The new year 5784 will soon begin, and every time we head into this turn, I’m struck by how profoundly different the Jewish New Year celebrations are from the atmosphere surrounding December 31 giving way to January 1. The countdown, followed by an explosion of fireworks, the televised scenes of revelers worldwide could not be more different from the shofar cries, the custom of casting off our shortcomings and unwanted baggage weighing our lives down. To be sure, Rosh Hashanah is joyous — family and friends at the table, apples dipped in honey. The writers who shaped our prayer services sought to balance the austerity and trembling with the optimistic declaration that God will vindicate us by blessing the coming year. The emotional tenderness of Avinu— our Father
— is tempering the strict courtroom justice of Malkeinu — our King.
So we’re in shul — what is the purpose of our time in shul? Well, we’re with fellow members of our tribe. We’re bolstered by their presence, we touch base. But we’re also with ourselves, introspective, creating emotional and spiritual space to be with ourselves and take the measure of ourselves — that is not so easy. We might prefer to hide behind something, anything. We might sympathize with the trembling Adam and Eve who really feel exposed (no, it’s not really about lack of clothing) and quite unprepared to account for themselves. That’s why we plead before Avinu Malkeinu to be gracious, knowing that our own balance sheets are wanting.
God asked Adam a tough question — Where are You? That’s also our Rosh Hashanah inquiry. Where are we going? The shofar (2nd day this year) calls to God and to us: Where’s the path? Help us return to You, God. Help us reconcile with each other. Help us bind the wounds. Help us find the sweetness and the blessing. Shana Tova Umetuka — a good and sweet year!