October 20, 2019

How Rosh Hashanah Can Change Your Life

There are plenty of somber themes at this time of year — themes like repentance, atonement, forgiveness and so on. It’s heavy stuff, and we must honor it. It’s important to hold ourselves accountable for our sins and mistakes, and Rosh Hashanah is our annual opportunity to do just that.

But there’s another aspect to Rosh Hashanah that has always intrigued me: Why do we greet the Jewish New Year on the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, Tishrei, rather than the first month, Nisan?

In other words, why does Rosh Hashanah, the “head” of the Jewish year, not follow the actual calendar in the same way that the secular New Year begins on Jan. 1?

If you take this question to heart, it can change your life.

You see, Rosh Hashanah commemorates something much deeper than the rhythm of a calendar — it commemorates the actual creation of the world. It commemorates creativity.

Why is this a game changer? Because it offers us a blueprint for how to renew our lives.

When we try to heal from things like loneliness, depression or trauma, we often talk about renewing ourselves.

When we lose a family member, when a marriage breaks up or a job is lost, or when we just feel an emptiness in our lives, we also talk about renewing ourselves. A “new beginning” gives us hope; it reminds us it’s never too late to make something out of our short and precious lives.

What it doesn’t do, however, is guide us — it doesn’t tell us how to renew ourselves.

This is where the act of creation comes in. Rosh Hashanah commemorates the ultimate, most essential creative moment in human history — the act of creating the world.

Since we are created in God’s image, when we ourselves create something from nothing, we are participating in this ultimate, most essential and holiest of acts.  

Creativity may lack the drama of repairing the world, but it has the drama of repairing ourselves. When we create, we’re less likely to get angry, to gossip, to hurt someone, to feel resentful or fearful or lonely.

Think of the moments in your life when you experienced great satisfaction. In my case, even as I write this, I’m experiencing the fulfillment of making something from scratch. A blank screen has turned into a collection of thoughts and ideas that I am sharing with you.

This kind of satisfaction has few equals. It doesn’t matter what you create — a bookshelf, a poem, a meal, a painting, a garden, a song, a friendship, a TV show, a story, a newspaper column. What matters is that you took nothing and turned it into something. You created a world.

It’s true that during these High Holy Days, we’ll hear more sermons about morality than about creativity. Yes, this is a time to work on our ethics, on our relationships, on how well we fulfill our obligations to our families, communities and to humanity.

But there’s room for creativity in this moral picture. Creativity may lack the drama of repairing the world, but it has the drama of repairing ourselves. When we create, we’re less likely to get angry, to gossip, to hurt someone, to feel resentful or fearful or lonely, or simply to waste hours looking at Instagram. 

Creating is the opposite of consuming. Instead of passively munching on something external, we actively create something internal, something rooted in our creative spirit.

Creating is the opposite of consuming. Instead of passively munching on something external, we actively create something internal, something rooted in our creative spirit.

By honoring the act of creation, Rosh Hashanah does something extraordinary: It honors not simply the passage of time but what we can do with that time. It honors, indeed, time itself, inspiring us to spend our time in creative ways that can enrich our lives.

Tapping into our creative spirit requires courage. People who create take risks; they stick their necks out. They’re not afraid to look foolish or ridiculous. Writing a weekly column for 13 years is a constant reminder that one false note here or there, one mistake, can come back to bite me. 

The rewards, though, are more than worth it.

So, as you reflect on new beginnings during these Holy Days, look for a blank page, a blank wall, a blank section on your calendar. Look for anything blank, anything empty, and ask yourself: How can I turn nothing into something?

The satisfaction may be so great that you may find it easier to repent, atone and forgive.

Shanah tovah.