Rosh Hashanah and the Power of New Beginnings

Atonement and the Healing of the Weary Heart

Last night and today are the celebration of the Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah. While Rosh Hashanah is a commemoration of new beginnings within the Jewish religion, like all religious holidays it speaks to metaphysical principles that are universal in nature.

On Rosh Hashanah we’re to take a very good look at our lives, repent for our errors, and pray for new beginnings unencumbered by the burden of past mistakes and conflicts. The holiday ushers in the ten Days of Awe leading up to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement which is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. We have ten days to get real with ourselves, to come clean with God, to stand in awe before the mystery of how He renews our lives and redeems us when we do.

Many years ago, I moved from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, California right before the Jewish holidays. New in the city, I didn’t have a synagogue and didn’t know where to go to observe Yom Kippur. My sister had recently died and I knew I needed to be at a service, but all I could find was an Orthodox congregation. I wasn’t raised Orthodox but I figured, how different could it be?

First of all, walking in and being told to go sit with the women upstairs and behind a latticed screen was a bit of a shift for my feminist identity. But I figured, okay, this is Orthodox, I get it. Raised as a Conservative Jew (the middle lane between Orthodox and Reformed), the entire service carried a prayerfulness I hadn’t experienced in a synagogue since I was a child. As I sat there praying, experiencing the power of the intense devotional energy of the women who were around me, something began to shift inside my heart.

I really got it, that I was to come clean with God about ways I had not been the woman He created me to be this past year. I really got it, that I was atoning for my errors and asking for the chance to begin again. I really got it, that He was listening and that the uttering of my spirit was being heard. If I opened the ark of my heart to Him, I would receive the deeper meaning of holy words.

The Nazis destroyed whatever synagogues they could during the Holocaust; a few holy arks that remained are now kept at a museum in Jerusalem. I took this photo during my visit there in 2018.

It was then that my study of A Course in Miracles and my Judaism became married in my experience. They hadn’t seemed to contradict each other, once I got past the language of the Course and realized it wasn’t the Christian religion and carried no doctrine or dogma. But that day, I understood why the Course says it is based on “universal spiritual themes;” I knew both of them were guiding me to the same point of consciousness, the love of God at the heart of all things.

Yet it was the blowing of the shofar at the end of the service that day that truly shook me and changed my life. It was a long day; like everyone else at the service, I had fasted; more than once during the day I had thought, “I wish that we could hurry this up.” At last, the men (yep, just men) were all gathered at the bima, reading from the Torah, and the service was about to conclude with the sounding of the shofar.

And then it happened. I had heard the shofar sounded at the end of the Yom Kippur service scores of times over my life, but never before had it changed my life. I got it. I got it that God was speaking to us: “Yes, I will give you a new year in the book of life.” I got what that meant, that our prayers had called to Him and He was calling back. I got that the sound of the shofar changed the molecular structure of the universe, so powerful is prayer. I got that I had received from God the extraordinary gift of a new year, a new slate, a new beginning for my weary heart.

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So today, as we embark upon this year’s Days of Awe, I know my heart will be deep within the mystery of God during these coming days. I am not expecting it to all be easy. I am not expecting it to be anything at all except real. I will probably at some point cry some tears, and I will probably at some point see emotional mountaintops I had not visited before. Already I’m thinking about things that I wish had been different this past year, relationships I wish I could heal, forgiveness I want desperately to give and to receive. And during these days, I will feel God’s presence even closer than usual, as with an ancient tribe whose identity is burrowed into my cells, I join with millions of others in seeking to live my life as a continuous prayer, atoning for my mistakes and the mistakes of my people, hopefully helping to find a way for all of us to begin again.

To all of my friends, may you feel this too.

Amen.