Every year Rosh Hashana seems to sneak up on me, despite the fact that Rosh Chodesh Elul gives plenty of advance notice to give me the nudge that this holy time is coming up. So with Rosh Hashana just around the corner, and selichot starting on Motzei Shabbos, I finally feel the urgency of introspection. The idea that comes to mind at the moment is the phrase many of our parents told us when we were children when we began to adventure passed the safe walls of our home and out into the world, and that is, “Look both ways before you cross the street.”
Rosh Hashana involves looking in two directions: The past and the future. I always start by looking at the past year. Where was I last Rosh Hashana? I don’t mean physically, though that is always a good starting point to recall my thoughts, I mean what was my mental, emotional and most importantly spiritual state last year at this time? What goals did I set for myself? How have I lived up to those goals? What are my accomplishments? In what ways did I fail and in what ways did I succeed? The main question that I always ask is “Where did I hope to be this year and how close am I to being in that place?” I attempt to identify the main obstacles to my spiritual growth and the biggest downfalls in my Avodas Hashem in the past year. But that’s only one direction.
I also look to next year and ask: Where do I hope to be next year at this time? I am filled with hopes of where this next year will take me. Not only am I faced with the unknown of what life will throw my way, but what I can do to create this next year what I want it to be. The end result may be up to Hashem, beyond my control, but what can I do to try my best to make this year everything that I want it to be?
When I think about where I was Rosh Hashana last year, aside from remembering how I hoped to be married this year, I see all the things that happened that I was so unprepared for. I see the things that I handled well, and the ones that I did not deal with quite as nicely, but that I learned from. I’m in a place that I never thought I’d be in, mostly in a good way. Usually on Rosh Hashana I end up with the same list of the same things that I’m always trying to work on. I picked a few things to focus on last year, and ironically, I ended up making greater strides in the areas that I chose not to focus on because I thought that they would be too hard and so I should focus on other things. Sometimes I surprise myself.
This year has been a good one spiritually for me. After leaving the “bubble” of Stern College, I found that there are two ways to react to a new environment. One is the unfortunate path that I found some of my friends have been swept into, to follow your environment and go with the flow. For myself I found that my reaction to being pushed out of my comfort zone was to push back and take on more things to fight the push away from G-d. When I was in Stern, surrounded by Torah, it was so easy to have Judaism on my mind, but ironically, I have found that since I’ve left, the fact that it has been harder for me to focus on the spiritual has in fact made me struggle more and in the end I have been more successful. This past year has actually been a pretty decent one spiritually, Baruch Hashem.
When I look towards next Rosh Hashana, it seems so far away, but I see two different images. I see the ideal, perfect place that I long to reach with all my soul, the place that makes me sad just thinking about it because it is so far away. But I also see the place that’s closer, that’s reachable, and that is realistic. For now, I know that I just need to get there next year, even though it’s not the place that I want to be.
The Yamim Noraim are a two sided coin. There is that feeling of regret and guilt and being stuck in a deep, deep pit that seems to have no end. That our sins have taken us to a place we cannot escape and we have no one to blame but ourselves. Yet there is also that feeling of hope, of Teshuva, that no matter how bottomless that pit might seem, Hashem has given us that ability to climb out of it. He is there to take our hand and pull us up. Maybe we have fallen, but this is our chance to rise! We can do it- it’s not too far away. There is that anguish that our actions have taken us so far away from G-d, but there is that aspiration to come back, to return to G-d. We try to come out of this time period with renewed our faith in ourselves, that we can break habits that seem so resistant and transform who we are, and renewed faith in G-d, who gave us that ability to change.
As we approach Rosh Hashana, Aseret Yimei Teshuva and Yom Kippur, I wish you all a meaningful and spiritually uplifting Yamim Noraim, and hope that your Tefillot are as passionate as you want them to be, that all of your requests are answered for the good, and that this year is a good, happy, and healthy one!