Rosh Hashanah: My First Lesson of the New Year

As the sun emerged from its slumber, I sat on the beach surrounded by a small group of friends. The moment itself was beautiful; however, it was not how I imagined Rosh Hashanah 5782 beginning. With the Delta variant continuing to surge in Florida, my original plans to attend a local synagogue were upended. Wading in the disappointment of not being in community for another year, a fellow friend and congregant asked me to lead a small beach gathering–nothing fancy or too involved–rather a way to gather in person and set our intentions for the new year.

At 6:45 a.m., we gathered, forming a small circle, sitting in silence, facing toward the ocean, listening to the seagulls cooing, waiting for the sun to rise. Ever so slowly, light began to emerge through the clouds until beaming rays of yellow and orange surged, showing us the fullness of her rising. No matter how many times I experience sunrise, that moment of light peeking through, of pure potentiality shining forth, always takes my breath away.

None of us said a word until the sun had fully risen. Suddenly, one friend blurted out, “What a perfect way to welcome the new year and to symbolize new beginnings. A new day and a new year.” Another friend, smiling, added, “Well, I feel shallow saying this but to me, it just looks like a giant ice cream cone!” We each let out a giggle and proceeded to the task at hand. We prayed and studied, reflected and meditated. Our time together was short and sweet.

On the drive home, I pondered the dichotomy in my friends’ comments–one so deep, and the other, appearingly light-hearted, and yet I felt there was wisdom to be gleaned from this encounter. As the days passed, I could not get this thought out of my mind. For most of us, we see Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the birth of the world, as the time to take note of our lives and examine what’s working in our lives and what we’d like to change. Some prepare the month prior to Rosh Hashanah’s arrival, taking stock of our souls, performing a cheshbon hanefesh. We spend time imagining and dreaming about the kind of life and the kind of world we want like to create. And so, the first comment about the sun rising to welcome the new year, pregnant with possibility seemed most appropriate.

But the more I thought about it, Rosh Hashanah, for me, is the time of year that we also take stock of our blessings and notice all that we do have in our lives. We mark the birthday of the world by acknowledging the beauty around us, the goodness, and the sweetness that infuse our lives and it is precisely this beauty, goodness, and sweetness that we pray for in the coming year. To be honest, I couldn’t agree more that a delicious ice cream cone is a perfect symbol for these gifts, literally and metaphorically. The physical gifts that we have in our lives are not something to be taken for granted; they are of import and should be no less valued than the deep esoteric pondering of our new possibilities.

In retrospect, I’m grateful to what and how my friend shared her thoughts. She taught me that while our initial responses might seem light-hearted, we don’t need to compare or minimize them to others’. She also taught me that ice cream is just as important as deep existential ponderings. We need both: the light-hearted and the serious, the physical and the spiritual, the groundedness and the dreams. Rosh Hashanah ushers in the days of awe and they are just that–days of AWE. Yes, they are days to bring us to our knees, days to inspire us, days to make us think and re-think, AND they are days to allow us to slow down, notice all of the AWESOME things in our world–like ice cream and seagulls, and sunrises, and warm, salty ocean water.

The sun continued to glisten over the ocean as we parted ways, wishing each other a sweet new year. 

May it be it be the kind of year that is filled with beauty, goodness, and sweetness.

May we remember that we each have wisdom to share, even if at first glance it may seem light-hearted on the surface. 

May this be a year that we are gifted with new possibilities and dreams and also see the many gifts that we already have in our lives. 


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