Rabbi Steven Schwarzman: it’s time to do Teshuvah

By Rabbi Steven Schwarzman

Rabbi Steven Schwarzman

(AJNews) – We normally think of Rosh Hashanah as the beginning of the year. After all, isn’t that what Rosh Hashanah means? Literally, it’s the head or the start of the year. So it has to be at the beginning. Right?

Well, not exactly. Let’s have a look at what the Torah says about this day in Leviticus:

In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts.

The seventh month? What’s Rosh Hashanah doing starting the new year when the year is already six months old?

There is a historical reason for this. Nisan, when we observe Passover, is the first month of the Hebrew calendar because the Exodus from Egypt marks when we became a people with our own destiny. That’s how we mark time as the Jewish people. As a result, the Torah itself says, in a conversation between G-d and Moses on the eve of the final plague, that the month that we now call Nisan is to be the first month of the year. This is when Jewish time begins.

And so Rosh Hashanah is in the seventh month, not the first month of the year. Half the months of the year have gone by. When the year is new, when our lives are new, we don’t need to do teshuvah. There’s been no opportunity to sin or to fail to do what we really should be doing, nothing to repent for.

It is in Nisan, in the first month, that we leave Egypt every year, because the Haggadah tells us that each of us must see ourselves as if we personally were among the Hebrews who left Egypt and headed off into the desert. Every year, we start back in Egypt. Every year, we are slaves again. And every year, we get redeemed from slavery and have the chance to start anew.

But by the time Rosh Hashanah comes, in Tishrei, the year is half-over. And we have had a half-year of mixed success, of new achievements…and new failures, or perhaps of sticking to old achievements and old failures. Now that the year is half-over, we are in danger of repeating the mistakes we made last year, of adding another layer of veneer on top of our true selves. And each new layer makes it harder to see the truth.

And so we sound the alarm. Every year, beginning in Elul and culminating in Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we sound the shofar, the alarm, to wake us up from what might be a pleasant or unpleasant dream, but which is always a dream, and return to reality.

Precisely in the middle of the year is when we need to do teshuvah. We can look back to the first half of the year, and to the first halves of all the years before this one, and see what we need to do differently and better this time. We need to return to ourselves. We need to do teshuvah.

And just as Rosh Hashanah happens in the middle of the year, our teshuvah can start in the middle of the year or even the middle of our lives; even in the middle of the day. Let us decide to truly start the new year and the new month, today. It’s because we’re halfway through that we have the perspective we need so that we can start over anew.

Leshanah tovah tikateivu veteihateimu – may you be inscribed and sealed for a good, sweet, healthy new year.

 Rabbi Steven Schwarzman is the spiritual leader at Beth Shalom, Edmonton’s Conservative Egalitarian Jewish congregation.


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