The bad news on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is that each of us has moved one year closer to the end of our lives.
The good news is that there is still time.
For many, Rosh Hashanah can be a confusing time. For those outside the Jewish faith, there is often wonder why Jews take this time of year so seriously. On Rosh Hashanah, work mates are not at work and children are absent from school. For Jews, there is often so much time spent preparing family gatherings that it is easy to forget about the true meaning of this season.
Rosh Hashanah is a time to assess.
For 10 days, between Rosh Hashanah and the fast day of Yom Kippur we attempt to consider the finality of our lives. What is it we need to change? Is there a grudge we are holding onto? Is there someone we have been “keeping score” on? Why is it within a family battle, or even a political discussion, we need to be declared the winner? What is it that God intended us to do on this earth – and how much of our time are we wasting on vanity, pettiness and the pursuit of physical satisfaction?
There is room within Judaism for all of us. Good food, vacations, the company of family and friends, new clothes and bodily pleasure. But is that all there is?
Tradition tells us that God created the physical world during the six phases of creation. But the one aspect of life, which remains incomplete, involves relationships between us. Indeed, the first four or five commandments of the Torah deal with our relationship with God, but the second five relate to how we as humans get along. We should not covet, nor bear false witness, negatively engage with others, steal or otherwise cause pain.
There is so much work that needs to be accomplished to help God complete spiritual perfection on this earth. The great sage, the Vilna Gaon, wrote that the purpose of life “is to make ourselves into something better. There is no one on this earth exactly like you. Are you doing what you are destined to do, or have we been indulging too much in distractions?
Is it time to call someone we’ve been at odds with and say “Shanah Tovah – Happy New Year. I wish you a good year, and I hope we can be happier together in the year to come.”
That one outreach can indeed change the world.
What will be our final regrets as we complete our lives? Have we done what we were destined to do? The Jewish New Year is indeed about thoughts and hopes of sweetness as we dip apples into honey. But ultimately, as we ponder who will be written into the Book of Life, we may consider the possibility that God is actually handing us blank pages.
What new words will we choose to write on those blank pages or will be submit to the “same old same old?” In the words of author Courtenay C. Stevens, “If nothing changes, nothing changes . . . You want change, make some.” It’s something to consider prepare to ponder our inscriptions into the book of life, health and prosperity for the year ahead.
Indeed, so much of it is up to us.