Q&A: Practical Rosh Hashana/Purpose of this time
Isn't Rosh Hashana the day of judgement? You mean I shouldn't be anxious and scared?
What is Rosh Hashana really about?
On shabbos and yomim tovim there is a paragraph called "Kdushas Hayom" during shmoneh esrei. This paragraph is about the holiness of the day, and on Rosh Hashana this paragraph is actually in the part of Malchoyos. (In Rosh Hashana during mussaf, the amida is split into three parts Malchuyos, Zichronos, and Shofros. (Kingship, Rememberance, and Shofar Blasts). You would think that the paragraph talking about the holineiss and purpose of the day would be in Zichronos, the section about judgment- yes it is in Malchuyos.
Why is that?
Well according to the Sifsei Chaim (Rav Friedlander) that is because the purpose of Rosh Hashana is to crown Hashem as our G-d.
But...that doesn't make sense? Or does it? Ever since I've been a kid Rosh Hashana and Day of Judgement were interchangable. Rosh Hashana sounded scary, what if I hadn't been perfect the last year? I was going to be judged on all my actions! Well, perhaps we need to get a new perspective on Rosh Hashana and Elul.
If Rosh Hashana was truly just a judgement of your past year, wouldn't it make sense to be on the last day of the last year? It's kind of like getting a final on the first day back to school the next year. But, Rosh Hashana isn't a final, in fact- it's an entrance exam.
On Rosh Hashana G-d is going to judge you as you are right now. During Elul and the days leading up to Rosh Hashana we are trying to show our true colors, trying to show Hashem that although we aren't who we want to be, we can get there. It's showing G-d your potential, and asking him to give you the right tools in the coming year to reach the potential that you want to reach! Although we are judged on our past too, who we are today, and every single moment that we decide to be better has a huge impact on our judgement.
Rosh Hashana isn't about Tshuva or changing your behaivor or making up for the past.
Or being so anxious that you don't go anywhere.
It's about being here, in the now, looking forward to all you can do, and all you want to be!
Going back to what we said before, Rosh Hashana is about crowning Hashem. It's going to shul and saying, "Hashem- I know you are it, you are the ruler who created everything. You are the king, and I want to be the best Jew I can be for you."
Here's where you can ask Hashem for the things you need to be the best person you can be. And yes, you can ask for materialistic things- you can ask for a shidduch, a child, money, stability, friends, or anything else as long as you frame it well. Why are you asking for it? To be a better Jew and have the tools to reach your full potential this year.
According to Rav Wachtfogel (Longtime Mashgiach of Lakewood Yeshiva) (as written in his sefer on the Yamim Nora'im) he explains that Elul is all about looking forward, and the only day that you should backwards and regret things is on Yom Kippur itself. He says that we were all be so depressed if we looking back on any other day of the year, the only reason we can do it on Yom Kippur is because the holineiss of the day holds us up.
This is also why it is valuable to take on something just for the 10 days of repentance. During aseres yimei tshuvah you have another chance to show Hashem who you want to be, before the judgment is fully written.
But mainly for Rosh Hashana this means we shouldn't be thinking about the past and regretting our actions. We shouldn't have anxiety, or be terrified. It is okay to feel a little pressure, but it shouldn't hinder your ability to move forward- if it is, drop it.
What does moving forward look like?
Well, let's say on Rosh Hashana you realize in middle of Shmoneh Esrei that you haven't actually been concentrating for the past 15 minutes. Don't feel bad! Take a deep breath, and focus on the words you are about to say now. We beat each other up so much nowadays, to the point where it hinders our ability to move forward. That's not what Hashem wants.
So now, don't you understand why Rosh Hashana is the first day of the new year? You are showing Hashem who you want to be, and what you need to get it. All through out Elul (or from the second you read this) you should work on just being better. Then after you know who you want to be, yom kippur comes- and then you can feel bad about your aveiros. Only then is when you fully understand how the things you did are not something you want to repeat.
Q:What tips, ideas, or practical advice can you share about this period?
Hadas Bat-el (Founder of FHO and teen):
So let's say you want to take on mincha, and everyone keeps telling you to take on small things or turn it into small steps such as mincha on shabbos, because if not you will fail. So what I do is ill make two goals. It reminds me of levels in games. There's always the regular score, than the expert score. So I'll keep my original idea and try to say mincha every day. But I'll tell myself that is my expert score, the maximum. My minimum requirement is saying it just on shabbos.
I start wishing people a ksiva vchasima tova right after rosh chodesh elul. people will respond, what so early? I will see you before RH. I explain that it is a good bracha, all month long AND I want to give them a hint to call all of their friends and relatives with good yom tov wishes, especially those they barely speak to, and you need to start early or you'll run out of time.
Something that to me is very practical and seemingly overlooked is maintaining a reasonable sleep schedule; that means turning off the phone and laptop, getting ready for bed, and actually going to bed at a sensible time of night.
It's hard to balance the lofty concepts with some practical suggestons. I agree that judgement sounds scary, but the good news is that Hashem is on our side.
1. the word HaMelech is the buzz word of Rosh Hashana. But if you happen to notice, it appears in every bracha. So during the month of Ellul while making a bracha, space in on the word melech. I'm guessing that we say the word melech close to 100 times a day. Some of those times, rather than have our brachas sound like bruchtashemlokinumelch haloam, we should focus on the words and say melech in a slightly raised voice (for us to hear, not others) to remind outselves that Hashem is out King.[ For me, the thought of a hurracane wind that we cannot control is a pretty strong reminder that Hashem rules the world.]
Rochel Schwartz (Teen):
Use positive affirmations. Those are positive sentances you say about yourself like:
I am going to be the best Jew I can be.
Today I'm going to work on ________.
I want to be a better person.
I am an intrisicly good person and Hashem values every action that I do, even when I fall.
Write your own, or take some from here and tell youself them every morning or night. It will sink in. Say it out loud to yourself until you beleive it.
Rabbi Baum (Rav of Sanhedria Murchevet):
Sit down and make a concrete plan. Where are you holding this minute (no going bakwards) in tfila, anger, laziness, and everything else. Where do you want to be? Sit down and make a plan of where you are going and how are you going to get there.
Where will you be by Chanukah? By Purim? Think realistically and set goals for yourself. How will you handle pitfalls? Don't leave anything out.
We will never be perfect, all Hashem wants us to do is work on what we can now, don't look 100 years into the future. Look towards what you can do now, for the coming year.
- Hadas Bat-el