Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur

For the week ending 11 September 2010 / 2 Tishri 5771

Rosh Hashana Resolutions

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Amanda

Dear Rabbi,

Is there a concept of New Year’s resolutions in Judaism for Rosh Hashana? Thanks for your time!

Dear Amanda,

The answer is yes, and presumably even more so than in what’s generally associated with the non-Jewish New Year.

For most who attribute significance to December 31/January 1, the celebrations of the general New Year are hardly expressions of ideal behavior. Drunkenness, gluttony and lasciviousness quickly eradicate any resolutions one may have made.

In Judaism, however, Rosh Hashana, which occurs on the same date mankind was created, namely the first day of the Hebrew month Tishrei, is truly a day of rectification and repair in the context of a most solemn and spiritually uplifting holiday.

This day actually culminates an entire month of introspection, meditation, reflection and review of one’s deeds, character traits, intellectual and theological orientation and quantity and quality of mitzvah observance. During this month, a person not only makes resolutions regarding what needs to be corrected and improved, but more importantly, he actually starts effecting and implementing those changes.

By the time Rosh Hashana arrives, the last thing a person would do would be to squander away all the progress he’s made by “celebrating” the day in an immoral, inebriated stupor of inappropriateness, G-d forbid. Rather, well on his way to having gradually and healthfully integrated beneficial changes in his life over the month before Rosh Hashana, the Jew stands before G-d asking for Divine favor, not based on tenuous, fleeting resolutions, but rather on implemented ones.

This intense, but natural and gradual repentance is then extended through what’s called the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, where the focus is on fine-tuning and perfecting one’s physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual service of G-d in order to achieve the greatest degree of personal perfection possible. It is in this milieu that G-d atones for and purifies the individual and Nation on Yom Kippur.

Having gone through this elevating and purifying process of penitence, the re-Jew-vinated Jew then emerges from Yom Kippur to celebrate the joyous holiday of Succot where the theme is thanking and rejoicing in the bounty of G-d while simultaneously departing from an overemphasis on the mundane in order to literally celebrate with G-d in godliness. We thus leave our earthbound houses laden with produce in order to dwell with G-d in the heavenly oriented succah.

Once we have made our resolutions and implemented them (Elul), asked for Divine favor (Rosh Hashana) and received atonement and purification (Yom Kippur), thereby deserving bounty whose purpose is to enable us to truly cleave to G-d (Succot), we are then fully able to renew our love for, and commitment to, the Torah (Simchat Torah), after which time our penitential resolutions crescendo by restarting the yearly Torah reading cycle, “In the beginning G-d created…”

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