We all know Rosh Hashanah for its autumn decor, delectable apples and honey, and lively party energy. But it’s also a deeply spiritual time observed in unique ways across the diverse spectrum of Judaism. Here are four ways Jewish thinkers from around the world suggest we can re-examine this classic holiday with a renewed perspective.
There’s something beautiful about traditions—they connect us to others who hold them, and to those who have adhered to them in the past. Author Belinda Brock says, “During this time, many people are searching for the things that feel like home and family.” At Rosh Hashanah, she says, “I feel my parents’ presence this time of year when I pull out my mother’s holiday recipes, when I unpack the heirloom silverware from its velvet-lined wooden box and set the table, when I light the yahrzheit candles, when I say Yizkor. But what really brings my parents to the forefront of my mind is the immersion in Hebrew—my parents’ language.” As a holiday of introspection, Brock said, “I turn my focus onto myself: What kind of daughter was I?”1
As tradition reminds us of our families and communities, Rosh Hashanah can serve as a time to examine our relationships. Is there one relationship in particular (past or present) you’d like to examine this year?
Most of us are familiar with the tradition of tashlich, but many are not as familiar with what it represents. Rosh Hashanah is a time to approach God, not only with a broken heart, but a clean heart. Casting pieces of bread into the water and watching them wash away could open our minds to reveal anything that’s staining our souls or inhibiting our relationship with God.2 Russ Levine, a student at San Francisco State University, writes about his revelations during this ritual for ReformJudaism.com: “To truly lose our sins in the deep we must … don scuba masks and flippers and absurdly large oxygen tanks and swim down towards the cold and unforgiving darkness inside ourselves.”3
The uncomfortable task of deep introspection becomes a necessary first step of recognizing our sins before seeking reconciliation with God. Out of a dark place of regret, King David cried out, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). What would you like to see cleansed within yourself this Rosh Hashanah?
While Jewish people around the world acknowledge and celebrate God’s kingship on Rosh Hashanah, many Messianic Jews also spend the day anticipating King Messiah returning to establish his reign and drawing everyone to know and worship the God of Israel (Zechariah 14:9).
Rabbi Yahnatan Lasko of Beth Messiah Congregation near Washington, DC explores this more deeply: “The special piyyutim (liturgical poems) of Rosh Hashanah offer a complementary description of the holiday as a day ‘when Your flock passes beneath the rod as You bring them close.’4 This is an invitation to imagine God as a shepherd and to personally experience God’s care through this season of introspection. Yeshua’s core message was that the reign of God was coming near, a proclamation he explained through parables like the one about a shepherd who would pursue even a single lost sheep to bring it back into the fold.”5
This Rosh Hashanah, whether we are soul-searching, contemplating the character of God, or simply trying to live a better life, we can be reminded that God’s goal is to reconcile with us. What if Yeshua provided that reconciliation?
Rabbi Asher Resnick teaches that Jewish holidays serve as signposts on the “spiral of time” to show us which aspect of our humanity is brought out by each particular season. On Rosh Hashanah, the creation of humankind is often celebrated, and Rabbi Resnick suggests that the aspect of our humanity that this highlights is the free will we were given by being made in the image of God.6 No other part of creation has that privilege.
God promises that if you seek Him, you will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13). Have you ever considered how your ability to exercise free will empowers you to embark on a spiritual journey?
4. The Koren Rosh HaShana Mahzor (Jerusalem: Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd., 2014), 552.
5. Rabbi Yahnatan Lasko, interview by Stephanie Hamman, June 28, 2021.
6. Rabbi Asher Resnick, “The Meaning of Rosh Hashanah: An In-Depth Analysis,” Aish, September 25, 2016.