Erev Rosh HaShanah

by Reb Jamie Hyams, Student Rabbi, Congregation P’nai Tikvah, September 29, 2019

….  the year has gone round again…  the cycle has returned unto itself and yet, we are not back exactly where we started… we are one year older, but some of us have moved on, and some new folks have arrived…  and each year as we reach this point, we as a people, and as individuals, take the time to STOP, LOOK and LISTEN…  We take time to take stock, to reflect, to make TESHUVA.  Teshuva comes from the root “to return”… it also means “answer”…  The time between Rosh haShanah and Yom Kippur is a time to return, and to find the answers.   But what are the questions?


Quoting Rabbi Jonathon Sacks, at Rosh “It is as if the world has become a courtroom.  God Himself is the Judge.  The shofar announces that the court is in session, and we are on trial, giving an account of our lives.  Properly entered into, this is a potentially life-changing experience.  It forces us to ask the most fateful questions we will ever ask:  Who am I?  Why am I here?  How shall I live?  How have I lived until now?  How have I used God’s greatest gift: time?  Who have I wronged, and how can I put it right?  Where have I failed, and how shall I overcome my failures?  What is broken in my life and needs mending?    What chapter will I write in the Book of Life?   The unexamined life, a philosopher said, is not worth living.  No one who has genuinely experienced Rosh haShanah and Yom Kippur lives an unexamined life.”


Stop, Look, and Listen – we were all taught this as children.  When we go to cross a street…

We stop – when we see a stop sign, we obey the traffic signs that are guiding/governing our environment for our safety and we STOP on the curb.

We LOOK before we plunge in to the street –  we assess our situation – are there trucks barreling down on us?  Am I in danger?  Am I about to put my foot in it? How am I doing as I maneuver my landscape?

And we LISTEN – Do we hear sounds and noises in the street that indicate that danger is around the bend?  Do we need to go a different way to avoid it?  What is our inner voice telling us to do?  Are there things that we can do to make our journey more safe, and more satisfying?


Judaism has the same concept – each year at this time as a people, we stop, look and listen… Only we label the ideas differently – we use the ideas of Malchuyot, Zichronot, and Shofarot….

Malchuyot, literally means kingship and by this we accepting the kingship of God;

Zichronot means memories and traditionally this refers to knowing where you came from and the story of your people

and lastly, Shofarot – a wake-up blast to make things different in the new year


So, looking at the first of the three concepts in Rosh HaShanah, Malchut, (the STOP in stop, look and listen) why does it mean to accept the kingship of God?   As most of you know, I am in my final year of rabbinical school, though this last “year” might actually take 18 months as I try to balance the various parts of my life…. I have grappled with the concept of God, what is God? Is there a God? Is God sentient?  What does it mean to be created in the image of the God as it says in Genesis.  Now these are big questions, and I would LOVE to discuss them with each and every one of you over coffee, but for now, suffice to say it means to understand that you are not “all that.”  The world does not revolve around you… that while you may be an individual with free will, you are not the only reason for which this world was created.   Accepting “the kingship of God” is about understanding, and accepting, that we are all a part of something bigger than ourselves, and that we, as an image of God, have a responsibility to each other and to this breathing thriving entity/whole.. 


ZICHRONOT, the 2nd idea of Rosh HaShanah, the LOOK, in Stop, Look and Listen,…zichronot translates as memories.  Memories remind us who we are and where we come from.  Without memories we would not remember our history – that we are a people who came together over their commitment to monotheism, to the idea that God is One.  We are a people who have known slavery and oppression, and redemption and freedom, and what it means to be homeless and a refugee… and these memories inform how we act in the world today – how many of us work tirelessly to build a world where Tzedek, tzedek, tirdof (justice, justice, you shall pursue) is our guiding principal.


Lastly, SHOFAROT, shofar, the sounds that blast us out of complacency and force us to LISTEN and more importantly, WAKE UP!   Who hasn’t had a car horn blast right next to their ear… your heart starts to race, your senses are heightened, and you are ready to run, to take action, to make things different.  This is the purpose of the shofar on Rosh haShanah.  As Rabbi Sachs said “The shofar announces that the court is in session, and we are on trial, giving an account of our lives.  Properly entered into, this is a potentially life-changing experience.”


I am giving you a homework assignment for tonight which is due tomorrow… no need to write this down… it is an internal exercise for you alone, but I want you to think about the things that caused you this year to STOP in your tracks and take notice of a situation?  When you LOOKED around and analyzed what to do in your given situation, what did you see, what did you know?  and lastly, as you LISTENED to the voices informing how to move forward – whatever and whomever they are – what have you resolved to do return to yourself, to make teshuva, to build the future that you want for the coming year, and make it different?


So tonight, our personal trials begin.  Court is in session.   How will you, will you, use the next 10 days to look inwardly, honestly, at what is going right in your lives and what isn’t, to take the steps necessary to make things different in the coming year?  To apologize to someone you may have hurt, to forgive someone who wronged you, to give more tzedakah… to STOP, to LOOK and to LISTEN.