Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), which begins on Wednesday evening at sunset, and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) next Friday night are the holiest days in the Jewish calendar. During these ten days of awe, we Jews celebrate the New Year, but also reflect on past misdeeds and resolve to do better.
While positive resolutions to do better are commendable, the process of Teshuvah (repentance) is not based on the human emotional need for improvement. It is the realization that our purpose in this world is to serve a higher being to the best of our abilities. Walking in Teshuvah means humbly acknowledging our weaknesses and sin, as we turn back to goodness, back to God.
On Rosh Hashanah, we recognize that change is not only necessary, but possible. Listen to the U'Netaneh Tokef, one of the only prayers recited on both Rosh Ha’Shana as well as Yom Kippur, and the best known prayer after Kol Nidrei:
"Let us now relate the power of this day's holiness, for it is awesome and frightening. On it Your Kingship will be exalted; Your throne will be firmed with kindness and You will sit upon it in truth. It is true that You alone are the One Who judges, proves, knows, and bears witness….”
In the Jewish tradition we perceive repentance as not only regret for past failings, but a deep commitment to make things right going forward. We understand prayer as lifting our voices high and, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught, "praying with our feet" by getting involved in helping those in need.
This September 28th at sundown Jewish communities around the world will begin our celebration of Rosh Hashanah, a new year and the start of ten "Days of Awe," a period of reflection on the past year and a declaration of our hopes for the year ahead, concluding with the fast of Yom Kippur.
May you know the strength of a living relationship with a loving God for a Blessed New Year.