"We will open the book. Its pages are blank... The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day." ~Edith Lovejoy Pierce
On Rosh Hashanah -- the time of year when God decides whose names get added to the "Book of Life" (hopefully yours!) -- Jews across the world get a clarion call when the shofar (ram's horn) is blown, to awaken them from their self-righteousness, and to begin the process of atoning for the sins of the past year.
During the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the practice of tashlikh is observed, in which prayers are recited near natural flowing water. It's the moment when one's sins are cast upon the water, and literally, pieces of bread or small stones are tossed into the river or stream so that symbolically you can watch your bad deeds start to float away.
Because it is also a time of gathering and eating with family (my partner Richard is Jewish, and boy do we eat and eat and eat at these holiday dinners), to be sure, there'll be plenty of dusting, vacuuming, washing, polishing, scrubbing and waxing alongside a tremendous amount of cooking, baking, roasting, and preparing gallons and gallons of chicken soup.
But more than being a time of feasting, Rosh Hashanah begins a 10-day period of repenting -- ending in Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, and the actual start of the New Year. Biblical scholars believe that when the Prophet John, The Baptist, in the Book of Matthew (3:2) said "...Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," he was referring to the Jewish New Year and they think that he was speaking on the eve of Yom Kippur. He was announcing the final call for repentance before the Day of the Covering of Sin (Yom Kippur).
The Hebrew term for this period of repentance is Teshuvah, which means returning to the predestined path set for us when we were born. The Jewish view is to use mistakes to grow and move forward, because -- as we all know -- mistakes happen and fixing them so that they aren't repeated can be a test... literally and figuratively.
So in preparing for the Jewish New Year celebration, the act of cleaning internal and external impurities becomes the real challenge and the real goal. (Gee, I can make a cleaning metaphor out of anything, huh!!??)
Imagine, for instance, a bathtub that's not been scrubbed over the course of an entire year. If such a tub existed, there'd be blackened, oily footprints everywhere, shampoo gunked up here and there, splats of toothpaste along the rim, dribbles of conditioner under that caddy thingy, soap scum galore, a gigantic clump of hair stuck in the strainer and a three-inch ring of moldy residue all the way around the tub. (That butcher, baker and candlestick maker must have been complete slobs!) But in all seriousness, it's hard to make yourself clean (or restful, or contemplative, or peaceful) in any dirty place, let alone in a grubby tub.
Metaphorically, each of us is a bathtub wanting to be clean, and Rosh Hashanah becomes the perfect chance to start fresh. It's an opportunity to buff away blunders, rub polish onto our faux pas, and scrub satisfaction back into our souls -- and if need be, "wash that man right outta our hair!"
It can start with recognizing our unfortunate shortcomings, putting a stop to unfortunate actions, regretting our unfortunate behaviors, feeling truly sorry for being so unfortunately nasty, owning and explaining our personal idiocy, asking for and hopefully finding forgiveness, and then never, never, never repeating our unfortunate mistakes (the hardest rub of all!!). And along the way we might ask ourselves "Am I hurting others, am I blind to what's important, am I being insensitive and -- most importantly -- am I getting in my own way?" It's kind of a "scrub-a-dub-dub" that's good for our bathtub, our brain and our soul.
But if your bathtub is as dirty as the one I just described (Someone hold my hand, I think I'm gonna' pass out), or you just need to make it shine like new on a weekly basis -- toss in a pinch of salt for good luck (and then another larger pinch for its amazing ability to scrub so well) and a generous sprinkling of baking soda over the entire surface. Then scrub like the dickens with a dampened soft cloth.
My favorite part is to then finish up by jumping barefoot into the tub and splishing-n-splashing clear water everywhere. (Bet ya' wouldn't dare do that with that bleach-infused commercial stuff, now would ya?) And if you're the type who takes "the casting of one's sins upon the water" literally, the jumping in part is -- of course -- a metaphoric bonus, too. Once rinsed, you'll find the whiter-than-white porcelain tub that once lay hidden and lost behind all that grime.
Rosh Hashanah and the Celebration of the Jewish New Year (or even cleaning your bathtub for that matter) isn't only about becoming squeaky-clean or about being a better person -- it's really just about being aware, about being mindful, and about being just plain-old kind.
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