The Meaning of Rosh Hashanah

rosh hashanah

by Karolyn Benger

The Jewish new year Rosh Hashanah has just passed and  I’ve been asked to write about its meaning…and the panic immediately set in.

I have nothing to say.

We eat apples dipped in honey in the hopes of having a sweet new year.

We go to synagogue and pray endlessly for hours hoping to be “sealed” in the book of life.

We listen to the shofar (a hollowed ram’s horn) to awaken our soul to repent.

These rituals — and there are many more — have historical significance and meaning and yet lately they do not speak to me.

Perhaps it is because it has been many years since I’ve been able to attend synagogue.  As the mother of small children I cannot participate in a service where children are typically unwelcome– unless they are still and silent.

My holidays have been spent changing diapers, running around a playground or our living room couch.

Perhaps it is because, as the wife of a Rabbi, I am expected to host many people.

Whatever the reason, for me Rosh Hashanah has become a marathon of cooking and preparing for the endless meals that mark most Jewish holidays.  I begin weeks in advance, the menu is planned, the grocery shopping ensues, and mass amounts of food are cooked and frozen.  I fill a full size freezer.

I get tense and I get moving.

And somehow I think the meaning of Rosh Hashanah can be found within this hectic preparation.

On Rosh Hashanah we are aware that God is judging us.  But God is truly judging us every moment of every day.  It is only on Rosh Hashanah that we, as a people pause to reflect on this phenomenon.

But life is not made up of quiet moments of reflection and meditation.  Within moments of peace and tranquility it is easy to be kind, forgiving, and generous.

Life is hectic, hassled, and riddled with tension.

It is how we respond to these stresses and how we interact with others during these moments of tension that determines what kind of a person we are.  What kind of a person we want our children to see us being.

Do we get short tempered?  Do we shout?  Or do we still find the patience to smile and say please and thank you?

We may not get it right every time but I think that Rosh Hashanah is the reminder to try.