It would be a lot easier to not celebrate Rosh Hashanah, to simply have it be just a regular day. No getting gussied up for synagogue and sitting through a long sermon. No preparing a meal and getting sticky honey all over the place (this is especially true if you have young children). No having to think about being better in the new year. After all, we’re already good people, right? And Rosh Hashanah is on a Monday this year, so it will definitely be much easier to avoid missing work or school and then have to explain yourself to everyone, and that’s in addition to whatever work you’ll have to make up later.
So, why do we do it? If it’s clearly easier, why not just skip it? The first part of the answer is that a lot of people do skip it. This isn’t a judgement; it’s simply a fact. Religious involvement, not just with Judaism, but many with many religions, is decreasing and has been for a while.
The bigger answer to the question is this: We celebrate Rosh Hashanah and choose to have Judaism in our lives because human beings crave connection, meaning, and purpose, and living Jewishly can create all of this. The ways that Jewish teachings, rituals, celebrations, and traditions can enrich our lives and help us connect to others is truly endless. But, there’s a catch…
The catch is this: Judaism doesn’t just happen. We have to do the work. We have to make a commitment to living Jewishly. This doesn’t mean that we have to observe and celebrate every single thing. But if we consistently do nothing, nothing will happen. Specific to Rosh Hashanah, yes, it can be a hassle to miss work or school; and it’s a lot of work to prepare a meal and think of ways to make the holiday special for yourself and the people you care about it. And it’s definitely challenging to take an honest look at yourself and make a commitment to improving your character and habits in the new year.
Many people, myself definitely included, will tell you that it’s all worth it. That all the work, the time, and even the frustration, is worth it because deep down inside we don’t want every day to be just a regular day. We want to feel blessed, and we want to be a blessing to others. We want to know that our lives matter and that we have purpose. We want to have hope that even if we’re surrounded by despair (which isn’t an “if” considering the headlines each day), goodness can prevail—not always (because it doesn’t always), but at least sometimes.
Rosh Hashanah is our fresh start each year. It is a time of renewed hope, and because of this, it is a beautiful gift. My wish for all of us is that we accept this gift and be intentional and creative about not only how we celebrate Rosh Hashanah, but also how we approach our lives in the new year. Shana Tova!