Principal's Blog

Reflecting on Rosh HaShanah

As we approach the Yamim Noraim, the days of awe, our tradition encourages both introspection and externally focused actions which promote reconciliation in our relationships.

It is a quirk of Judaism that we celebrate Rosh HaShanah, our new year, before Yom Kippur, our day of atonement. Surely it would make more sense to atone and then to approach the new year with slate wiped clean, relationships restored and ready for a new beginning. 

Rabbi Jacqui Ninio explains this phenomenon by suggesting that we need to use the nourishment and sweetness of Rosh HaShanah to prepare ourselves to engage honestly in the challenge of Yom Kippur. She states: “All the studies about resilience teach that gratitude and appreciating our blessings, and the good which surrounds us, is the means by which we build fortification to help us withstand the challenges which will come our way. Jewish tradition embeds that in our observance of these Yamim Noraim. We begin with joy, celebration and gratitude, we focus on the good so that we are ready then to confront our less-than-perfect moments, our flaws and our wrongs. Then we can acknowledge them and repair our relationships with God, others and ourselves.”

Another explanation is that Rosh HaShanah is a far more complex day than we give it credit for. In Judaism there are four names for Rosh HaShanah – Yom Harat HaOlam, the day the world was conceived; Yom Teruah, the day of blasting the Shofar; Yom HaZikaron, the day of remembrance and Yom Hadin, the day of judgement.

We can tend to focus on Yom Harat HaOlam and do so by celebrating the start of the year or the birthday of the world. However, the logic of the order of our festivals could be based on the significance of Rosh HaShanah acting as a day of judgement and remembrance, of din and zikaron, where God remembers our actions and seals our fate.

This suggests that now is the time to reflect deeply on how we can improve ourselves and to make commitments about what we can change in the coming year. We should be counting our many blessings and honestly appraising our many imperfections.

I encourage our students and families to think about our community at this time of year. We are so lucky to be surrounded by a warm, embracing and thoughtful community that makes space for the individual while celebrating our common purpose.

But is this true for everyone? Can we push ourselves further to truly embrace the inclusivity that we aspire to? Can we make space for new friends and new connections? Can we be more honest and consistent? Can we be slower to judge and more open to the differences of opinion and approach that strengthen us as a community?

As we go through this important period in the Jewish calendar I hope that we can all find meaning and the inspiration to seek a life with a little more integrity, openness and humanity. 

G’mar Chatima Tovah and Shanah Tovah,

Marc Light