And so we enter the year 5773. What is amusing about that is most people might believe that is the opening line to a science fiction story but to Jews around the world it is no fiction. We are entering a new year and it is very different from the December 31/January 1 new year. We definitely celebrate and hope for a joyous and sweet (honey sweet) new year but instead of partying all night we spend our days praying. It is an important if not slightly foreboding time. As a very good, non-Jewish friend of mine pointed out, the concept of being inscribed in the book of life on Rosh HaShanah and having your fate for the year sealed a week later on Yom Kippur is kind of scary. But of course there is a lot more depth to that concept than the Judaism 101 website can impart.
As we approached Rosh HaShanah I thought about all the things I wanted to do differently in the coming year, this is pretty traditional no matter what calendar you’re following, people like to call them new year’s resolutions. I want to study those languages I’ve let fade, I want to work out more (well…working out at all might be a good start), I want to keep my room clean and organized, manage my time better, eat healthier, be more careful with my money, go to synagogue more often and remember to say a bracha (blessing) before I eat. Aside from the last two those should not be that far off from a lot of people’s resolutions.
But a key difference between the Jewish new year and the secular new year is that Rosh HaShanah is an intensely spiritual time especially when packaged together with Yom Kippur – a period known as the Yamim Nora’im, the Days of Awe or as my father points out the AWE-full days. So my desire to go to synagogue more often, to say a bracha before I eat, to recite the Shema daily, those goals carry a greater weight for me during this time. No Rabbi or fellow member of the tribe has openly criticized my lack of practice or questioned my faith recently (I mean I do wear my yarmulke every day, so everything must be fine right). But I criticize myself.
I remain very aware of these missed opportunities to be more aware, to express my spirituality, to honor my beliefs and the traditions of a fascinating people, of which I am proud to be a member. What does my perceived lack of observance say about my professed devotion to my spiritual flavor, the faith-based structure that I was born into and have continually chosen to be the foundation of my spiritual path? It would be one thing if I was simply not interested in the practice, if the guilt was just some hold over from having gone to synagogue every Friday night and most Saturday mornings as a child but I know it is more than that.
And so as we enter 5773 I brace myself for the wave of spiritual inspiration that comes at this time every year. It can easily overwhelm and leave me sitting in front of my computer on Shabbos (note I shouldn’t be on my computer on Shabbos), weighed down by the expectations I have placed on myself. But just as it can overwhelm it can also motivate. I know the value of embracing that inspiration, I have seen its positive attributes and there is no time in the Jewish calendar when the wave is at its strongest than during the Yamim Nora’im, the days named for the awe they inspire.
I encourage anyone who happens to read this to accept this challenge with me. My parents always taught me, when I became overwhelmed, to just take things one at a time. Think of all the goals you have – everything from working out to going to your place of worship more often. Now take one and decide the one thing you will do to begin approaching it. I do not need to plan to go to synagogue EVERY Friday night, but how about NEXT Friday night. Will I say Shema every morning? I don’t know, but I plan to say it tomorrow morning…and I think I want to say it tonight as well. Will I work out before work every day? I don’t know, but I will go for a run with my roommate this week.
I am very susceptible to procrastination and becoming so overwhelmed by my desires and goals that I don’t follow through on any of them has become a standard occurrence. I accept that this is a personal challenge and with that knowledge I would like to channel the inspiration of this time of year toward growth.