Rosh Hashanah and the High Holy Days
Tonight is the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It is the beginning of a two-day “head of the year” holiday that comes at the close of the harvest, during which the Jewish community of faith focuses on repentance and judgment.
It leads the way in 10 days for Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement—the holiest day on the Jewish Calendar. These “High Holy Days” are sometimes called the “Days of Awe,” as every person’s daily life is reviewed by God for sealing in the book of life.
Among the symbolic foods associated with Rosh Hashanah are honey, apples, and pomegranate—all representing sweetness, as prayers of the faithful are for goodness in the new year. Even in the midst of a pandemic, faith calls for a focus on the graciousness and mercy of God.
One of the prayers that is traditionally offered during Rosh Hashanah asks, “May it be thy will, O Creator, that our year be rich and replete with blessings as the pomegranate is rich and replete with seeds.”
For the believer praying these words, and the believer who hears the sound of the shofar—the instrument traditionally crafted from a ram’s horn that is heard 100 or more times during Rosh Hashanah—the message of awe becomes crystal clear. Rosh Hashanah calls on the faithful to stand before God with humbled awe.
It is the pinnacle of living in the way that Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel describes, “Our goal should be to live in radical amazement.… Get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”
To those who are observing Rosh Hashanah and these High Holy Days, Shana Tovah! And for all of us who seek to better understand these unusual times—may we also find the faith to be humbled and awed before God. May we seek the sweetness of God’s grace and respond to challenges we confront with the knowledge of the love and care that may be sought in prayer and discovered in faithfulness.