Rosh Hashana is not just the beginning of the Hebrew calendar; it is also a symbol of renewal. This is when we begin to scrutinize ourselves and determine how we want to improve ourselves.
Considering the disasters America has been through this past month, it seems like Rosh Hashana couldn’t come at a better time. Actually, the words, Rosh Hashana, come from the Hebrew words, Rosh Hashinui—the beginning of change. We can only hope that the change will be for the better.
Jewish holidays are known for their culinary treats. But besides food and family gatherings, Jewish festivals have profound spiritual meanings. Rosh Hashana is not just the beginning of the Hebrew calendar; it is also a symbol of renewal. This is when we begin to scrutinize ourselves and determine how we want to improve ourselves.
Tasting from a fish’s head means that we want to be the head and not the tail. This implies that we want to determine our path for ourselves and not follow the herd blindly. We eat pomegranate seeds, and each seed represents a desire we have discovered within us, and which we want to learn how to use for the sake of others rather than selfishly. And the apple we eat symbolizes the sin (of self-centeredness), which we mitigate (sweeten) with honey, again symbolizing our desire to learn how to use even that primordial temptation altruistically.
The people of Israel coined the saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and to various degrees implemented it until the ruin of the Second Temple. All of our festivals symbolize milestones along the path of transformation from the evil inclination—namely egoism—to altruism, where we love our neighbors as ourselves.
Our sages tell us that the only reason why the Second Temple was ruined is unfounded hatred. That is, when egoism takes over, we fail and fall. We were established as a nation only when we vowed to unite “as one man with one heart.” When we broke that vow, we were dispersed and exiled.
No less important than our vow to be as one was the commandment we were given to be a light unto nations. But in the absence of the bond between us, what light do we emit? When we are united and we show it, we become a light unto nations and realize our vocation as Jews.
Today, mistrust and alienation prevail on all levels of humanity—from the interpersonal through the social, national, and to the international. Clearly, we are growing increasingly alienated from each other—the opposite of the unity and brotherly love that are so vital for survival in a world where everyone depends on everyone else.
The more we pursue the current trend, the greater the pressure that will be applied on the Jews. Deep down, the world remembers that the Jews once knew the secret to proper human connection. When that memory surfaces, it is vented out as accusations that we are warmongers, manipulators, and similar tirades that have become part and parcel of the anti-Jewish lingo.
Although we, too, are disconnected, we are the ones who can and must rekindle our unity. We may still be very far from it, but at least we can recognize the indispensability of this unjustly derogated value: unity.
Therefore, this Rosh Hashana is an opportunity to really make it Rosh Hashinui, the beginning of change. Here and now we should begin to change how we relate to one another. As we gather with family and friends, we must make it a point to rise above our differences and find the common goal of unity. And when we do so, the previously mentioned woes will be no more, since they all derive from one and only origin—our separation.
This year, let us spread some honey on our alienation and sweeten it with caring and concern for one another. After the recent tragedies America has suffered, it could sure use some mutual concern and mutual responsibility. And really, unity is all we need. Unity is all that the world needs, and is the key to our lasting happiness.
Featured in The Jerusalem Post