Don’t Stay Stuck This Rosh HaShana, Honey

I once asked a friend of mine, a therapist, what the biggest problem she encountered with her patients was. She answered swiftly. “They stay stuck. They get to a certain point of self-awareness but then cannot move forward.”

I think about this as I try to prepare myself for Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year. In the secular world, New Year’s is party time, although a few weight-loss resolutions have become de rigueur.  But there are no funny hats or champagne on Rosh HaShana. It’s a serious holiday that launches the Ten Days of Repentance. These are days when we are supposed to take an honest inventory of our goals, our behavior, our inner core. We are supposed to ask forgiveness from those whom we may have wronged, and resolve to stop negative or sinful activities that deep down we know are hurting us. The Ten Days of Repentance culminate in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

But isn’t this backwards? Shouldn’t we atone, assess and apologize first, and then celebrate our New Year’s with a clean slate? Even more strangely there is no mention of our transgressions, no confessionals at all, in the Rosh HaShana liturgy, even though we understand that God is deciding our fate for the coming year: Who will live and who will die; who will live in health or illness, peace or distress, material comfort or material need. Some New Year! 

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom has a great answer to the question about these holidays seemingly being out of order: “To mend the past, first you have to secure the future.” 

Rabbi Sacks observes that he had long wondered how Holocaust survivors were able to rebuild their lives, given the horrors they endured. He also notes that most of them did not, could not, talk about their experiences for decades, if they ever did at all. Instead, they looked forward. They refused to be paralyzed by grief. They redeemed the past by building the future. 

Rosh HaShana offers us all the opportunity, even the obligation, to think about what really matters in our lives, to change course if need be, and build a more meaningful tomorrow. On Rosh HaShana we use our freedom of choice to affirm that God is our Father and King, and wants the best for us. It is a day that invites us to move on from yesterday’s mistakes. It’s a chance to get unstuck. 

The Hebrew language is one that offers deep insights into God’s blueprint for humankind. One example: the Hebrew word for transgression or sin is “aveyra.” The root of that word is “avar,” which means “past.” God’s language tells us that He is giving us the benefit of the doubt, and that the wrongs we have done are just so yesterday. They do not define us today or who we aspire to be tomorrow.

We dip apples and challah in honey on Rosh HaShana, symbolic of the sweet year we pray will come. May the New Year bring sweetness and peace to each and every one of us.

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