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Rabbi Yosef Benarroch: Rosh Hashanah: A Time to Change the Routine

Aug 23, 2018

As the Jewish year comes to a close, I want to take the opportunity to wish all of you a very happy and healthy New Year. May you all be inscribed in the book of good life.


One of the themes we are encouraged to explore during Rosh Hashanah is self-improvement. We all enter into the New Year with a long list of the things we would like to change about ourselves during the upcoming year. The High Holiday period is a time of introspection, which means that we must be doing some heavy-duty soul searching so that we can all improve for the better. The bottom line is that when the High Holidays are over there should be a new and improved you.


This principle is the cornerstone of “Teshuvah” (repentance). Maimonides in his code says the following about a “Baal Teshuvah” (repentant individual); “It is the ways of a repentant individual to constantly cry out before G-d with heartfelt supplication. They should also give charity according to their means and distance themselves as far as they can from the sin they transgressed. They should also change their name and declare ‘I am a new person’ not the person that committed those sins” (Maimonides Laws of repentance 2:4).


Indeed Maimonides puts it so beautifully and succinctly; repentance is about becoming a new person. Our Rabbis make a further connection to this theme regarding the timing of Rosh Hashanah. It is the only holiday that takes place at the beginning of the Jewish month. All other holidays take place closer to the middle of the month. What this means is that while during the other holidays the moon is full or close to full, on Rosh Hashanah the moon is just appearing. It is in its cycle of renewal, with just a sliver appearing. This, explain our Rabbis, is to teach us that just as the moon renews itself so too must we renew ourselves as the New Year begins.


Yet this is my question. If we know this to be true, if we all come into the holidays with all of our resolutions of how we want to change for the better, then why is it that for most of us very little changes?


How many of us can really say year in year out that we are in a new place, that we have changed, that we are better this year than we were last year? Do we really set more time aside to study Torah, is the quality of our prayers any better, do we give more charity, do we get angry less or speak less Lashon Hara, do we fight with our spouse any less, have we really made a dent in our busy schedules so that we really are spending more time with our families and less at the office? If you answered positively to any of those questions then there is no need for you to read any further. My gut feeling is that at best you have improved slightly in some of the above areas.


So the real question during the High Holidays is not what do I want to change, but why is it that I have such a hard time changing? Why is it that year in year out I come with a long list of resolutions and yet can’t even manage to make a dent in most of them?


I would like to offer two suggestions. The first is our inability to step out of our routines. We all love our routines and we get so fixed into them that making changes, even if they are for the better, are hard to do. Until we are ready, willing, and courageous enough to go against the flow then very little will change. Real change in our lives comes when we are willing to step out of the routines we have created. I have a daughter who just got diagnosed with Celiac. She loves her gluten but now she must change years of habit. Nature has forced her to understand that unless she does not change the way she eats she will not feel better. Changing bad character traits is much the same. It too requires a courageous change of routine.


The second is hard work and dedication. A bad habit that took decades to create is not going to disappear overnight. It takes a lot of hard work and perseverance to improve. Most people simply give up. Think about getting into better shape. It requires discipline, effort, and perseverance. Changing yourself for the better is no different. 


At the end of the day change is what the High Holidays is all about. If at the conclusion of the High Holidays the only thing we can talk about is the eloquence of the Rabbis sermon, the pitch of the cantor’s voice, or the fluidity of the Shofar blasts, then we have missed the main point of the holidays. The main point is change and for that we need hard work.


I am reminded of a story that is told about the revered sage Rabbi Yisrael Salanter who was known as an extremely pious individual. During the High Holidays he would say, “Many people repent during the Ten Day of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The more scrupulous begin at the start of the month of Elul. I say, however, that one must begin to repent immediately after Neilah the preceding Yom Kippur”.  Indeed, when it comes to self-improvement there are no shortcuts, just dedication, and hard work. This year let our list of resolutions not go unattended.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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