Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and the Day of Judgment, is upon us. And it's kind of a funny day. No, being judged for the year is not so funny, but if you look at our customs for the day, you've got to wonder what's going on; we have these huge festive meals on the Day of Judgment.
Yes, we're Jews -- we use any excuse we can come up with to eat. But it's Judgment Day! What's with the five-course meals? And you would think on Judgment Day we're going to have a real heart-to-heart conversation with our Creator about all the things we've done wrong and how we're going to change this year. I dare you to go look for that in the prayer book. You won't find it. It's actually forbidden to talk about our sins on Rosh Hashanah. What's up with that? Are we trying to pull a fast one on the Almighty as if it never happened? And what's with the shofar blast? It's a cry? A coronation? What's the connection?
Rosh Hashanah is commemorating creation. Actually, no Jewish holiday is just a "commemoration." They are actually reenactments (most notably the Passover seder). Rosh Hashanah is a reenactment of creation. Here's a quick Jewish trivia question for you: True or false? Rosh Hashanah celebrates the creation of the world.
Rosh Hashanah is actually the sixth day of creation which is the day Man and Woman were created. So technically, false. If every Jewish holiday is a reenactment then it follows that we are annually recreating ourselves on this Day of Judgment. And it's an opportunity we don't want to miss.
So back to the lavish meals, the shofar and not mentioning sin. The reasons all related to the question of how does a person truly change, or in context, truly create? Do we change by focusing on the past and wallowing in the pain of our mistakes? Will that inspire us to become better people? No. In fact, this actually prevents us from changing. So Rosh Hashanah is a setup for success. There's no mention of past errors.
We don't successfully change by changing our behaviors. We can't. Rather, we have to change ourselves first. Then we can change our behaviors.
I heard this beautiful idea recently from a friend, Charlie Harary. He explained that people think the way to change is to start with your behaviors and eventually you will become a new person. But it's the other way around.
If I decide I want to be more patient with my children, I have to perceive myself as a patient person. Only then can I begin to structure my behaviors in a more patient way. Otherwise, if I still see myself as an impatient person trying to fake patience, it won't work (just a hypothetical example …). If I decide to be more kind, I have to take on that quality as a part of my essence or my kind behavior will conflict with my unkind core.
To change the self-perceptions that will lead to behavior change, we have to stop beating our core up. Every time we smack ourselves for something wrong we've done, we're in essence saying to ourselves, "You are such a bad person! You always do X, Y, & Z!" And we believe it. So on Rosh Hashanah, the day of recreating ourselves, there's no beating up on ourselves.
Secondly, when we accomplish something great we celebrate. It helps concretize the accomplishment. And what greater accomplishment is there in the world beyond changing one's core? If we're really tapping into our inner greatness and potential, there's nothing worth celebrating more than that. Big festive meals are quite apropos on such an occasion.
Ultimately, we are confronted with the overwhelming question of whether a person can truly change; not just our behaviors, but our true selves. I believe we can, by believing we can and by putting every ounce of existence into this effort. That's what the cry of the shofar is about. It's not a mournful cry, but a cry of passion and core strength. It's the age-old cry of our people for thousands of years striving to change and become the greatest Jewish man or woman they could be. It is our own cry for this wish. It is the cry of our ancestors all the way through to our great-grandparents and into us. The shofar ignites the strength inside us, allowing us to reach our soul's strength to truly change. Then, the blast becomes a coronation. It's a coronation for a new reality. It's the new way we see the world as our new selves.
I would like to personally invite you to join me on Rosh Hashanah at the CTN Rosh Hashanah Experience as we discuss the idea of recreating ourselves along with many other beautiful High Holiday insights together on these upcoming beautiful Days of Awe. A happy beautiful new year of true change and creation for all!