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What would we do without Rosh Hashanah?

  • Parshas Ki Tetze - Rabbi Yossi Goldman
Rosh Hashanah is more than just a holiday. It is Judgement Day. That’s why the traditional greeting at this time is not Happy Holiday, or even Good Yomtov or Chag Sameach, but rather Shana Tovah or, in Yiddish, Ah Gut Yohr.
by RABBI YOSSY GOLDMAN | Sep 14, 2017

The Heavenly Court will be deciding our destiny and determining our fate for the New Year, so we wish each other that these days of reckoning go well and that we each be blessed with only good things for the New Year.

And this is precisely what makes our New Year observances distinctively different from those of so many others around the world. For Jews, New Year’s Day is sober and sombre. No late-night partying for us. No “Happy, Happy!” and no drunken revelry as the clock strikes midnight.

Actually, I’ve often wondered whether New Year’s Eve partygoers are just having a harmless fun night out or is there some kind of subconscious drowning of sorrows in drink as they mourn the passage of another year and all its unfulfilled dreams.

And I’ve also often wondered what we Jews would do without Rosh Hashanah. This is the season of Cheshbon Hanefesh - spiritual stocktaking and making our most personal, intimate inventories.

We reflect on the year gone by, our successes and also our shortcomings. We consider and reconsider our relationships with G-d and with our fellow men and women. We try to pinpoint our failings so that we may correct them for an improved New Year to come.

We make amends with those we may have been hurtful to in the year gone by. We put an end to the petty faribels of life and look forward to a better, happier, more serene and peaceful future.

But what if we didn’t have Rosh Hashanah? What if there was no annual season dedicated to appraisal and self-assessment? Would we create it on our own? And if not, would we ever emerge from the rut we work ourselves into over a long, hard year?

In all probability, I imagine we would just continue along the same tedious treadmill of life until something drastic might suddenly arrive out of the blue to jolt us from our lethargy.

Would we ever stop to consider whether this is the way we really want to live? Would we ever pause to become pensive enough to rethink life’s game plan? More than likely, we might just keep running the rat race and, as some wise man once observed: “In the rat race, even if you win you are still a rat!”

Unless we are on the absolute fringe of Jewish life, Rosh Hashanah is a time when we are virtually compelled to sit up and take notice; to put the brakes on the mediocre merry-go-round and shout “Stop the world, I want to get off!”

These Days of Awe compel us to think about life, about ourselves, about our families, relationships, and our way of life. And if necessary, to do a re-think. It gives us the chance for at least a once annual “compass reading” to establish our sense of direction, so that if necessary, we may alter course and re-route ourselves.

How does the lady inside our GPS put it? “Recalculating”. Most of us do need to recalculate from time to time.

So, if we didn’t have this once-a-year challenge and opportunity of personal introspection, what are the chances we would actually sit down of our own volition to do it? Probably very small indeed.

Well, thank G-d we do have Rosh Hashanah. And the time for stocktaking is now. And, as the legendary Hillel put it in Pirkei Avot: “If not now, when then?”In our chaotic, often mad world, we ought to appreciate and embrace this wonderful annual opportunity. Honestly and truly, what would we do without Rosh Hashanah?

I wish you and our community - and indeed the world - Shana Tovah. May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life for a happy, healthy, peaceful, prosperous, safe, secure, and spiritually rewarding New Year.

Rabbi Yossy Goldman is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Highlands North Hebrew Congregation since 1986 and is President of the SA Rabbinical Association.

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