How to Have a Blast on Rosh Hashanah
Rabbi Dov Heller
Rosh Hashanah is the Judaism’s Day of Judgment. Sounds scary? It could be the most enjoyable day of your life! Here are five ideas to help you have a blast this Rosh Hashanah.
- G-d judges us because He loves us.
I was visiting a family recently, and the topic of conversation turned to Jewish continuity. The father took this opportunity to talk to his son who was about to embark on a college year abroad. He strongly encouraged his son to be proud of being Jewish, always act like a mensch, and to never forget that the “world is watching you because you’re a Jew.” Later, in a private moment, I asked the son how he felt. He said, “A little uncomfortable, but I know my dad said what he said because he loves me.”
Although the father’s tone was somewhat strong, his intent was loving. He wanted to give his son guidance in order to help him live a good life. It was clearly an act of love, and his son experienced it as such.
Doesn’t every parent have a critical eye on their children? Isn’t every parent in some way or another constantly “judging” their children? We parents do this because we care so much about helping our children live meaningful and happy lives.
So, too, the Creator of the universe: He “judges” us not because He wants to punish us, but because He loves us and wants to make sure we live a great life. When you walk into the synagogue this year, feel the loving embrace of a Father who cares about you and only wants the very best for you, as it says in the holiday prayers, “For you are the King who desires life!”
- Hear the shofar saying, “I love you—wake up and live!”
G-d is trying to get our attention. He’s calling out to each of us with “the blast of the shofar.” One sound of the shofar is like a loud call, “Just want to make sure you’re listening.” Another tone is much softer, which touches a deeper, more vulnerable part of us. Hearing the shofar can be an awesome opportunity to feel G-d’s love. He’s calling out to us with a love song, in pleading tones, “Please, wake up. Stop and think seriously about where you’re going in life. Please, think about what you really want out of life. Do it now while you still have life in you. All I want is for you to have everything good.”
When you hear the shofar this year, listen closely and hear the love song being sung just to you.
- Choose to live a great life.
G-d can put the “good life” right in front of us and say, “Choose this,” but if we don’t have the clarity to want it, we’ll never take ownership of it.
The power of will is the only real power we have in this world. Rosh Hashanah is the time to learn how to use it.
There once was a king who went out to the villages to visit the poor once every year. Approaching one very sad peasant, he said, “I will give you anything you want.” The peasant smiled and said, “I would like some grass to fix the hole in the roof of my hut.”
The king offered him anything, and all he asked for was some grass? How tragic! He could have asked for a mansion!
On Rosh Hashanah, the King of the universe asks us, “What do you want?” What will be our response? Will we be like the peasant and ask for grass?
Everyone wants to have a great life. But if we don’t take responsibility to clarify for ourselves what the meaning of greatness is, we will likely conform to the values and standards of our society which seem to be more about seeking comfort than seeking greatness. What does a great life look life? Do we have a picture that we are completely satisfied with?
- Ask yourself, what am I living for?
To live greatly, there is one question that we absolutely must ask: What am I living for? After all, how can I live if I don’t know what I’m living for? Most people avoid this question. We get busy with being busy in order not to think about where our lives are ultimately headed. It’s a profound question and one that requires courage and great personal integrity to ask it.
On Rosh Hashanah, G-d asks us to look in the mirror and judge ourselves. This is a tremendous and awesome challenge. The Almighty is giving us life and we don’t know what to do with it. Life is too precious to waste. Rosh Hashanah is the time to clarify what we’re living for
Furthermore, how can I live the “good life,” if I don’t have my own definition of what “good’ means? There are many things that people call “good”: love, creativity, power, kindness, knowledge, thinking, health, peace, relationship with G-d, wealth, etc. On Rosh Hashanah, explore this question: Of all the possibilities of what people deem good, what is the greatest good? When we know what the greatest good is then, we can truly live the “good life.” Why settle for second best when we can have the best?
- Monitor your emotional experience
The word for prayer in Hebrew is “l’hitpallel,” which means to judge oneself. Prayer is an opportunity for self-discovery. To read the prayers without reflecting upon how they make us feel is like going to a concert wearing ear plugs. Use prayer as a tool for self-discovery and growth by listening to our feelings.
For example, there may be a moment in the prayer service that deeply moves you. It is crucial to hold on to the experience and make an effort to understand what made that experience meaningful for you. If you can understand the meaning of that experience, you have discovered a precious insight that you can use the rest of your life.
On the other hand, you may feel bored and disconnected. Again, it is crucial to ask, “What am I feeling, and why am I feeling this way?” Understanding our emotional discomfort rather than counting the minutes until the service is over can open-up new worlds of self-understanding.
Prayer teaches us how to live consciously. During the High Holidays, don’t suffer through the prayers; rather let them be the vehicles for self-discovery and growth. Be honest. Be curious. This is not a day to tune-out, but rather a day to tune-in by listening to our feelings and learning from them.
In Judaism, every holiday is an opportunity for personal transformation. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are called the High Holidays because they offer extra special opportunities for self-discovery and growth. They are not days of doom and gloom. This year, seize the opportunity and have a blast.