Rosh Hashanah is not only the Jewish New Year (celebratory), but it is also a time of teshuva (deep reflection and repentance) for Jewish people around the world. What have we done this past year and so far with our lives? Are we doing good or are we, G-d forbid, off track? Where can we do better, and where are we going in the future with the time we have left?
Stop The Van
Recently, I was behind a van that was heading into the garage. The van was tall—too tall to fit the clearance of the garage ceiling. As the van heads down the ramp into the garage, the driver is clearly not paying attention to where they are going or the signs that have the height clearance for entrance. As it approaches the entranceway, which is hanging down in front of the approaching van, the car does not slow down. Watching from right behind, I can see that the top of the van is about to come crashing into the overhang or even be sliced right off (i.e., like driving off the proverbial cliff). Then all of a sudden, the driver seems to awaken from their stupor, and about an inch or two before the deadly collision, the van stops abruptly, and the driver jumps out to inspect the overhang. I see the driver looking at it from this angle and then another angle, sizing it up, and shaking their head. They got back in the van and now proceeded to have to back all the way up the ramp and out of the driveway, which then took considerable time and patience for them to navigate.
Wow, what a great analogy for Rosh Hashanah!
How often do we proceed down the road of life in our daily stupor, not paying attention to the warning signs that are flashing red, telling us that we are off track and are about to do something that will devastate our lives? But what do we do? We ignore the signs—the signs of ego, materialism, and addiction; the signs of living without gratitude for everything that we have and for G-d who provides for us; the signs of making bad choices for today and not planning for tomorrow. And others standing nearby may see us going astray and be yelling from the sidelines to stop, reevaluate, and change course, but what do we do? We just keep going, perhaps until it’s too late and the consequences of our actions catch up to us. Then, with G-d’s help, we seem to miraculously get out of our mind-numbing state of just driving along the road of life and materialism, and we stop, get out, and hopefully see our situation for what it really is.
Rosh Hashanah is the annual wake-up call for us to stop, get out of the car, actually see what we are doing and where we are going, and course correct while we still can in our lives. G-d gives us 60, 70, 80, maybe 90 years of chances to take stock of: how we use our precious time in this world; our relationships with our loved ones; and the thoughts, words, and deeds that we evoke for good or, G-d forbid, otherwise. Rosh Hashanah is a blessing for us to back the car out of danger and get us on the road to success if we but take the opportunity, which, G-d willing, we will all do.
Making Consequential Life Choices
Interestingly, this last week, I was talking to someone with a very Jewish last name who in the past wished me happy Jewish holidays, so this time, I took the opportunity to wish them a happy Jewish New Year. But I didn’t get the smile reaction or well wishes back as I expected. Instead, the person goes, “Huh, is that this week?” For me, excited and looking forward to the High Holidays, I smiled wide and, trying again, said, “Yes, enjoy the wonderful apple and honey for a sweet New Year.” To this came the reply, “Oh, we used to make hamantaschen!” Now, it was my turn to be like what, and I said, “Um, that’s for Purim.” To which the lady responded, “Oh, can’t you tell, my husband is the Jewish one?”
This brief encounter really hit me in the face, as I contemplated not only who I am as a Jewish person but who we are becoming as a Jewish people. In perspective, do all of us even know it’s the High Holidays? Do we find our way with our families to synagogue, prayer, and repentance, or are we so far removed that Rosh Hashanah is confused for Purim?
So the question is: Are we choosing G-d in our lives, or are we continuously distancing ourselves from Him?
I remember learning as a teen in yeshiva regarding G-d’s revelation of the Torah to us:
How odd of G-d to choose the Jews! It’s not so odd because the Jews choose G-d!
Listen, it’s a choice: we can choose self or G-d. Some may think that we’re so smart, good-looking, wealthy, and powerful that we don’t need G-d anymore, and some even question if He exists. But many have been down this tortuous road before, and eventually, as we all come to know, there is a day of reckoning for us all, whether it is Rosh Hashanah and the inscription in G-d’s book for the New Year or at the end of our days, when we go before our Maker for our final judgment.
None of this is really new, especially looking at the recent history of the 18th and 19th centuries, when we saw a wave of liberation and nationalism sweep across Europe and America, from the French and American revolutions in the west to the rise of socialism in the east. Along with this came the opportunity for Jews to break the cycle of repression, discrimination, and persecution. Some saw this erroneously as an opportunity to distance themselves physically from Jewish communal life (e.g., the Pale and other communities) and spiritually from Jewish tradition, secularizing and assimilating to try and be and live like everyone else and hoping then to no longer suffer distinctly as Jews. However, history has taught us repeatedly that the more we try to run from being Jews and from G-d, like in the story of Jonah and the Whale (which we read on Yom Kippur), the more we are pursued and brought back to our G-d-designated place and mission in this world. Everyone from the Cossacks to the Nazis taught us that!
Now, in modern times, thank G-d, we have been able to witness a distinct Jewish spiritual revival for many along with the zeal of Zionism (Jewish nationalism) that has brought us back from the dead bones of Auschwitz and returned our people on wings of eagles to the Holy Land for the third Temple. Fortunately, once again this Rosh Hashanah, we are given yet another chance to view our lives in perspective, reorient with the intent of the Almighty, make meaningful changes, and, as a people, be a light unto nations.