By Rabbi Zalman A. Kantor
Ever since the days of old, new has been in. Obviously not for everything—think matured wines, cheeses, or minds, for instance—but for things like new opportunities or prospects that make the heart race with excitement, the lungs fill with the breath of expectancy, and the attitude flush with optimism.
A new year certainly falls into that category. This Wednesday evening, September 4, people around the world usher in the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year of 5774. Observances include candle-lighting, festive meals with foods like apple dipped in honey, communal services, hearing the Shofar, waterside Tashlich ceremony and more.
The New Year, in this case, is less a day to revel than to reflect. It is, after all, one of Days of Awe, a day when all inhabitants of the world come before G-d to be judged for the coming year. On this day we pray for all our needs and wishes, and resolve to do better in the coming year.
Yet, it also is a joyous holiday. On this day we are provided a new opportunity for growth, along with material blessings of all sorts and a hefty deposit into our oftentimes depleted reserves of energy and capability. It is a time of immense love and closeness from our Creator. And it is a day when we are reminded of how indispensible we each are to the success of His enterprise, the world.
The Talmud explains why the world that Adam saw before him on the first day of his life (Rosh Hashanah!) was empty of all other humans, and only afterwards did Eve come on the scene. This was to teach him and us that the world we see is ours alone to fix and it can’t be done without each individual’s personal contribution.
Think about what a gift this is: rather than overwhelming us with unbridled adoration into a state of dependency, impotence and uniformity, G-d actually empowers us by recruiting our help. He chose and needs you, with your unique personality, propensities, background, and baggage, as well as me, with my mishmash of foibles and fortes, to transform the world to good.
But changing the world starts at home. It starts by taking small steps and by refocusing our priorities to the important things in life. For this we listen to the shofar (a hollowed out ram’s horn), which is sounded at the height of the service or anytime during the day.
The shofar-blast awakens us from our complacency and spiritual oblivion and shakes us into action. Its primal call shatters the external barriers we have created and reaches deep down into that pristine, untarnished innocence and purity of soul, unleashing powers we never knew existed.
The powers are fresh and raring to go. Let’s harness them into real change, and make it a great year. I wish you much success and a Shana Tova, a good and sweet new year in all.
I invite you to check jewishrsm.com
to learn about our community holiday dinner, free synagogue services,
kids programs and more. For additional holiday inspiration, insight and
guidance go to chabad.org/holidays.