Symbolized by shiny apples dipped in golden honey and the soulful wails of a ram’s horn wafting across halls brimming with worshippers, Rosh Hashanah is the fresh start of a new year.
Rosh Hashanah is a time of introspection and growth. It is a time for reflecting on a year passed and paving the path for a better future. For many of us, however, Rosh Hashanah just comes and goes, a year ends and a new one starts, and everything is just back to where it started.
Which leaves us wondering, what’s the point of it all anyway? Year after year we celebrate the same holidays and practice the same rituals, but where does this all lead us? Right back to where we started. So what’s the point?
To tackle this issue, we need to look at how we view time. Typically, we think of time as a linear system: It’s a long, straight line that started somewhere way back when and continues ahead of us as far as we can see.
We view our lives as a never-ending journey down this narrow freeway of time, and as we exert all our efforts to keep ourselves straight on the path, it turns into a challenging task when the scenery becomes so repetitive and boring.
In Jewish mysticism we are introduced to another view of time, the cyclical view. That is the view of time taking a circular path.
Imagine time as traveling a circular route up the inside of a funnel. Each year you pass the same familiar milestones, but you are slightly higher and more broadened than the year before.
In Jewish mystical thought, it’s understood that each holiday or ritual has a specific and unique influence, a mood that we need to capture to inspire us along our journey and propel us along our path.
Chanukah is the holiday of light; when we light the menorah, we can tap into its energy to brighten our lives and illuminate the world. Passover is a time of freedom; when we participate in the seder, we are empowered to combat oppression and fight abuse. Rosh Hashanah is a time for self-development; it’s a time that empowers us to make positive changes and personal improvements.
Our goal is to absorb enough energy from each holiday to propel us around the circuit and back to that same spot again next year. We hope we will be slightly higher and a bit broader when we get back to that spot. If we lose momentum or run out of energy, we are at risk of slowly slipping back down the funnel of life, which we’ve worked so hard to climb.
The problem is that inspiration wears off quickly, so after getting uplifted and inspired, we soon find ourselves back in the daily grind, without the energy to propel us to the next level in the coming year.
The remedy for this is the priceless pledge, an idea that I got from a unique and inspirational guided service I attended a few years back in Washington. The service was geared toward students and young professionals and followed a no-membership, no-commitment approach.
So when the rabbi started making a High Holiday appeal, we were all wondering what we were in for. Then the rabbi started talking about the priceless pledge. He said that he was not looking for monetary contributions, but something much greater.
He exhorted us to pledge to take one small step, make one small change in our lives for our own betterment or for the benefit of the community. Attend a class, join a social action committee or host an event.
This, my friends, is the answer, because inspiration is just a feeling, and feelings wear off quickly. To hold onto that inspiration, we need to solidify it by committing it to something physical, an action that we can actually do and experience. We need to solidify it with a priceless pledge. It’s like the battery that holds the charge so you can continue to power your device long after you disconnect the power cord.
Every congregation offers a slew of social, educational and charitable opportunities. If you’re tired of the same boring scenery along your journey and you want to experience the exhilarating ascent through life, then don’t sit back in your seat, waiting for the next gas station to fill up.
Grab some batteries to store the energy that you need for the climb. What type of batteries will you choose this year?
Rabbi Chezky Edelson is the educational director at Kollel Ner Hamizrach.