Introspection: A Jewish New Year Tradition

Marking time is an honored tradition in Judaism. We mark the passing of seasons with agriculturally based holidays in the fall (harvest), spring (planting) and summer (first fruits). We mark the passing of human life with baby naming, bar/bat mitzvah, weddings, anniversaries and even death is delineated into periods of one week, a month, year and every year following (Yahrzeit). Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) mark the passing of time in a unique manner. During the “Ten Days of Repentance” between the two holidays, Jewish practice requires us to pause and inspect our lives; silence the noise around us and in us, take account of our actions and listen to our internal wisdom: allowing an internal pause in our lives.

As we march on in our busy and full lives, we are often unaware of our effect on others, of forming negative habits unknowingly. As the Talmud (ancient body of Jewish law) explains:

The impulse to do evil is at first like a passer-by, then like a lodger, and finally like the master of the house —Talmud Sukkah 52b

Can we stop and open ourselves to see our shadowy self? The impact our actions and words have on others? The effect our consumption has on our environment? How about the influence of our greed on our bodies and society? Can we get to a place of humility, compassion for others and self, a place of truth?

“Repentance is an absolute, spiritual decision made in truthfulness. Its motivations are remorse for the past and responsibility for the future.” Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays By Abraham Joshua Heschel, Susannah Heschel

This process is not meant to be an abstract, passive exercise – Action is demanded. Any misdeeds we have committed against the divine can be absolved through prayer and genuine contrition. However, any hurt or harm we have caused our fellow humans cannot be absolved in a similar manner. We must approach our friends and loved ones with the question: “Will you forgive me for any harm or hurt that I may have caused you this year?” Considering that we may have unknowingly brought pain unto others, we are asked to present this question to the people around us, offering an opportunity to share feelings and heal relationships. This practice is part of the Jewish hope for Tikkun Olam – Repairing the world.

The Jewish greeting for the New Year is NOT “Happy New Year”, it is Shanah Tovah – a “Good Year.” May your year be full of goodness and may you find goodness in yourself and others.