Today, I am sitting in temple for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I’ll be thinking about the wrongs that I have committed this year and praying for forgiveness. I assume I have hurt people this year. I am pretty positive that I ticked someone off. Because sometimes I say stupid stuff. But I am working on it. Every year….
When I was a little girl, a Sunday School teacher told me that on Rosh Hashanah, G-d opened a big book that had everyone’s names in it, young and old.
My teacher explained how, each year, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, G-d decided who would live and who would die in the upcoming year. And how. By fire or by water; by plague or by earthquake. The list went on forever.
I remember imagining a really old, wrinkled guy in white robes sitting at a silver desk perched on top of clouds. In his smooth, shaky hand, he held a gold pen that he used to cross-out people’s names.
On The High Holy Days, I dressed in the fancy clothes that my mother had laid out for me and sat in temple all day with my family.
And as the adults chanted words in English and Hebrew, I played nervously with the knots on my father’s prayer shawl.
And I looked around and wondered who was not going to be there the next year.
Because it was a pretty scary idea: that G-d was making decisions all the time based on how we behaved.
(‘Cuz I wasn’t always the best little girl.)
But there was a lot more to that prayer: a part that I didn’t figure out until years later.
The prayer reads:
But Repentance, Prayer, and Charity avert the severe Decree! This is Your glory: You are slow to anger, ready to forgive. G-d, it is not the death of sinners You seek, but that they should turn from their ways and live.
Until the last day You wait for them, welcoming them as soon as they turn to You (314).
Those words are a gift.
They mean that if we really have open hearts and want to do right for all the messed up shizz we have done throughout the year, through prayer and acts of love and kindness, we can change a course previously set in motion.
Jews have ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to try to set things right.
And G-d is reasonable.
Like a good parent.
For example, when your kid messes up and you calmly explain: “Listen, I asked you to clean your room, but you ignored me. If you clean your room, take out the garbage, wash the dishes, and walk the dog, you can have your iPod back tomorrow.”
G-d is cool like that. G-d does not say:
You were bad so I’m putting you out of your house, buddy. Nothing you can do about it now, sucker!
Not at all.
G-d wants us to recognize and admit that we have goofed up during the year.
And we can fix these things.
We can apologize.
To have that chance, to be able to fix what has been broken, is something I take pretty seriously.
It is a scene that shows a little of what Yom Kippur is about.
For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the film, Yussel Rabinovitch, the son of an Orthodox cantor, decides to leave his religious tradition and follow his heart.
He leaves his synagogue and the expectations of his family to continue as a cantor. (Whaaat?)
He leaves his childhood sweetheart, Rivka. (Unheard of.)
He drives across country because he wants to sing popular music. Non-religious music. (He’s meshuganah.)
He changes his name, loses his Jewish identity, and becomes Jess Robin.
He meets another woman. (Oy.)
She’s not Jewish. (Double oy.)
They fall in love.
At some point, Jess is in New York and he runs into one of his father’s old friends who tells him that his father has been ill.
The doctors won’t let Cantor Rabinovitch sing on Yom Kippur due to his high blood pressure.
We learn that a Rabinovitch has always sung on Kol Nidre for — like — 912 generations. (Or at least 3.)
But Jess Robin humbly returns to his roots and becomes Yussel Rabinovitch for Yom Kippur.
Even though his father has declared him dead.
Even though he has been excommunicated.
He goes back to apologize the only way he can.
(Note: I start crying at 1:24.)
This is what we are supposed to do.
(No, not the singing thing!)
We are supposed to humble ourselves — to those we have hurt, to G-d — in that kind of honest way.
The High Holy Days give Jews a chance to reflect on the wrongs we’ve committed to those around us, to make amends for those wrongs, and face the new year with gratitude, and hope that we’ve been given a chance to start anew.
Bottom line: We have all sinned.
We are human.
This year, the fasting is over.
The table has been cleared.
What’s done is done.
The Book is closed.
I’ve done what I can.
I guess this is where the faith part comes in.
Now the trick is to be a better me in 5772.
Now listen to Babs sing and tell me what you feel when you hear her voice.
Stern, Chaim. Ed. Gates of Repentance: The New Union Prayerbook for the Days of Awe. 2. New York: Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1985. 313-4. Print.
© Renée Schuls-Jacobson 2011
Today, I am sitting in temple for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
I’ll be thinking about the wrongs that I have committed this year and praying for forgiveness.
I assume I have hurt people this year.
I am positive that I ticked someone off.
You know, for being too quick to speak.
And for that I am sorry.
Because sometimes I say stupid stuff.
And I am working on it.
I am working on being slower to act on impulse.
That is a tough nut to crack for me.
When I perceive an injustice, it is hard for me to shut up about it.
But sometimes, these are other people’s battles and not mine.
And sometimes the things we view as major problems are just obstacles to which we must adjust.
I’m learning that it is not my job to make everyone around me change.
I am trying to be more loving (and tolerant) towards the people who are the greatest blessings in my life. I need to thank the person who always takes my morning phone call; the person who dances with me on her driveway and brings me baskets of pears fresh off her trees; the family member, with whom I don’t seem to speak the same language, but I like to believe would be around for me if I ever really needed help.
I am trying to be more mindful of the sick. There are people around me who have been struggling, either physically or emotionally. Or both. Because, while writers may be willing to admit feelings of overwhelmedness in the blogging world, it is sometimes harder for people in real-life to share when they are melting-down. I am watching for signs, so I can be a more supportive friend.
There is a lot of symbolism regarding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
If you are interested in learning more, you can click HERE.
Tomorrow, I will wander down to the Erie Canal and drop little dried flower petals into the water as I speak my transgressions aloud.
That’s right, I will admit to all the things
that I have done wrong.
Because Jews are encouraged to make amends with anyone we have wronged and to make plans for improvement during the coming year, I will also bring a list of things with me: action steps — people to whom I need to apologize as well as thoughts on how I’d like to live my life differently in the next year, 5772.
I will say these words:
Who is like You, God, who removes iniquity and overlooks transgression of the remainder of His inheritance. He doesn’t remain angry forever because He desires kindness. He will return and He will be merciful to us. He will conquer our iniquities, and He will cast them into the depths of the seas.
From the straits I called upon God, and God answered me with expansiveness. God is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? God is with me to help me, and He will see my foes.
And then I will shake out my pockets, symbolically removing all the old stuff. The lint and the crud that accumulates in the littlest nooks and crannies, so I can start fresh.
Rosh Hashanah is all about making peace in the community and striving to be a better person.
So each year, I try to be a little bit better.
Later, I will come home to dip an apple in honey and wish my family a sweet year, filled with health and peace.
I wish the same for each of you.
Check out this happy video.
Now for a minute, pretend you are standing beside the water with me. What is one little thing that you would like to change about yourself to be a better person?
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