Again it’s that time of year again when backpacks and school binders tumble off the shelves. Crossing guards in bright orange vests start with their scheduled patrolling on the roads and finally it’s the time of the year when parents are laments their frenzy over the schedule that "back to school" requires. But amidst all these negative attitudes, there's a positive energy in the air as kids, tanned and freckled from the summer, greet each other in the school yard as they begin a new school year.
The fall is thus the time for new beginnings and the Jewish calendar is right on track. Rosh Hashanah, which in Hebrew means "head of the year”, kick start the parade of holidays with a spirit of perennial positivity. Thus when we wish one another “L'shanah tovah tikatevu v'taihatemu” we are in a way wishing that this year goes all well, a year of good health and well-being in relationships, family, work and life.
But if the longing for wellbeing isn't enough, another ten days are given between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (called the Days of Awe orYomim Noraim), between which one can consider what one had been throughout, where one is heading towards and what one desires to do in the coming year, which they haven’t in the past year. Thus it is that time of the year when one urges for change and transformation. Judaism is thus promoted and is based upon this powerful idea: every sphere of life is susceptible to change and evolution. This power of personal transformation is however not beyond us but within us, and Judaism acts like guidance, guiding its followers paving their right path.
The follower of Judaism encounter this personal wisdom through their prayer that is unique to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur called the Unetaneh Tokef, which marks the fate of the Jews for the coming year on Rosh Hashanah and in the process, seals it on Yom Kippur. This prayer particular tells the followers that through repentance, prayer and charity (teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah); one can change the severity of God's decree and alter their own fate.
So if repentance, prayer and charity are strong enough to change God's mind, then shouldn't we consider them as a mean to help us change our own minds and lives in the coming year? And if such is the case then doesn't it require us to take a closer look at what each word means and how they can help us in our own efforts to change?
Repentance thus requires us to recognize that wrongs we have done and to repent for it. Thus one should be guilty about it. However just awareness is not enough. Repentance demands that we should commit to behaving differently in the future. In essence of which, it demands that we become a "new" person the next time we are tempted to all the vices available.
A prayer can possess different connotations for different people but for many a prayer has the divine power to heal, comfort and even change circumstances. Prayers can balm over any rough and jagged situations of life. Thus whether one prays formally using the words of liturgy or informally with words from the heart, prayer are a just a medium and a pathway that lets one to maintain a cordial relationship with the Divine.
Prayer is also effective in helping one focus their attention on what is most important at any point in life rather than diverting wayward. A sick parent or an anticipated marriage, the birth of a child or the purchase of a new home, all of these can provoke an urge to speak to God. Words of gratefulness, requests for healing, prayers for strength or comfort, all give us an opportunity to articulate and affirm the feelings we have deep inside. But even more than this, prayer can help us change our perceptions about what is possible in life because it enables us to be in conversation with something much greater than ourselves, a divine source in a universe where anything is possible.
Tzedakah is most often translated in English to mean charity but in truth, it is much more than that. Charity suggests something that shows kindness and generosity and is thus purely a voluntary act. Tzedakah comes from the Hebrew word Tzedek, which means virtue or justice. The justice we speak of stems from the idea that everything we have or possess comes from the Divine who is, in a sense, the Ultimate Landlord of the earth. And we tenants don't really "own" anything as our own; rather, we are given the gift of using it for our benefit during our lives. But this privilege comes with responsibility and we are commanded by God to care for the world and those in need. That's why in Judaism, one don’t need to give to the poor because they want to rather one gives tzedakah just because they are obligated and have to, whether they want to or not.
In its broadest sense, Tzedakah means acting virtuously, which in the Jewish tradition means following the commandments. Tzedakah thus reinforces our humility and our humanity; it reminds that regardless of what one want to do, one must do more simply because it is the right thing to do.
No one ever said change is easy because it isn't! But knowing that there is a time each year to think about the changes we want to make and commit to making them is the first step. Repentance, prayer and charity are part of our tradition that can help us in the process.
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