I have fond memories of this time of year. New school shoes were still fresh and clean, my empty notebooks promised endless potential. Walking to school the air was getting cooler and smells of fall surfed through the streets. Starting school was exciting and I knew I would get a short break when Rosh Hashanah rolled around.
As a child, Rosh Hashanah meant a new dress, stockings, shiny shoes. Rosh Hashanah meant honey cake, apple desserts, and people at synagogue who said ‘wow, you have gotten so big’. I can still recall the feeling of wading knee-high in a sea of people gathered outside of synagogue. Even if I was lost, I was safe, these were my people, my tribe. I was a drop in this ocean and together we were strong.
Nowadays, living far from my hometown, my associations have more layers. I know the New Year is coming because my daughters spend more time wandering the Judean Hills and filling baskets with wild figs and grapes. Days before Rosh Hashanah, they will come home with ruby red pomegranates plucked right off the tree.
This week, my kitchen was a juice factory. My girls have been out with friends gathering grapes. Yesterday alone they washed, crushed, strained, and bottled more than ten bottles of organic juice. As my freezer fills up with bottles and my belly fills up with figs, I know that Rosh Hashanah is on its way.
I still love this season, but it is amazing how everything in life can just become ‘something you do’ instead of a conscious act. Rosh Hashanah can easily just become another time to pass, more tasks, more meals to make, another time to go to shul. As the years keep rolling and I educate my kids I am working hard to stay conscious of what these holidays really mean.
So what does it mean? The Jewish calendar is set up to keep us aware of our lives. Every holiday has the potential to be a point of connection, a moment to step back and say, ‘Hey who am I? Am I letting myself get stuck in the day to day and letting life pass me by? Or am I constantly making real decisions that help me reach my potential in this world?’ Unfortunately the Jewish holidays can be turned into a ton of other things that take the focus away from this more profound place. It is our responsibility; those of us who are striving for that level, to make it real for ourselves regardless of what is going on around us. This is not easy.
Elul the entire month leading up to Rosh Hashanah is this time of pondering and beginning to implement changes within ourselves, taking time to be honest with ourselves so that by Rosh Hashanah we are able to tap into our potential for the next year. We all know that we have an ultimate potential in this world and we also have short-term potential that allows us to reach our larger goals.
There is an idea that everything in the world exists on multiple levels at any given time. Whatever the dominant energy of any given day is pervades everything else; whether or not we are aware of it. Rosh Hashanah is the day on which man was created. An energy of ‘newness’ and ultimate potential is so deeply embedded in this day that, if we are able to tap into it, it becomes a great source of strength for us in renewing and implementing change within ourselves.
So, now is the time to check in: Who are you? Who were you last year at this time? Are you further or closer to the person that you want to be? What are things, real practical steps, that you can do this year to help ensure that next year at this time you will be closer to who you want to become? Have you hurt people this year? Are you brave enough to tell them you are sorry? Are you strong enough to work hard to not hurt them the same way in the future? Look at where you have been, where you are going, and where you want to go. Determine what work you need to do this year to get closer to actualizing your desires.
This is a time for making a real cheshbon (accounting) of your life and starting to take more control of things. It is an opportunity to stop believing that you are only who you are now, and to realize that you can become whoever it is that you could be. It is a time to forget about the world and remember G!d. A time to know that if your inner voice is calling you to do something, or you feel somewhere within you driven, there is a reason. All the things you desire are possible. It is your responsibility to figure out who you are at your essence and to create a space for your true self to flourish in this world.
So this can be hard when you are going to shul in a place where no one is thinking about these things. It can be hard if you are going to a shul where some people are thinking about these things. Even if you go to a shul where everyone is thinking about these things, it can just be and most likely is very hard — and so we have the shofar. The shofar has the ability to be the reality check within the reality check (because even in the middle of a reality check, we can get lost in the minutiae).
So you are standing in shul where some people are there to make an appearance and others are there so they don’t upset their family and others are there because they have a sense of obligation and others are there to pray and others are there to socialize and others are there because that is what you do on Rosh Hashanah — I think you get the point. Amidst all of this chaotic energy, how do you keep it real??
The shofar breaks through and reminds you to keep it real. The shofar is the cry, the deepest yearning, the vulnerable place that we are afraid to go, or don’t know how to get to or don’t know how to express. It is the sound of the deepest place within each of us and when we hear the shofar blasts even the most complacent among us stop in a moment of awe (or at least a moment of silence). The shofar is the wake-up call. It is the moment where you can allow your inner voice to be aroused and fully expressed via the crying of the shofar.
The shofar is screaming out to the part of you that feels confident in who you are, the part of you that can so easily drown when dealing with the ‘practical’ world. The shofar blasts say, ‘I know you are in there….and I know you want to thrive! Take a stand! Don’t be scared! Start making changes and eventually your strengths will be greater than your fears!’
Next year, when you hear the shofar blast again, it will sound less foreign. Your masks will be thinner and your inner self will be stronger.
I bless you that you have time this year to really check in with yourself. To be open and have the ability to hear what your inner voice is telling you. You should be able to stand strong amidst others who maybe can’t tap into the potential of the day or don’t even know that it exists, and you should grow. Every day you should grow closer to who it is that you are meant to become.