better!
In the year 5721, why not include the Tzom Gedaliah Fast Day as part of your observance? Even reformed Jews can take part in this; after all, it can only help.
In case you don’t know, it’s a fast that’s done from dawn until dusk, and is considered a minor fast, but that doesn’t take away from its significance.
The fast is enacted in commemoration of the death of Gedaliah ben Achikam, governor of Judea after the Babylonians destroyed the Holy Temple and carried many Jews into exile in 3338.
Gedaliah was a pious and hardworking leader, helping the remaining remnant in the Holy Land to restore the land, apparently damaged by the pillaging invaders. On Rosh Hashanah, Ishmael ben Netaniah, a man with dreams of a rise to power, murdered Gedaliah in cold blood while celebrating. What could be more despicable?
So, on the third of Tishrei, this year being September 21st, we’re incited to complete a fast in the memory of this great leader, who sacrificed all he had in order to bring about a new hope. Even though this hope was soon dashed, it was his noble effort that counts.
And so, consider fasting. Is one day without sustenance really so bad? Sustain yourself on the Torah, and read from Exodus 32:11–14 and 34:1–10. Here you’ll find the passage relating the account of how G-d forgives Israel for worshipping the golden calf while Moses was up on the mountain. Traditionally a haftorah, from Isaiah 55:6–56:8, is also read.
Your faith is your own, and is unique and different than anyone else’s. Perhaps this fast is new to you, perhaps not. Maybe in decades past your elders took part in this, and you weren’t sure what it was all about.
Why not add a new dimension to your High Holy Days and consider a new fast? Of course, if you’re not fasting on Yom Kippur ( יוֹם כִּיפּוּר), the Day of Atonement, you should know that’s a more significant fast than the Fast of Gedalia. The Yom Kippur 25 hour fast is well known to all, and surely something you are well familiar with, whether you engage in this fast or not.
Of course, if you’re unwell or have a health condition, perhaps fasting in not for you; there is no reason to add to your suffering by engaging in an act that your body cannot accommodate. But if you’re well enough, and willing, fasting can help to propel your faith to new places. It’s a fact.
During the ten Days of Awe, you can reassess your life and begin the process of necessary change. It’s a good thing; it’s cathartic and can bring your life into line with a more clear image of what you’d like yourself to be, in terms of G-d’s worthy requirements.
You can help achieve this end by engaging in acts of loving-kindness, teffilah (תְּפִלָּה), or prayer, tzedakah (צדקה), or charity, and teshuva (תשובה), or repentance. By Yom Kippur, you should feel you’ve come a long way. There’s always further to go, but each year, this is an incredible way of making a giant leap forward, helping re-create yourself, and your life, as who, and where, you want to be.
You can also perform tachlikh (תשליך ), the symbolic “casting off” of your sins, by throwing bits of paper that you’ve written what you wish to change, into a flowing body of water. In the end, your customs and practice are defined by your family tradition, sect of Judaism, and personal expression. However, this is a tradition, and worthy of mention.
How you choose to express your faith is a personal choice; as long as the meaning of the Holy Days is not lost, and you do your best to live in the Spirit of the Law by doing your individual part, in the way that your own life’s specific calling demands, that is enough.