Rhythm is a basic necessity for living. Without a heart beat one cannot live, making it the most universal rhythm there is. Rosh Hashanah is the first half of the heart beat that defines the holiday pulse of the Jewish calendar year. It is the “lubb” in the “lubb-dupp” sound of a heart-beat. This Jewish “lubb-dupp” is followed by a series of symbol crashes, cow bells (even!), and other percussive marvels representing the rest of the Jewish year. If Rosh Hashanah is the “lubb”, then Yom Kippur is the “dupp”, and what should happen between the two halves of this heartbeat is critical.
Rosh Hashanah calls Jews to be retro- and introspective. Who are you? What have you done or not done justly over the year prior? It’s not so much a question of “Am I a good per-son”, but rather, “could I have been a better person? What can I do to be a better person?”
Like other new year traditions it’s an opportunity to hit the reset button and choose to make modifications in one’s life. It’s the chance to tap into to the collective momentum of change. So why not just go with the secular flow of the Gregorian calendar?
Whether you take the back story literally or not, God made everything, then made people, people turned out to be not so great, so God got rid of most of them. Eventually out of what was left of humanity came a group of people God decided to choose for some particular obligations. Tikkun Olam. The call to repair the world. This is something that Jews are particularly obligated to do. Anybody can participate, but for Jews it’s part of a collective agreement. Whether one believes in God or not, being just, and working hard to do better is part of Jewish tradition.
One cannot affect positive change externally without mastering positive change within. Life is busy. The Jewish calendar is full of “pause and reflect” about lots of different things, but Rosh Hashanah is directed at the self. Having a chunk of time set aside within a familiar cadence to self examine in the context of a deep spiritual and moral obligation is extremely helpful, but also uniquely Jewish.
Khalm Smiderle is a multimedia artist who has helped produce various video projects for the Jewish community. A Hamilton native, Smiderle is also a convert to Judaism.