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Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
On September 17th and 18th this year Jewish people around the world will celebrate the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. The word Rosh Hashanah does not mean “new year,” it literally means in Hebrew, “The head of the year.”
Our head is the limb that controls our body and which contains our brains, our faces, our sensory apparatuses; -our head in many ways is us. We can live without an arm but not without a head.
Just as not all body parts are the same, not all times are the same. The Jewish mystics write of the first week of the Jewish year, the week between Rosh Hashanah the New Year and Yom Kippur the Day of Atonement as a time that is potent, a time that conditions and influences the rest of the year as the head does the body. It looks as if our arm is moving, our ears hearing, our eyes seeing, and on one level they are, but in truth all of that happens in the brain. So it is with Rosh Hashanah, the “head” of the coming year.
Many Jewish people will attend synagogue, will connect to religious life only once or twice this year, on Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, and ten days latter on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (at-one-ment). Is this hypocrisy? Are they treating God as a giant Coke machine in the sky, trying to hedge their bets so if they have a bad year they do not feel they are to blame? If we are more “religious” on these days of beginning, of atonement, of judgment are we hypocrites trying to pull the wool over Divine eyes?
A high school rabbi of mine once compared the New Year to gestation. Though a woman might drink alcohol, and it might not, with moderation, adversely affect her health, that same woman when pregnant might not touch the stuff. Why? A baby in utero is more sensitive to things precisely because it is in the process of formation; so too the New Year. During this time of the Jewish New Year the year is in utero, what we do now may indeed set in motion the year. Perhaps this is the hope, that by connecting at a sensitive time, a time when the spiritual doors are open our entire year will be a holier and more meaningful one. Blessings for a Shanah Tovah, a good New Year.