What Rosh Hashanah means to me
This reflection on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur comes by way of Akiba Lerner, from the SCU Religious Studies Faculty:
Rosh Hashanah [literally translated from the Hebrew to mean "head of the year" or "first of the year"] is a time for gathering together with friends, family, and community in order to reflect on the past year and think about moving forward into the next year. Traditionally, Jews gather together across the world for a time of solidarity and individual reflection. Rosh Hashanah is both a celebration of a new year, but also a celebration of the world’s birthday. The desire to celebrate the creation of the world at the same time that we celebrate the new year is one way to symbolically affirm the idea that the world is created with a purpose, and we are somehow a part of that larger drama. Part of the personal reflection that goes on during Rosh Hashanah—and the ten days of personal accounting required between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur [Judaism’s holiest day of atonement]—is to rediscover what that purpose is for ourselves. In the period of reflection from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur it is also traditional to use this time to think about how we may have missed the mark as either individuals or as people, and how we might want to improve our relationships with those around us. Rosh Hashanah is a moment for renewing and rededicating our selves to that which gives us a sense of ultimate meaning, a rededication to what gives our lives ultimate hope, and a rededication to serving others by standing up for justice in the world. We find our purpose in our ability to spread love, compassion, and justice to those around us. During the course of the year it is easy to become distracted from these deeper truths, so Rosh Hashanah for me has always been a celebratory time, but also a challenging time, to embrace new beginnings and a commitment to work on improving how I relate to other people. Rosh Hashanah is also a moment of hearing the shofar [a ram’s horn blown like a trumpet during the service]. This sound heralds a moment of unity, return, and hope. A return to one’s true self, a shattering of illusion and alienation, a call to help others and pursue justice. So, even if this is not your tradition, the beginning of Jewish new year, the beginning of the academic year, is a great time to take some time out from the hectic pace of modern life, turn off the phone, find a quite place for contemplation and reverence, and think about how you might want to go about rededicating yourself to the things that matter most.