Here at One World, every week we affirm that we honor all paths to God. As an interfaith community, we celebrate that the world’s different faith traditions have much to teach us as we walk our own spiritual paths. We are now in the midst of the High Holy Days of the Jewish calendar, the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This year Rosh Hashanah began at sunset on September 13 and ended on Tuesday, September 15, and Yom Kippur begins on sunset on September 22 and ends at sunset on September 23.
In Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah means, literally, “head of the year” or “first of the year.” Rosh Hashanah thus is known as the Jewish New Year, even though it falls on the first day of the seventh month of the Jewish calendar, the month of Tishri.
Traditionally, Rosh Hashanah begins a period known as the Ten Days of Awe, or the Days of Repentance. It’s a time for introspection, self-examination, a review of the year past. It’s also a time of reconciliation, forgiveness, and renewal. Repentance, prayer, and good deeds are the focus during this holiday season.
While we may not all follow the Jewish faith tradition, don’t these three practices sound familiar to you, even though you may call them by other names? Don’t you find that these three powerful practices are a foundation of spiritual growth in your own life, whether you traditionally celebrate Rosh Hashanah or not?
The notion of repentance has developed a lot of “baggage” over the years, especially for those whose paths have taken them away from more traditional houses of worship. However, the source of the word “repent” simply means to regret, to be sorry. It carries no judgment. I think of awareness, consciousness, unfolding, growth. It means we’ve taken the opportunity to look back and see that we might have behaved in a different way, or made a different choice, to advance our spiritual path.
Prayer, the next step. We are a community that prays and strongly affirms the power of prayer. We align our focus, our thoughts and hearts to connect with Source, to know that we are one, that we affirm the truth of our wholeness and that of others. Prayer is a primary way we rest in Spirit.
And good works. What does that mean but service? We are the hands, the feet and the voice of the Divine here on earth, and the goal of our awakening is to spread that love and compassion to others. The spiritual path is not one we take so that we can focus on our own growth to the exclusion of the world – awakening necessarily includes opening our hearts to the oneness of all. If we believe we all are one, that separation is an illusion, then awakening inevitably means widening our circle of love, compassion, and care. Loving action follows, as we in this community know.
Through the ritual of Tashlikh, Rosh Hashanah provides opportunities to physically demonstrate our release, surrender, and commitment to renewal. On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, celebrants travel to a body of running water, a river or stream, and symbolically cast their sins into the water to begin anew. Now, the notion of sin can be a loaded concept, but one way to regard it that we find useful is as error thinking, letting our “monkey minds” get in the way of our direct connection to Source, to the divine essence that is always at our foundation and our center. We believe we are separate and act accordingly, in fear, in lack, or in despair. We can always turn and come back to Spirit, which in truth has never let us go.
In the Tashlikh ceremony, we may cast bread crumbs or other symbol into the running water. Some stand by the water and turn out their pockets into the running water, to release what they symbolically have been carrying around.
Doesn’t this sound like our own burning bowl ceremony, which we do annually here at One World? When we release those attachments, habits, errors, that no longer serve us? Such ceremonies of release have been practiced for thousands of years, recognizing the power of awareness, surrender, and beginning anew.
Rosh Hashanah at its core is a celebration of our ability to renew, to begin again, to celebrate and strengthen our connection with Spirit. So, may you have a good year – Shanah Tovah!