The Orchestra of Rosh Hashanah

Head of the Year
Labor Day is behind us, the heat of summer is subsiding, and Rosh Hashanah is just around the corner. The holiday, marking the beginning of the Jewish New Year, is known for stirring prayer services, symbolic foods we eat during the evening meals (apples and challah dipped in honey are beloved treats), and the opportunity to reflect and take stock of the year that has passed and the year to come.

However, like any time of reflection, Rosh Hashanah can be a time of contradiction and even paradox. Think about an orchestra – where different instruments playing separate melodies come together to create a beautiful performance. So too during Rosh Hashanah, various contradictory forces come together to create a spirit of introspection and celebration.

An Orchestra of Feelings

For example, Rosh Hashanah services are among the most attended synagogue services in the entire year. Shuls are so busy that they sometimes have to split their services into two sessions! This is cause for celebration. Moreover, not only are people going to synagogue, but they also customarily cut their hair, wear their nicest outfits, connect with their family members, and generally approach the season with merriment. But don’t forget, it is a time of reflection too. And with reflection always come regrets, fears, uncertainties, and other more somber feelings. At first, it may sound like this orchestra of feelings, at the same time sweet and bitter, must be out of tune. One would expect a chaotic cacophony that does not work together as a piece of music. And yet, people tend to leave the holiday of Rosh Hashanah like they leave Carnegie Hall, refreshed, rejuvenated, and thoroughly energized. How can this be?

Fourteeners of Life
First of all, holding space for contrary emotions simultaneously is intrinsic to being human. We do this all the time. A person may lose a parent and, in the same week, celebrate the birth of a grandchild. Alternatively, a person can be extremely happy in their personal life, including having met their bashert (their destined life partner), while being extremely unhappy in their professional life. Life is a constant journey of peaks and valleys. And sometimes those peaks are the Fourteeners we Coloradoans know and love, but sometimes those valleys are nearly at sea level or below. That is just the way life goes.

Watch the Conductor

So what does this mean for Rosh Hashanah and for our orchestral symphony? How do we reconcile the challenge of self-analysis and self-examination with the jubilation of sharing honey-dipped foods with good friends and dear family members?  

For this, we return to the orchestra. How can an orchestra maintain a consistent rhythm and play in sync? They can do this, because every musician is watching the conductor for his or her cue. The violinists, percussionists, brass instruments, all of them are guided by the conductor. Yes, each has his or her own sheet music. And yes, each musician is aware of the musicians playing beside them. But the conductor’s baton runs the show. Rosh Hashanah is our time to remember our Conductor, and to recall that though life events may seem beyond our control or totally inexplicable, that is only because they seem that way to us. To the Conductor, however, there are plans and objectives beyond our comprehension. Remembering that the peaks and valleys of our lives lie in the capable, waving hands of our Conductor at the front is a key component of our Rosh Hashanah prayers and ruminations.

I join you all in praying to our Conductor for a peaceful and serene year 5783. Shana Tova!  

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