The high holidays are a stressful time for everyone. They demand a lot of thought and preparation, mental and physical. For some, the holidays mean spending time with family, which is annoying. For others, they involve not spending time with family, which is worse. A lot of people have tons of cooking and cleaning to do, a whole bunch of other people do a lot of learning, praying, and soul searching, and some suckers even do both.
It would be quite understandable, even expected, if this all generates a wee bit of tension, a little bit of aggravation, a tiny smidgen of anger. And this tiny smidgen, this smidgen’l of stress, might G-d-forbid totally ruin the perfect saint-like serenity of your yearly communion with the almighty. Then your Rosh Hashana will be like the plate of apple slices on the first night when everyone is still excited about honey. It will be a sticky, soggy, mess.
Thankfully, the way of Judaism, the tradition of our ancestors, like a rock in turbulent waters, can guide us through this special yet trying time of year. If we follow these ten straightforward steps (alternatively: realize these ten simple truths), we can easily transform our New Year from a time of tension to one of transcendence and clarity.
1. Remember That G-d Loves You Unconditionally, You Beautiful Soul
No one can deny, given the history of the Jewish people, that our G-d loves us unconditionally. Even in situations where we were sinners, G-d has brought us close and kept us from harm. This is even deeper according to the Chassidic understanding, which explains that G-d loves us so much that even in His infinitude, beyond all confines of logic, where all is equally nothing before His great light, He still chooses to love the Jewish people.
So when you’re standing there on Rosh Hashana and you’re wondering whether your relationship with the Almighty is severed, whether you can even approach Him from the depths of your strayings, you must know — you will be G-d’s chosen child forever, and no matter what you do, He will never cast you out. He needs you too much.
2. There Are No Free Passes, You Moron
It is certainly true that it is distasteful to approach Rosh Hashana as someone whose good relationship with G-d is assured. This is like someone who violates a good friendship, by, say, telling everyone about your My Little Pony bedsheets, and then comes over to drink juice boxes as if nothing has changed. You would be shocked at their lack of shame, dignity, honesty, loyalty, integrity, kindness, mercy, and things worth talking about other than your bed sheets.
So, too, is your relationship with G-d dependent on your actions! Don’t think you can just flounce in for shofar blowing, impatient to return to your daily debauchery, and pick your fingernails while everything is forgiven “because G-d needs you too much to throw you out.” This is self-centered, egotistical, and ridiculous. You are wilfully toying with the Creator. This will not end well for you. How about trying to actually change your relationship with your soul, and mending your broken life? Everything is not okay.
3. Rosh Hashana Is A Time Of Joy, Holy Brothers And Sisters
We know with utter veracity that anything worth doing, is worth doing with joy. It accomplishes nothing to approach the Days of Awe with a heavy heart and a mournful demeanor. We are going to meet the King; it’s time to celebrate! Think, as you put on your Yom Tov best, how you are preparing for an audience in the most opulent and powerful of kingly courts, where you will be welcomed back with open arms. “We’ve missed you since last year,” the attending angels will say. “Do come in and sample the special Rosh Hashana prayers, the lemon meringues of spirituality!”
“Don’t mind if I do,” you’ll say, as you close your eyes and look heavenward with the utmost spiritual bliss and fervor and thank G-d for having created you Jewish so that you might bask in His greatness this Rosh Hashana.
4. Rosh Hashana Is Actually Pretty Serious, You Damn Hippie
It is the unquestionable fact that if you spend the whole Rosh Hashana focused on your own ecstasy, you will have missed the entire point of the holiday. Joy and passion is nice and all, but isn’t your joy and passion for things other than your G-dly responsibility what got you mixed up in all the wrong things this year? Maybe, if you want a year with more lasting blessings than some heavenly desserts, if you want to actually bring the world more into alignment with G-d’s vision, you’ll stop publically writhing with pleasure and instead set your back to the enormous work that Rosh Hashana demands.
“Perhaps I will create you again this year,” G-d says, as you sweat bullets and try to remember why the All-Powerful-Deprived-Of-Privations-Master-Creator thought to make you in the first place.
Stop with the self-centered joy, and get to work.
5. You Don’t Have To Stick To The Hebrew Machzor, My Dear Fellow Traveller
The Torah of unassailable truth tells us that G-d wants the heart. The holiest days of the year were never meant to be spent reading words you don’t understand at a breakneck pace. What does this accomplish? How are you to fix or change anything when you are forced to parrot words that mean nothing to you?
Don’t feel afraid to read the English translations of the prayers, or even to take some time to address the almighty in your own words. This is the only path to truly appreciating what the holiday is all about.
6. Your Personal Prayers Are Stupid, You Egotistical Hack
It is irrefutable that Rosh Hashana is far too important to leave up to your own feelings, understanding, and even (Lord help us) words. Sure, the rest of the year you need to feel, you need to connect to the essential nature of the day and the holiness of what’s taking place all around you. You have to bring it down to your level and yadda yadda yadda. But on the first day of the year, when your fate is decided, you don’t want to rely on what you think is right. You want to rely on the absolute, the words Jews have used for generations, the words that speak not for your conscious understanding but for the yearnings of your soul known not even to you.
Get out of yourself. Say the traditional words, and be happy about it.
7. Enjoy The Songs Of Our People, My Tiny Dancer
It is obvious to anyone that the songs and niggunim of Rosh Hashana are designed to move even a heart made of stone. These are the songs that we know even though we’re not sure where we learned them, the ones that seem to be hardwired into our circuitry, because we’re Jewish. They act as a key to the depths of feeling, even for those of us whose service of G-d is cold all year long. If you have trouble connecting to the teachings or the spoken prayers of Rosh Hashana, try enjoying the liturgical music and the songs sung together, which lift us from the mundane and set us on a spiritual footing.
8. This Isn’t Lollapalooza With Rams’ Horns, You Walking Desecration
It is beyond doubt that if personal prayer is bad, then personal songs are worse. Where one is an outpouring of how you feel, the other is usually an outpouring of how someone else feels, someone who did not have the power of prophecy and based his song off of an advertising jingle he heard in his village one midsummer’s morning after a night of drunken carousing. This is not the way you want to go. You think you’re connecting to G-d, but you may just be connecting to Ellie Goulding, or whatever. This is not a day about you enjoying yourself — that’s every other day of the year. This is a day where you explain to G-d why even though you spend most of your time enjoying yourself, he should spend his time allowing you to do so in good health. Stop singing and show some respect.
9. Remember – The Judge Is Also Our Father, Bro
The one utterly incontrovertible truth about our relationship with G-d is that He is our father. To paraphrase and shorten a famous Chassidic tale, we don’t need to worry about our court date, because the Judge is also our father, and he’ll give us a good judgement. There is absolutely no reason to stress about the coming year; G-d will give us a year of peace, prosperity, health, wealth, and jellybeans, because he loves us. After all, no amount of bad behavior will ever make us not Jewish, or make G-d take Rosh Hashana away. These things are permanent, always existed, always will, and there is nothing we can do about it, thankfully. The whole “Days of Awe” thing is, in a certain sense, just a dance with G-d, a stepping through the motions.
10. Remember – Our Father Is Also The Judge; ask Robert Downey Jr.
The evident reality of Rosh Hashana, called the Day of Judgement, is that we’re held to an objective standard. The person who is your father cannot always be expected to relate to you in a personal manner; what kind of cruel justice is nepotism, and what honor is there in succeeding because of connections? It is a sad relationship that needs all objectivity to be put aside for a personal love. So if you’re feeling a little complacent, remember — the Torah is true, its standards are real, and the whole Rosh Hashana thing is not just a charade.
And that wraps up my advice for a stress-free, straightforward Rosh Hashana executed according to the Jewish way. If none of the above advice works, just try the opposite. You’ll figure it out. 😉
Wishing you and yours a sweet New Year! May the holy days be ever in your favor.
Image depicting a total lack of stress, from Flickr.