For years, I considered Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) to be nothing more than an excuse to skip school and snack on honey-drenched apples. Luckily, I began writing for a mediocre sitcom in which I met an Israeli camera operator who had a deep understanding of the Hebrew calendar. I began to view the Jewish holidays not as obligatory family time, but as energetic openings in the cosmos- opportunities to elevate and grow as an individual.
The month leading up to Rosh Hashanah is known as “Elul.” According to ancient texts, it is a month in which we are given a unique energy that helps us identify our shortcomings and negative patterns of behavior. This is a critical time to begin conducting a spiritual inventory in order to cleanse ourselves and plant new positive seeds for the upcoming year. There are three primary tools to purify our souls:
1. Teshuva: Repentance, or more specifically a “return” to G-d - and by G-d, I mean our true selves, the original soul who is not bogged down by pain, expectations of others or the hunger for money and glory.
2. Tefillah: Prayer
3. Tzedakah: Charity
Since prayer and charity are relatively self-explanatory, I will focus on the principle of teshuva. Looking within and engaging in heavy introspection can be daunting but incredibly powerful. In what ways can I become a more productive, positive person in my personal, communal and spiritual life? Am I quick to anger? Do I procrastinate? Are my actions aligned with my values? This is not about feeling guilty for the past year’s mistakes, but a time to understand how we can improve and live up to our fullest potential.
A great way to really dig within is to ask your close friends what they think you need to work on. It is often far easier to see the flaws of others. Make sure to ask people who care for you deeply and know you well.
We come into Rosh Hashanah knowing we want to reset ourselves, and have a chance to drop the baggage of the past year and start fresh. It is a time for renewal and a shift in perspective. It’s like reformatting the hard drive of your computer. Erasing all the spyware, viruses, and nonsense that have accrued throughout the year. Then when you turn it back on, it springs back to life, operates faster and more efficiently again. They say the whole world goes back to this moment of creation on Rosh Hashanah.
The shofar is blasted 100 times in most synagogues. These blasts represent a cry from our neshama (higher soul), communicating with the upper worlds. This is a way to acknowledge all of our bad deeds from the past year and ask the supernal realm for forgiveness and mercy. Intention is everything, even if your Hebrew is not perfect and you are not a Talmudic scholar, remember that the point of religion and spirituality are to become better people who treat others with human dignity and loving kindness.