September is the month of new beginnings.  Back to work, back to school. Starting over. In Judaism, September brings The Jewish New Year, and this is the year 5774.

Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, the anniversary of creation, is the beginning of the Days of Awe,  days of reflection; days that provoke anxiety, a sense of trepidation and humility, soul-searching, and days of judgement and pardon. It is a time to rethink our place in the family, community, the universe.

We seek forgiveness from others and then of ourselves, and only then from God. We reflect on the past, rethinking our choices.Would we respond differently to the same choices in the future? It is an opportunity for Teshuva, to return, to repent, to begin again.

We remember.   We are our memories. We define ourselves by our memories, our stories. We have been blessed with a great gift that enables us to rethink our memories, redefine them so that we can remove anger, hurt, and disappointment and replace those memories with an acceptance of our imperfections and the ability to accept the imperfections of others so that we can begin again, renewed with hope.

The Jewish New Year is  a time of an abundance of rituals and symbols that enable us to concretize the ephemeral and experience the illimitable God through all our senses.We internalize the meaning of the holiday with a variety of foods. Food for thought and thought for food. It is a time to “eat the book.”A round challah that symbolizes the cycle of life has pride of place at the head of the table. And we dip pieces of bread, as well as apples from the fall harvest, into honey in the hope of a sweet year. This ritual reminds me of children entering school for the first time and the ritual of eating bread shaped in the letters of the alphabet that’s been dipped into honey to internalize the sweetness of learning. In Judaism we have learned that first comes teaching the mind, then comes touching the soul.

I recently read about the food customs of Sephardic Jews that were new to me: eating a bowl of pomegranates sprinkled with orange-flower water so that our virtues will be as numerous as the pomegranate seeds. I like that .But, the one I like best is eating a whole fish: like the fish, may we always have our eyes open, be on the look-out and flourish in great number.

And Rosh Hashana is the time to cast our sins into the depths of the sea.  Off to a lake, a river, an ocean, together in community. We cast bread upon the water. As we watch the bread flow away from us we cast away, we let go of our hurt, pain, anger and sorrow so that we are no longer held hostage by negative emotions that have a habit of discolouring all that is before us.

In the synagogue we listen to the blowing of the Shofar, to remind us of the story of the Akeda, the binding of Isaac and the ram that was sacrificed in his stead. It is the sounding of the Shofar that transports us back to Mount Sinai at the moment when the ‘trumpet blast grew louder and louder” and God revealed Himself to us through His words. It is the sound of the Shofar, the wailing, piercing, mournful sound of the Shofar that calls to us, that awakens us to the holiness of the coming days, a time of awe, a call to repentance.It is the time to heed the call to an ethical rebirth as well as a spiritual one.

I’m not sure if the call is coming from God to us exhorting us to transform, or is it rather a call from deep within our souls to God to once again shine a light on the path and embrace us with His love.

There are different sounds of the Shofar; short quivering notes and the long and mournful. The short quivering notes represent God’s justice while the long mournful ones symbolize mercy. Maimonides taught us that the notes of mercy bracket the sounds of justice to remind us that God’s justice is always surrounded and tempered by mercy.   The call of the Shofar is a call to us to remember to be just and merciful and walk humbly in God’s ways.

It is the beginning of a New Year; school and work.It is a time to refocus energy. It is a time for ethical and spiritual renewal and a time to remember what is most important, most precious in our lives.

May peace flower in the Middle East; May Israel continue to thrive as a beacon of light unto the nations.

May this New Year be filled with sweetness for all of our people.

Shana Tova, Chaverim