Guest Columnist: Rosh Hashanah — a time to reflect for all


Most people view the concept of time as linear. The past is no longer, the present is now and the future is yet to be. While Einstein has mathematically proven that time is relative, there is yet an older and more spiritual viewpoint.
The Jewish model of time can be viewed like a spiral. While time is certainly moving forward, it progresses in a somewhat circular motion. Time moves ahead but it repeats through a known cycle of seasons. Each of these seasons has its own past spiritual history, and the customs and traditions surrounding it have deep meaning not only for remembering the past but for drawing meaning into our lives today. This is the reason why Jews do not celebrate their holidays using the modern Gregorian Calendar but remain committed to the ancient lunar calendar–to preserve this cycle of celebrating just as generations before them did in the same way, but more importantly, at the same time.
The significance of the Jewish holidays– and in particular Rosh Hashanah – offer us a signpost and a spiritual opportunity. A time of awareness of one’s own potential. The customs and traditions of the holiday underscore the meaning of the day. The blowing of the Ram’s Horn (Shofar), the blessing over a new fruit, or the dipping of the fruit in honey all are intended to help us connect with the meaning of the day. I will describe these customs a bit later. But they are traditions not only as a remembrance of a history or past but traditions that bring life and meaning into our lives today. Let me explain.

Juliette Guice ’17

The literal definition of Rosh Hashanah is “head of the year” (New Year). The day that mankind was created (Day 6 of Genesis). It is a day of reflection. A day of thanks. A day of prayer. A day we assess who we are and our connection to God’s will. But it is also known as the “Day of Judgment.” It is indeed considered one of the High Holy Days or the holiest spiritual days of the year.
Why is it a day of reflection and self-assessment?
Why is it a day in which it is believed to be a day that the righteous and the wicked are judged?
Why is it most revered among the many holidays on the Jewish calendar?
What is it on this day that in the spiral of time causes us to wonder about these things and how does it have significance to us today?
Much of what is similar and different in Christianity and Judaism can be traced to the fundamental beliefs in the relationship between God and man. So much of the shared heritage, the prophets and the revelations are common to both faiths and the values they inspire. It is the basis for the deep connection and respect between the faiths. But there are some differences.
In Jewish theology, man is believed to be born in the “image of God.” This is explained to mean that different than all creations during the first five days of creation, humans have the unique ability to exercise free will in regards to moral judgments. Man is not taught in the Jewish faith that he is born with sin but rather has the inclination to do either good and/or evil. It is the choice of the individual through God’s gift of “Free Will” to determine his or her own path. Salvation will come from these choices. Live a purposeful life in God’s image and bring praise or choose a different path. What is human in us is this choice of free agency.
So as we look to the questions asked earlier we can see some clear answers. Rosh Hashanah is a day for us to assess and reflect. How have we used this wonderful gift of choice? Have we given to others? Have we been kind? Have we lived a life of purpose? What have we done with the gift we received today of free will?
This in turn explains why it is referred to as the Day of Judgment. What is the outcome of our time of reflection? Can we do better? Can we seek forgiveness for misdeeds and improve the person we are today?
The Day of Judgment indeed is interchangeable with the idea of the day of creation of man because we need to evaluate what has become of the gift of choice that we were given on this day.  It is important to note that the assessment is not so much a question of record keeping of good deeds or sins and a scoring of the past. Indeed, it is quite the opposite. It is instead a question who we are today and what we want to be in the future.  So it is at Rosh Hashanah, the time that the year is new, when God gave us free choice, that we should take the time to think not about what we have already done but rather what we want to do; it’s a time to reflect not about where we have already been but instead where we really want to go with our lives.
So this brings us to the customs of Rosh Hashanah and their deeper meaning.
The blowing of the Rams Horn:
The ram was used to replace Isaac when Abraham demonstrated his loyalty and commitment to God. The sounding of the Ram’s horn ever since is intended to awaken our desire to come closer to God and yearn for meaning and fulfillment. It is also noteworthy that tradition has it that that event took place on Rosh Hashanah.
The selection of a new fruit (not eaten before or at least not eaten in the last year):
This is to symbolize the new start of the year. The past is behind and a fresh start is upon you.
The dipping in honey of the new fruit.
Demonstrates the wish and prayer for a sweeter and better year than the one that preceded it.
So let me close with sharing an ancient blessing of the high priests on Rosh Hashanah to all our friends and family at Sacred Heart.
יְבָרֶכְךָ יהוה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
ָאֵר יהוה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
יִשָּׂא יהוה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם
May the LORD bless you and guard you –
May the LORD make His face shed light upon you and be gracious unto you –
May the LORD lift up His face unto you and give you peace –
To all our friends at Sacred Heart we wish you a happy, healthy and purposeful New Year.
Mark Goldberg
-Mark Goldberg
Father of Juliette Guice ’17