Spiritual Me

September 2, 2013

I am Ready for a New Year


I could not think of a better time than now for my first post under a new menu tab I have added to La Vida Valley and  named “Spiritual Me” where everyone is invited to share their spiritual experiences regardless of religion and creed.

I begin with an event that gives everybody the opportunity for a second chance – even if it’s the hundredth one: Rosh Hashanah or the start of the year according to the Jewish calendar.

Rosh Hashanah celebrates the birth of the world and humanity. While the number 5773 corresponds to the age of the world, according to some ancient calculations, it speaks to a much larger issue which remains central to understanding Rosh Hashanah even for those of us who think that that world is far older. By celebrating the birth of the world and of humanity, not the birth of the Jewish nation or of the first Jew, Rosh Hashanah celebrates that whatever particular faith we follow, we share a common origin and destiny. Brad Hirschfield’s wrote in 2012 for the Washington Post article.

The promise of a new and more spiritual  me, and the opportunity to reflect on my past behavior and look towards the future, “for there is no past that cannot be overcome, and no person who does not deserve the opportunity to do so,” is something worth considering. What attracted me to learn more about Jewish traditions was the desire to find out more about Jesus of Nazareth; what were his traditions and what he celebrated as well as how and when he prayed. It is something that has drawn me closer to him the Christ. Anytime religion is discussed, controversy shows its face. I invite you to let go of judgments and embrace peace at all times.

The following is the weekly Torah Commentary from my dear friend Dr. Peter Tarlow of the Center for Hispanic-Jewish Relations at Texas A&M Hillel.

 Rosh Ha’Shanah is less about the changing of the year than it is about the changing of who we are.  It is for this reason that during our New Year we measure our strengths and weaknesses.  These days are points in our spiritual calendars: the moments where “time” touches upon “place,” where the “spiritual” intermingles with the “material,” when we look back at “yesterday” while seeking to look forward toward “tomorrow.”  Rosh Ha’Shanah teaches us that we cannot help others until we know and judge ourselves.  The Jewish New Year is not a time for celebration but rather for contemplation and religious reflection.  It is the time for “Cheshbon ha’Nefesh” or the taking an accounting of the soul.  As such, Rosh Ha’Shanah offers us a myriad of spiritual challenges.  One of its lessons is that humans are distinct from other species of life in that we hold ourselves accountable and know that G’d will judge us for and by our actions.

Rosh Ha’Shanah is not an easy holiday.  It demands that we are honest with ourselves and with G’d, and that we ask ourselves hard questions.  Some of Rosh Ha’Shanah’s questions are: What did I do well during the past year and what did I do poorly?  Whom did I hurt and how did I use the excuse of being hurt as a tool for manipulation or escaping personal responsibility?  How have I helped my community and how have I failed it?  What in life bring me the most happiness?  What important decisions did I avoid making last year?  When do I feel closest to G’d?  When was I angry at G’d?  How do I need to change?  Do I seek to serve others and G’d or do I only want others to  serve me?  What makes my life most meaningful?  When I die, what do I want people to remember about me? None of these questions are easy to answer, and all of them are necessary to ask.

The days from Rosh Ha’Shanah until Yom Kippur are called Aseret Ymei Teshuvah, or “The Ten Days of Teshuvah.”  Teshuvah is a hard word to translate.  It means taking responsibility for past mistakes and correcting them, saying you are sorry for your failures and finding a way to fix them, seeing the limitations in your life and going beyond them.  If Rosh Ha’Shanah is about the “I” then the ten days from Rosh Ha’Shanah until Yom Kippur are about the “we.”

This Wednesday night then is not a time of celebration or self-congratulation, but rather it is a time of deep spiritual reflection, of personal and communal change and a chance to begin again.

May each of us examine our lives and may we all be written in the book of life for 5774.

End of weekly Torah Commentary.

Rosh Hashanah is also referred to as the “day of horns” – a curving ram’s horn that is mentioned numerous times in the Hebrew Bible and it is always associated with life-changing events. In his article, Hirschfield compares it to an ancient alarm clock, and Rosh Hashanah as the day on which it is set to help wake ourselves up to becoming the person we most want to be. It is a time to reconnect, repair, and renew, he wrote.

Symbolic foods such as apples and honey are central to the holiday. The adage that we are what we eat is taken quite seriously on Rosh Hashanah, as those celebrating the holiday break out all kinds of foods symbolizing the sweetness, health, success and good deeds which they hope the coming year will bring. Of course, you don’t have to be Jewish to eat your wishes for the year ahead!

What foods would you eat to symbolize your aspirations for the New Year at work, school, or any other part of your life?

Dr. Peter Tarlow recommends reading The Akedah or chapters 21 and 22 of Genesis. “These chapters must be read and reread. They contain every human emotion possible, and provoke us to an infinite number of questions. I have been writing about them for the last 40 years and have at no time exhausted the challenges that they pose.” said Dr. Tarlow in a written statement.

May we all have a blessed new beginning.

The featured photo is from the I Declare World Peace Project

Brad Hirschfield’s editorial For God’s Sake: the uses and abuses of religion in politics and pop culture can be found here.

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About the Author

Nydia O
A bird does not sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.-Maya Angelou. La Vida Valle is where I write about "la vida" my life in the Rio Grande Valley. From this bi-cultural corner on the tip of Texas, I share my poems and my spiritual and travel experiences. I also blog about the arts, nature and my passion for historic preservation and architecture. But most importantly, let's talk about "la vida" - living our lives - in a vacation state of mind. Contributions and comments are always welcome .

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