This week is the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. A new year is always a time of renewal and hope, and Rosh Hashanah certainly is that. In its customs and traditions, too, there’s a lot about this holiday that resonates with the Law of Sobriety–whether you’re Jewish or not, religious or not.
This is the day when we take a giant step back and assess what we’ve been up to for the past year. Are we headed in the right direction? Do we even know what the right direction is? How deeply committed are we to the journey?
The traditions of the holiday are reminders of this sense of assessment and commitment. For example, there’s a custom called tashlich, which is reciting certain prayers near a river or other body of water. The water represents an obstacle in our travels. As the new year begins, standing next to the water in prayer is a renewal of our commitment to strive for our goals, despite the obstacles. Another part of the custom is to empty our pockets into the river and watch as our misdeeds of the past year symbolically float away. Letting go of them is what enables us to recommit to our goals and not let any obstacles stop us.
According to the book “Twelve Jewish Steps to Recovery” by Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky and Stuart A. Copans, MD, “Prior to the High Holidays, we take inventory and make amends. But once a year is not enough. the goal is to be able to step back from everything we do and look at ourselves objectively.” As Jews, or anyone else in recovery, it is our work to take inventory and make amends regularly. In the Jewish Tradition we may not need to finish the work, but we may not walk away from it either. We who are in recovery, can easily fall into denial and into an un-willingness to listen carefully enough to what others are saying. One psalm reminds me of how the addicts work is never done. “It is not your responsibility to fully complete the work of repair, but neither are you free to cease from doing it.” Pirke Avot 2:16
If you grew up going to synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, you remember the sound of the shofar, the ram’s horn that is blown in the holiday. It’s a very ancient, stirring sound, and the years when I don’t go to synagogue for the holiday, I have to admit that I miss it. There’s something about the sound of the shofar that stirs my soul.
And that’s not surprising, because that’s what it’s meant to do. The shofar is sounded in three different patterns. The first is tekiah, one long, clear note that is a call to turn away from our day-to-day routine and refocus on who we want to be. The next is teruah, a rapid series of very short notes. It’s a sound that leads us to integrate the thoughts and reflections that inevitably come up on the new year. Then comes shevarim, an anxious, sighing sound of three short calls. It’s the sound of our yearning to start again.
Finally, on Rosh Hashanah we get together for a festive dinner that includes dipping pieces of apple in honey. It’s a symbol of our wish for a sweet year to come. But the point of all that came before it, the prayers by the water, the shofar, the day of reflection, is that if we are on the right path and are committed to it, everything will be sweet. God, the universe, our higher power will see to it.