A Rosh Hashanah Message: A Prayer and Reflection for a Sweet New Year

“Ha-yom harat olam, ha-yom ya-amid ba-mishpat…
Today the world stands at birth, today all creation is called to judgment.”

– Rosh Hashanah Liturgy

“The blasts of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah revitalize the soul and mind of every Jew. Each one receives a new soul and a new level of understanding, all according to their own level. This new soul and vision are drawn from the inner countenance of God.”

– Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav (1772-1810)

As the final hours of the Jewish year 5780 wane, the words of an old Hebrew folksong play in my head: Ha-yamim cholfim, shana overet, aval ha-mangina tamid nisheret – The days are flying by, the year is passing, but the melody remains with us forever. In this most unusual year, when nothing is quite as it should be, life and its rhythm is still moving forward. The seasons are changing and with those changes, our everyday moments and our sacred days remain. Our song continues – the question is how will we choose to sing it?

Now, in the midst of the chaos of these days, we have arrived at our New Year. Last week, I posed some questions to ask ourselves to prepare for the kind of holiday we hoped to have. And now, how do we actualize these ideas to make this sacred day meaningful? I am sure you have many of your own, but here are a few ideas to consider as you prepare for the holiday which arrives this evening at sundown:

  • Take a few moments today for yourself to mentally prepare – Jot down a few notes: Add a prayer in for a loved one or work on a character trait for yourself.
  • Create a mood/Makom Tefilah (Place of Prayer) in your home – Choose a nice spot with the right “vibe,” get dressed up, find some music to set the stage.
  • Cooking or enjoying holiday foods – You may wish to include others who are not with you, as we mentioned last week, so you can prepare or eat “together.”
  • Online worship opportunities – Both locally and out of the area, so many options!

Indeed, nothing is ordinary this year, but perhaps, we can embrace this and use it to our advantage to create something truly special. This year, since Rosh Hashanah and the Sabbath coincide, many Jews will not hear the blowing of the shofar, the central ritual of the holiday, even virtually, as the shofar is generally not blown on Shabbat. But the truth is, this holiday lends itself to symbolism, including the symbolic foods we eat like apples and honey for a sweet new year – and in our family, the pomegranate cut in half we put in the center of our table to represent plenty and goodness. So why not the idea of getting in touch with the inner shofar in our lives, since we may not be able to connect with the actual one? Perhaps, a breathing exercise to set an intention around repentance – inhale what you wish to bring into your life and exhale what you would like to let go of this year. You can even mimic the tones of the actual shofar blowing – Tekiah (one breath in and out); Shevarim (3 breaths in and out); T’ruah (7 quick breaths and 7 exhale bursts); and Tekiah G’dolah (one final deep breath and a long exhale out emptying your lungs). Thus, you can embody the primal sounds of the shofar itself.

Yet, there is one High Holiday ritual we can still try and observe together. If you can, join us for an informal, socially distanced Tashlich opportunity this Sunday at Leadbetter Beach (details below). This beautiful tradition, dating back to the 13th century (but with its source from the Bible), suggests that we cast our sins into a live body of water generally on the 1st day of Rosh Hashanah – or the 2nd, when the 1st falls on Shabbat. It will not necessarily be the Tashlich we are all used to, with long lingering visits with old friends, but it will be a chance for a brief wave at others in the community (all wearing masks, of course), as we engage in this age-old custom. We will even try to have some shofar blowing (from a distance, certainly!). So, if you are a shofar blower, or know any – we need you! We will even have Tashlich kits for you when you arrive – we provide the breadcrumbs, you provide the sins! And like the bread that we toss into the sea, our ways are stale – we all can use a fresh start, as we begin a new year together.

And so, as we move into the Jewish year 5781 together, I offer a simple prayer:

Avinu Malkeinu – O, Divine Creator, bless my family and community with peace. Teach me to appreciate the treasures of my life and help us always to find contentment in one another. Save us from dissension and jealousy; shield us from pettiness and rivalry. May selfish pride not divide us – may pride in one another unite us. Help us to renew our love for one another continually. Grant us and all humanity, Your handiwork, health and fulfillment, harmony, peace, and joy in the New Year. Amen.
(Adapted from the High Holiday Machzor)

From my family to yours – from my husband, Carl, and my daughters, Gabriella (working at the New York Public Library and getting her Masters) and Talya (working at the ADL in Washington, DC) and myself, we send you blessings for a Shana Tovah u’Metukah – a Sweet New Year full of blessings and a Shabbat Shalom,

Ruth Steinberg, LCSW
Director, Jewish Family Service