Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Rosh Hashana - The Book of Life

1 Tishrei 5766

"Life is a gift. You appeared. You had nothing to do with it whatsoever. God gave you self, gave you life, and gave you the world to live in. What are you going to do with that gift?" Millard Fuller, Founder of Habitat for Humanity

Let's face it, our world is a mess. Many of us lead troubled lives. Hard as we try, our anger, our greed, our fear often get the better of us. Evil and scandal and atrocious behavior have become commonplace, especially--and most dangerously--among our leaders.

Many of those leaders use the Christian Religion as a measure--and sometimes an excuse--for their actions. Their beliefs may appear genuine, but their conduct too often belies the most important tenets of their faith. Which is an offense to True Believers of all faiths who genuinely strive to use religion and spirituality to guide their everyday lives -- not their political agendas.

In honor of--and respect for--real True Believers, I'm going to step outside the time-space continuum of grounded logic to take a look at Rosh Hashana -- which is all about Belief. Remembrance. Reflection and Repentance. Forgiveness. Celebration of God. And determination to be a better person, worthy of The Book of Life.

Rosh Hashana is a Jewish holiday, but it holds life lessons and Universal Truths about faith and change and accountability for all of us.

Most people don't know that Rosh Hashana commemorates the 6th day of Creation -- the day God created man. It specifically refers to Adam and Eve, who were created, sinned, and were judged all on the same day. So while Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah as the New Year, we do it solemnly, because it marks not only creation, but free will, sin and judgment too.

In the Torah, the account of the creation of the first human beings states that Man was created, "in the image of God." Jewish tradition understands "the image of God" to mean that human beings possess free will. Our actions are not predetermined by any Divine, psychological or sociological forces; rather, we are free to choose and are thus responsible for the consequences of our actions. Shimon Apisdor, Jewish Literacy Foundation

The Jewish people have a long and tumultuous history of trial and triumph, bereavement and blessings, sorrow and salvation. We were free. We were slaves. We have been both prosperous and persecuted. Our pendulum swings regularly between peril and peace. On Rosh Hashana we take special care to review the history of our people and to pray for the safety of Israel.

We remember those lost in countless biblical battles and in modern ones as well. We pray for the millions slaughtered in the Holocaust. And in the quest for peace in the Middle East. Many add prayers for all who have lost their lives in every struggle of humanity over evil.

Reflection and Repentance
Rosh Hashana is a time for Jews to reflect on the past year, take stock of our lives, honestly evaluate how we behaved, whom we may have hurt, what wrongs--large and small--we've done and, if we have not improved, how we can resolve to do so. There are four steps to this process.

1. Leaving the Sin: If a sin is easy to prevent--like lying--and we do it anyway, the crime, and the punishment is much worse. If a sin demands real effort to overcome--like anger--we pledge to try harder. The idea is that we're human, and the daily sins we commit without thinking should be "left" first.

2. Regret and Remorse: We must be truly sorry for doing wrong and for any hurt we've caused others. It's not enough to resolve not to lie any more, for example -- we must be genuinely remorseful for having done it in the first place. "Refraining from transgressions without feeling bad about what one did is very far from repentance." Rabbeinu Yona

3. Confessing Our Sins: We should actually verbalize our sins -- not to another person, but to God. A remarkable spiritual woman I met in Israel who gives fascinating classes for women about religion, life and themselves, put it this way, "It's not important how you do it or how busy you are, you can just take a minute, sit at the table, put your head down and talk quietly to God. Or talk to him even when you're walking down the street, cooking, cleaning, waiting for a bus, any time at all. If you have something to say, He will listen."

4. Make a Commitment: Recognizing our wrongdoings, repenting, even confessing isn't the end. We must make a sincere commitment to try harder. To find our inner strengths and overcome our weaknesses. To recognize our virtues and accept our place in the world as human beings. If we realize our potential and self worth, we can better appreciate our lives and plan our goals for the coming year.
Rosh Hashana is Judgment Day. Both society and each individual are judged solely for the past year. This is seen as a kindness. It allows us to review and repent our sins in a manageable time frame so they don't amass over many years and overwhelm us and the world.

The ultimate gift of Rosh Hashana is to ask for, and receive forgiveness for our sins. To try honorably to right our wrongs and become better for the effort. In the real world, we know how meaningful a genuine apology can be -- even more so when it's accepted, and we are forgiven. In the spiritual realm, forgiveness from God for our sins means our names will be added to the Book of Life for the coming year.

One God
"May you be inscribed in the Book of Life."
This is a blessing all Jews wish each other on Rosh Hashana. We believe that on Rosh Hashana God records the destiny of all mankind in the Book of Life. Rosh Hashana begins the Ten Days of Repentance, the holiest time of all. We look deep into our own souls, review our lives--the good and the bad--make personal vows to God to be better human beings, and if we're sincere, are given the opportunity to start over with a clean spiritual slate.

On Yom Kippur--the Day of Atonment--the Book is closed and sealed for the year. Those who have acknowledged their sins and asked forgiveness are granted a happy, healthy, prosperous New Year.

This year, (2005-2006/5766) Rosh Hashanah begins on Monday evening, October 3, 2005, and continues through Wednesday night, October 5, 2005. To all, L'Shana Tova.

High Holy Days on the Net - The Jewish Holiday of Rosh Hashanah
Rosh Hashanah - The Jewish New Year - Torah.org
Judaism 101: Rosh Hashanah



Blogger David Goldenberg said...

Very nicely done, Sally. Thanks.

1:35 AM  

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