Sunday, September 19, 2021

Rosh Hashanah and the High Holy Days:: Lessons for UUs


Did you hear that?

The sound of the ram’s horn is sharp. It is like no other sound.

It pierces the armor of the heart.

 It calls us to pay attention to our relationship with the Divine.

 It calls us to be in Right relations with ourselves and all others.

 It calls us to reflect and repent for our shortcomings

and wrongful deeds as we enter a new year.  

The Jewish New Year – also known as Rosh Hashanah

began at sunset on September 6 –

the day that I actually wrote these words. 

So, I was called on what little bit of Jewish heritage I can claim

from my long ago Altman ancestors and searched for the lessons

that we, as Unitarian Universalists, can learn from this Holy Day

 and the following Holy Days, sometimes called

 “The Days of Awe” which are upon us.


As a refresher for some of you – and perhaps a new lesson for others,

 I’ll take some time to go in more detail

than our children’s story about these Holy Days.

Rosh Hashanah meaning "head [of] the year", is the Jewish New Year.  The biblical name for this holiday is Yom Teruah,

literally "day of shouting or blasting",

and is also more commonly known in English as the Feast of Trumpets.

It is the first of the Jewish High Holy Days specified by Leviticus 23:23–32

 that occur in the early autumn of the Northern Hemisphere.

Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the civil year,

according to the teachings of Judaism, and is the traditional anniversary

of the creation of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman

according to the Hebrew Bible,

and the inauguration of humanity's role in God's world.



Rosh Hashanah customs include sounding the shofar

(a cleaned-out ram's horn), following the prescription of the Hebrew Bible to "raise a noise" on Yom Teruah.

Its rabbinical customs include attending synagogue services

and reciting special liturgy, as well as enjoying festive meals.

Eating symbolic foods is now a tradition, such as apples dipped in honey,

hoping to evoke a sweet new year.

We say Shanah Tovar to wish others a good and sweet year.

But like other Jewish words,

it takes often takes a paragraph to truly explain the whole meaning. 

It’s not just a substitute for our “Happy New Year.”

No, there is deeper meaning.

 Shanah Tovar implies a return to our truest and best selves. 

It is a journey of rediscovery requiring

 an inward reflective gaze of self-evaluation.


Indeed, we are called to look at the sins

we have committed this past year.

In our prelude, the group Six 13 sings,

I’m starting over.  I’m looking back.

Cause I’ve done things that I’m not proud of

In this year we’re coming out of

Now’s a time for introspection

Time to forge a new direction

Decide who I want to be

A brand-new year, a brand new me.

You may say – well, that’s kind of like making New Year’s Resolutions –

but it’s more than that.

If folks truly do their reflections during those 10 Days of Awe –

then they look at who they may have hurt

through things done or left undone –

or how they have hurt themselves –

and they prepare for that day of Yom Kippur –

also known as the Day of Atonement –

when they can forgive themselves and each other

and begin again in love.

So, as I wrote these words at 5:00 pm on September 6 –

knowing that Rosh Hashanah was arriving at sundown,

I knew if I were going to take this seriously, I needed to make a big shift.

You see, recently – I have felt like the Prophet crying out to people – telling them how they have sinned – how they have “missed the mark.”

I say to the workman who made a home repair for me:

 “Why aren’t you vaccinated?  You need to protect yourselves and others.

It’s not good for you to go unvaccinated.”

I said to the Bulloch County school board.

 “You are not protecting our school personnel and children.

 Your lack of actions has put our community in crisis.”


I complain to my grandsons:

“You have got responsibilities

and you need to organize yourselves better.”

I tell my mom,

“You should not answer the door at 9 pm

when you are here home alone.”

I tell my husband, “Move over, quit hogging the bed.”

I yell at the Texas lawmakers on TV – well, I better not say that in church.

I mean – I’ve been on a tear sharing with others how they miss the mark.

But today – it’s not about them.  “It’s me, standing in the need of prayer.”

I don’t need to confess everything to you folks,

I do need to take stock, and recognize, that I have work to do. 

I have folks I need to reconnect with  - somehow -- ? 

So, during these days of awe,

 I’ve been reflecting a little more on MY part. 


That’s an important part of what folks do

when they are in 12 step programs.

 They take a look at their resentments –

and then ask –well, what’s my part in this? 

And even though others may have done some harmful things,

 there are probably things we need to hold ourselves accountable for.

And if there are things we can do

that will help repair what we have done, we need to do that. 

Sometimes, there may not be anything we can do. 

And we have to accept that as well.

These holy days are not only a time to take stock –

but it’s a time to let go of the past with its associated pain

 so that one can embrace a future of goodness. 

We can look at where we are – and contrast it with

where or who we want to be.  Setting good intentions.


And this pandemic – being such a liminal time for us anyway –

may be the best time to contemplate what was and what might be. 

This can be that time between summer and fall;

 regret and repentance; guilt and renewal.

According to Jewish teachings, the “Book of Life” is open but once a year

 and remains so only during the Days of Awe. 

This is the time for truth telling and forgiveness. 

And then the book is closed – the door is closed –

and some believe you have to drag this heavy stuff

around for another year.

Of course, I do not believe there is a time frame

for this kind of self-reflection. 

But I can understand why folks have these special days and special rituals

 to call them to this special time.  Otherwise – it may go undone.

This is just one of the ageless and timeless stories

 of humanities yearnings for connection.

 It is a time of repentance and more importantly forgiveness.

 It is our passage from brokenness into wholeness and blessing.

Rev. Paul Daniels states that

“The only whole heart is the broken and wounded one.

Atonement is in a word an At-One-Mint with humanity and the Holy.”

The door is open –

challenging us to begin again in love and walk through that door of hope.

As our online choir sang

Be the change you want to see in the world

Be the voice you want to hear in the world

Be the light you want to shine in the world

And change will come to you.

Shanah Tovah, dear ones!

May you have a Good and Sweet Year. 


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