THE BLOG
09/24/2014 02:51 pm ET Updated Nov 24, 2014

Transforming Oneself at Rosh Hashanah Is Multidimensional

Maisie Paterson via Getty Images

With the onset of the Jewish New Year at sundown, Jews will be looking back at a year mixed with loss, pain and hope. Events of the year have already given many Jews, both in Israel and abroad, a lot to take stock of long before Rosh Hashana's arrival. But nonetheless, every year we still relegate this time of year to take stock before launching into the future. It can be said that taking stock can be an occupational hazard of having a New Year holiday. Aside from the collective accounting Jews are meant to take as a whole, there is the individual reckoning: What have I been working on internally this year? Or for many years? Is it time to work on something else? What kind of parent do I want to be? Spouse? Am I fulfilling my potential with the career that I have? This process can seemingly reduce what is meant to be a profound experience into an annual charade, a kind of "forced change," that will expire when the New Year season ends with Simhat Torah, in October.

But taking stock at the Jewish New Year is more than resolutions, and even more than solutions, rather it is about transformation. Transformation can only take place with a vision. Rosh Hashanah carves out a space for us to create that vision for ourselves. During these intense days we can "see" what we are made of, what is possible for us. And while Jews celebrate this New Year, according to Jewish tradition -- and we recite this during prayers on Rosh Hashanah -- all inhabitants of the universe are so to speak "accounted for" on the New Year. It is the birth date of the universe and therefore the universe's New Year. It is a time of accounting, of recognition, of acute self awareness. No movement into new time can take place without an awareness of the past. Only with this awareness can one begin to chisel at one's character, change the cycle of repeated behavior, and create a vision of what he or she wants to become.

At Rosh Hashanah Jews are also called upon to recognize a Higher Power. Through relinquishing oneself, there is a natural nod to something Higher. Allowing ourselves to reach for the Higher Power, God, the Almighty, we allow ourselves to let go, not to control. Rosh Hashanah calls out to Jews to do this mutual, dual work. In fact, Rosh Hashanah launches a ten day period of teshuva --transformation -- that culminates in the work of Yom Kippur, seeking atonement from our fellow humans and from the Almighty.

Over the years, as we grow older, our minds become more sophisticated and we relegate belief to the area of sophistry. We harden our souls. We make our own selves inaccessible and remote, harder to reach, harder to penetrate, battling between rational thoughts and what we believe to be irrational thoughts. G-d, the creator of Man and Woman, understood that we would have this inner struggle. This is why He said, "If you seek me with all of your heart, you will find Me," Deuteronomy 4:29. God understood best that seeking a Higher Power purely with the intellect does not work. And Moses shared this divine insight prior to the ancient Israelites entering Canaan, where reason could easily reign supreme. Maintaining our reasoning is essential for building communities, establishing political bodies, and functioning societies. But equally important to maintaining a just and ethical society and building human beings is the work of faith in a Higher Power. This requires a certain kind of sustenance that we rational human beings become uncomfortable with. First and foremost it requires us to acknowledge that there is Someone more powerful than us, more in control than we are.

This is at the core of the Rosh Hashana work: a belief in the power that each human being can transform, and simultaneously, a belief in all the power we humans do not have. This hard work is a central theme of the human struggle: changing and letting go.

So while there is much individual work to do on Rosh Hashanah, there is also a collective, Jewish work: the balance between reason, taking action, making contributions and, humbly and gratefully, letting go. I believe this year, when the three Israeli teenagers Naftali, Gilad and Eyal were kidnapped the Jewish people sensed that perhaps sometimes, collectively, we are called to let go. And like an illuminated sky at sunset, letting go was made very clear to us through the strength of the boys' mothers. Many painful losses for many people in that region followed those long 18 days of searching, losses whose dimensions we are still trying to size up and, perhaps, that will be this year's work.

Part of being the Jewish collective is sustaining a people called to a great responsibility. In order to do that the Jewish people must grow itself, nurture itself, and protect itself, but not simply with a linear model. This responsibility includes taking stock of the larger human family. We must remember human beings who have forgotten that they are human beings. These include all the children sold today into slavery, girls enduring unspeakable barbarity under sexual slavery, young girls who grow into old women in forced marriages, to name a few.

At Rosh Hashanah we are called upon to recognize our individual greatness by acknowledging our flaws, our collective spirit, by recognizing a Higher Power, and our responsibility to imitate that Higher Power by bringing redemption to humanity. Rosh Hashanah gifts us with a vision of ourselves that we can keep front and center throughout the year. If one immerses himself/herself in the work of Rosh Hashana he or she will be able to celebrate God's presence in this world, His wanting us to call out to Him, so that we can experience the nexus of our mind and soul and live meaningfully and purposefully on this earth with all of its inhabitants.