At this time of the year, Jews around the world begin preparation for the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. But the tradition teaches that it is really a universal day, one that celebrates the creation of all humanity. It is a day of reflection during which the sounds of the Shofar (ram's horn) should awaken listeners to some universal truths; truths that are necessary to create a just and unified world.
The Prophets of many traditions teach about a world that will move one day to an era of reconciliation and harmony, beginning with the individual and spreading to all nations, even including the natural world, suggesting that all creation is evolving toward the unitive state. Any sensitive person can appreciate the grandeur of this process. Just observe a hive of bees at work, or walk through a forest, or live with a kind person, and you cannot but be profoundly moved by the way every aspect of creation can work with all the rest as a unit in perfect harmony. This truth has far-reaching implications in our daily life. On the one hand, every time we violate the unity of life by venting our anger on those around us, or by harming our fellow creatures, we work against this evolution. In contrast, every time we forgive others, do what benefits them or alleviate the distress of any creature, we contribute toward this evolution.
There is nothing more important in life than learning to express this unity in all our relationships. With our family and friends, with our colleagues and fellow workers, with other communities and countries, and with other races and religious groups. The terrible consequences of disunity are plain for all to see. Violence, war, pollution, estrangement and insensitivity to our fellow creatures are external manifestations of the disunity seething in our consciousness. Because we live on the surface level of life, we are often unaware of the anger and fear burning deep within us.
How can we begin to return to the higher perception of potential unity within our world? It's certainly not easy. So many of us struggle to overcome built-in negative habits or entrenched behaviors that separate rather than unite us; the tendency toward self-interest impinging on the potential for selflessness. However, even one person standing against oppression, violence and greed, whether it is in the home, in the community, or between nations, can become a source of inspiration for everyone who comes into contact with him or her. Whatever one's faith, the words from Scripture should not just remain on the written page. Rather, the man or woman who practices its wonderful teachings will give strength and inspiration to those seeking to turn judgment into compassion, fear into courage and selfishness into kindness to the benefit of all.
Viewing the world through the eyes of skepticism and separateness, as we often do, causes us to think of ourselves as frail, fragmented creatures, too weak to take action and make our contribution. But a shift in consciousness, as a result of witnessing others' inspiring behavior, of perceiving the grandeur of nature, of an uplifting symphony, of the inspirational words of our poets and sages, can begin to arouse our souls to a higher level of perception.
This arousal, however, takes continuous attention to insure continuity. For living in a tension-filled world, there are few of us who do not harbor some form of resentment and anger toward others and toward ourselves. Before we heal the world, we must begin the task of healing ourselves. In order to do so, we must utilize daily self-reflection to deal with our feelings and create reconciliation with ourselves, others and G-d, in order to achieve some sense of forgiveness. For the Jewish people, this is the season that reminds us of G-d's love for us, and asks us to return to the callings of the soul, to Unity which is hardwired into creation.
We are told by the sages that when we even BEGIN this process of reconciliation with ourselves and others, we are forgiven and transformed; we can then begin to accept ourselves and love ourselves because we are loved once more. Being forgiven and being able to accept oneself are the same thing.
So, for those who will hear it, may the sounds of the Shofar awaken us out of our slumber and lead us to this higher calling of unity, to self-forgiveness, and to our duties to all humankind, to the meaning of life, and toward the knowledge that we are all inextricably bound together in unity. May this year be, indeed, one in which all nations and religions march together toward a new consciousness and the concretization of these perceptions into loving actions that will heal injustice, oppression and pain and transform the world into the unified essence it is meant to be.
Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, Ph.D, is President of the Academy for Jewish Religion, California (AJRCA) and Vice-President of Claremont Lincoln University.