Learning from Rosh-Hashanah: Insights for Personal Change

September 26, 2011 - 7:56 pm 17 Comments

 

Learning from Rosh-Hashanah: Insights for Personal Change

                      The Reverend Peter Edward Lanzillotta, Ph.D.

 

 

As most of you are well aware, the Jewish holiday of Rosh-Hashanah marks the beginning of the New Year 5771, in the traditional Jewish culture. It signals the beginning of the agricultural year and the beginning point for life in a synagogue, a community or a congregation.

According to ancient traditions, the timing of a year runs from harvest to harvest, not seeding time. Paradoxically, it marks the beginning of the year by the act of reaping what the individual and the community has sown previously in and through their lives. So the function is twofold: It is the time for personal beginnings, and then it acts as an impulse for renewal through sincere repentance, acting as a time for reconciliation and forgiveness. In the Jewish faith, there are ten days that humanity sets aside to earnestly seek to repair its relationship with God in order to preserve righteousness and justice, thereby maintaining our hope and promise for the future. As a point for comparison, in our contemporary Western culture, we can begin to compare the rites and rituals associated with Rosh-Hashanah with our modern New Year’s observance combined with some of the Christian motives from Lent.

Rosh-Hashanah is the first of the ten High Holy days in the Jewish year, and it is celebrated as a truly significant and remarkable day in the history of the Jewish people.  On this day, according to various stories and traditions, The Lord God began the creation of the world, when Abraham offered up Isaac, his son, as a faith-filled sacrifice, when Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel was born. In addition, this was also the day when Moses confronted the Pharaoh and signaled the start of the Exodus, and it was the day that the prophet Samuel received his call!   Quite an incredible and remarkable day!

According to Jewish tradition, the ten days that span Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur are the days when the Book Of Life is opened and when each person’s life is reviewed and weighed. During this time, your lifetime ledger or your moral balance sheet is studied— time when our merits and our faults are examined and our coming fate measured out to us for the next year– according to our actions and aligned to our good deeds. Every act is accounted for– not a single facet of our lives is overlooked. It is on the strength and merit of what we have done, or have left undone, that we will be judged and given our rewards…

As a corollary, during this ten day time period, we are also given the opportunity to cancel our debts and reconcile our faults by enacting or carrying through on works of forgiveness, kindness, and charity. By making a sincere pledge of personal reform, we can balance our books, and be restored to righteousness, peace and wholeness.

Now starts our time of reaping the present, and sowing towards the future…  We will need an awareness of history before acting in the present, and we will have to mourn the loss of what was, before acting in the here and now…

In the Jewish tradition, the holy days of appraisal and judgment will start with an evening prayer that is a devotional history called The Shilot. This is an account of the trials and struggles of the Hebrews– used as a reverent statement that praises the faithful endurance and steadfast devotion to their God throughout all the years. Each day during the ten days of Awe, the ten days of the New Year, the faithful are summoned to collective worship by the sound of the ram’s horn or the Shofar. This trumpeting sounds the call to the faithful to “look within the depths of their souls and the core of their society, and appraise our motives carefully. We are called to prepare our actions and behaviors to change-to leave the old ways of sin and selfishness behind and return their hearts to God.]”

The rites and rituals of the ten days from Rosh-Hashanah through to Yom Kippur declare to us that it is in the act of remembrance, that we first begin to change.

The challenge and the promise of the Jewish New Year can be ours today. We, as religious liberals, can use this or a similar time period as a time for our personal reevaluation; a time period when we can begin to appraise our lives and our communities, and to instigate the initial steps of change that leads us to reconciliation and renewal. For the devout Jew, the challenge is this:

To be able to say that I have not unfaithfully wasted a single day. The promise he or she would receive in return is one of continued mercy and forgiveness. The then Book Of Life can be favorably inscribed with his or her name for the coming year– and they would be included among the names of the faithful. For each of us here today, the day of Rosh-Hashanah can spark the opportunity to release our past, solidify our present, and begin our futures.

How does this ancient time of ritual observances relate to us today?? According to some of the most prevalent spiritual and psychological theories, it is a highly recommended practice that each of us takes some time to periodically assess the progress and direction of our lives. While this is a process that can be done alone, some people decide to enlist the assistance of a friend, your community and its greater ministry, a therapist or a spiritual director as a skilled facilitators for your insights.

Others choose a more solitary route, one that might include self-assessment tests, journal keeping, dream logs, and other helpful techniques. It is also the ideal time for taking up various spiritual disciplines such as yoga, prayer, meditation, fasting, etc.

The ten days of the Jewish New Year asks us, invites us to be introspective: to carefully appraise the use of our time, our work, and the quality of all of our relationships, etc. …. The value of such reflective inner work for the quality of one’s life cannot be overestimated.

As a close comparison, professionals in the fields of human growth, change, and motivation attest to the need to have steps by which we first openly choose to experience change. They conclude that being willing and able to adjust to these necessary changes is generally considered to be a positive sign of emotional halth, maturity, and well being.

Each of us has had their share of triumph and tears, joys and sorrows, each of us can or has already experienced times, events, and emotions that calls us to a deeper, more soulful understandings; its wisdom reveals the fuller, richer meaning those experiences might hold for us. We know that all of our experiences, whether they are personally chosen or culturally imposed, have contributed greatly to the understanding of who and what and where we are today.

According to theorists, purposeful, or deep change that follows these more personal and spiritual directions, often goes through three general stages… They are: first, Mourning, second, Stabilization and last, Anticipation.


Each stage is a part of the whole cycle of change. From them we can resolve our past, secure our present, and plan for our future. They are circular and progressive, and these stages are interdependent much like the cycles within the whole Jewish year.

The progress towards meaningful change begins first with a mourning period. This is an introspective time when we ask ourselves those deeper questions about what has happened to us, and how we can make the best of it… It is also the time when we seek answers for what might have been, and how we can restore, if possible, those best possibilities and potentials. The mourning period, then, is a time for remembrance and for release; a time for forgiving, accepting, and for letting go.

Taking the time to consciously mourn enables us to look back, and if we allow it, it will stir or raise some acute reminders that can serve to instruct and guide us, and in some instances, even serve to protect us from repeating the same painful or negative patterns. If we are storing or harboring any lingering resentments, unresolved guilt, shame or remorse, this is the time for courage and compassion so that we can see through these flaws and faults and to begin to turn them into flare and facets… When we are willing to work through our past perceptions and former experiences, we can begin to make sense of them, identify and redirect them, bringing to ourselves more peace of heart and mind about our choices and the course our lives have taken so far…

If we try to avoid, omit, postpone or gloss over this period of vital reworking, we can risk adding to our storehouse of emotional debts, discomfort and dependencies– we must assure ourselves that we are not just rehearsing some past negative pattern, and that we are striving to go past sentiment to understanding. Religiously and personally, we need to avoid getting stuck in asking those futile questions of “If Only… How Come? Why?

When we adopt the attitude that our task is to behold the truth, and to discover the essential soulful lessons of wisdom, compassion, and insight that these experiences also contain, then the benefits of newly found freedom will outweigh whatever discomfort or the pangs of conscience that we have raised. This act of remembrance, when we work to identify our true selves-

will lead to greater self esteem, acceptance, integrity, growth, and maturity.

In the ritual observance of the Jewish Holy days, we are given this precious and sacred time to begin to seek forgiveness, mend any old wounds, and restore any disharmony among families and friends. …. Regardless if you find yourself mourning your youth, your parents, your religious upbringing, lovers, career failures, and other losses, slights, insults and injuries, we can be freed of their burdens in knowing that each of us shares a similar story and that these struggles are all a part of our human existence. This is the perpetual theological battle and the ongoing spiritual imperative that faces each of us: To get ON with our lives, to forgive, let go, to renew, and intentionally make forward steps again….

The second stage or plateau stage is called stabilization. Here we begin to build on what we have learned, what we have resolved from our past, and begin to mindfully apply it to our present situation and to our daily living and interactions. It involves living in “the here and now,” as we informed by the lessons of our past.

It can be a waiting period that assesses and evaluates the next steps in our lives, for it holds the glimmer of promise that lies in our future. This time of reassessing is highly individual- it could be days, weeks, months, even years depending on the intensity and the importance of the next steps. The duration will often be in proportion to our willingness and our readiness to make those changes we find ourselves required to make. Stabilization is also a waiting time that asks us to develop sufficient motivation to seek out and discover ways to infuse our lives with the courage to apply wholeheartedly the truth of our self-discoveries.

Since this theory was taught to me during training in family therapy, I will give you an example from that context: People who have just been widowed or divorced might involve themselves in a flurry of social and intimate relationships.

This activity, while appearing to be healing and resourceful, can effectively avoid the need to step back and appraise their attitudes, and their realistic needs. They need to take time to examine their deeper values  concerning who I will become involved with the next time, and if they refuse to look inward, they could prematurely sentence themselves to live out or marry the same mistakes!

Without giving proper time to mourning, and to regaining a sense of self and its stability, we can unwittingly set ourselves up for avoidable difficulties. In a similar way, we humans also have the tendency to lose ourselves in our work, our children, our friends, even in our hobbies!

That over-commitment keeps us from giving ourselves the sufficient time to heal and to truly reevaluate. Following in the Jewish tradition, the central question is this: Can we ever be too involved that we cannot take the time to repair our own self-respect, our relationship with God? Enough time to look at ourselves, and to outgrow the negatives in our past? I consider it an elaborate deception that we can play on ourselves, and I feel that each of us needs to ponder- to reflect on our lives deeply and often! d From my own life experiences, I know that it can be a long, intricate, and demanding struggle to let go of our past and to secure an objective, loving appreciation of ourselves and others. Remember, there are no easy ways or convenient answers, cheap remedies- but there are first steps…

These steps generate hope which comes from our willingness to change, to risk openness, and to see through any obstacles towards wisdom and toward a greater appreciation of others that renews one’s love for life again.

Lastly, Anticipation is the third stage in personal change. It is the readiness to invite newness, to risk involvement, and to respond positively to the possibilities of our future. This final stage welcomes opportunity, new discoveries, and new people back into our lives in deeper and more meaningful ways. Anticipation allows and encourages us to reach out, to explore, to risk and to welcome the new developments of trust, intimacy, and love.

The goal of this concluding stage is to adopt an attitude of holy innocence- one that accepts life for what it is- warts and all- which does include the risk of potential heartache and disappointment- but that is willing to reach for what life offers, and not be swayed by past doubts and previous anxieties. Here the emphasis is on how you can live more freely, apart from your earlier beliefs, limits and fears. It is from this savoring of life, this anticipation of the good, that we grow, learn, and love anew.

In the attentive and sacred observance of time between Rosh-Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we are given an appropriate ritual that symbolizes these stages of growth and change.  It is a ritual of redemption and of forgiveness that assists our mourning of the past, and encourages our ability to make ourselves ready for the future. It is an ancient ritual referred to in the Book of Micah (7:18-20), and it is designed  to release remorse and regret and to begin our journey towards greater wholeness, reconciliation and peace. It is called the Talhish.

I invite you to perform this ritual sometime during this early Fall season… Remembering that this is an act that is designed for your spiritual and personal renewal, treat it reverently. Use its steps to initiate and support changes and reforms in your life. Employ its inner messages as a rich investment in your happiness and in your spiritual growth. It is a sacred act, and a promise and a gift that you give to yourself. May we all learn through looking at ourlives, and begin again with a clean slate, an open mind, a willing spirit, and a courageous heart…   AMEN. SALAT. SO BE IT!

The Talhish  (Micah 7:18-20)

1) In order to perform this rite, you will need a slice of bread and access to some body of flowing water. This water can be a stream, a river, a canal. The ocean or lakes that have tides also work) You can choose to do this alone or with family and friends. Take this bread with you to the water’s edge. Clear your mind of any unnecessary thoughts… Breathe deeply and relax…

2) Let this bread you hold signify your life so far… See it as the result of many forces, decisions, and experiences. Know that you too were kneaded and baked into your present form and shape, and you, too have been charred or have been bleached, encrusted with life’s lessons. Let this bread symbolize the collection of your past flaws and faults, experiences and reactions. Imagine that it represents you: Body, Mind, and Spirit.

3) Extend the slice of bread before you at the water’s edge. (If you can wade in, or go to the edge of the pier, do so, etc.) Then silently and methodically crumple and shred the slice into many pieces; seeing each piece as a past problem, hurt, or fault. Now allow this assortment of broken dreams, promises, remorse, and regrets to drift off your hands or cast them out into the waters…

4) Gaze into the water… Look at the pieces… See the water as actively cleansing and releasing your heart and soul of those past cares and worries. Observe how each of the reminders vanish. Watch them float, then sink into the tides and turns of an ever-changing reality.

5) Now rest in the thought of your new freedom found in releasing the past, and then solemnly promise or pray to reform your old ways, and to resist falling back into negative habits of thinking or feeling. Claim this time as sacred time; the start of your personal renewal. See this act as a rededication to the vitality of life and the promise of expanded sense of love and caring that includes all that surrounds you. Make this pledge to yourself. Share with others only if you choose, and resolve to make this reconciliation more active, more present in your life. Beginning today, you can make your world a happier, healthier, and holier place. …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Talhish  (Micah 7:18-20)

1) In order to perform this rite, you will need a slice of bread and access to some body of flowing water. This water can be a stream, a river, a canal. The ocean or lakes that have tides also work) You can choose to do this alone or with family and friends. Take this bread with you to the water’s edge. Clear your mind of any unnecessary thoughts… Breathe deeply and relax…

 

2) Let this bread you hold signify your life so far… See it as the result of many forces, decisions, and experiences. Know that you too were kneaded and baked into your present form and shape, and you, too have been charred or have been bleached, encrusted with life’s lessons. Let this bread symbolize the collection of your past flaws and faults, experiences and reactions. Imagine that it represents you: Body, Mind, and Spirit.

 

3) Extend the slice of bread before you at the water’s edge. (If you can wade in, or go to the edge of the pier, do so, etc.) Then silently and methodically crumple and shred the slice into many pieces; seeing each piece as a past problem, hurt, or fault. Now allow this assortment of broken dreams, promises, remorse, and regrets to drift off your hands or cast them out into the waters…

 

4) Gaze into the water… Look at the pieces… See the water as actively cleansing and releasing your heart and soul of those past cares and worries. Observe how each of the reminders vanish. Watch them float, then sink into the tides and turns of an ever-changing reality.

 

5) Now rest in the thought of your new freedom found in releasing the past, and then solemnly promise or pray to reform your old ways, and to resist falling back into negative habits of thinking or feeling. Claim this time as sacred time; the start of your personal renewal. See this act as a rededication to the vitality of life and the promise of expanded sense of love and caring that includes all that surrounds you. Make this pledge to yourself. Share with others only if you choose, and resolve to make this reconciliation more active, more present in your life. Beginning today, you can make your world a happier, healthier, and holier place. …

 

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