Renew Ourselves and Become the Sweetness
Jon Stewart of Daily Show fame was fond of comparing the Jewish holidays to secular ones. He once quipped about Rosh Hashanah, “On the secular New Year, most people wake up New Year’s Day and regret the events of the preceding evening. The Jews just skip that part and go right to regret!” While I wouldn’t call Jon Stewart a great scholar of Jewish history, his humorous comment strikes a chord that is resonant during these times.
Are we supposed to ‘celebrate’ the New Year, or are we supposed to stand before God in a spirit of reflection and contemplation? Perhaps we can answer this question by way of a parable.
There once was a father who suffered from addiction to alcohol. His family, seeing their father in crisis, decided it was best to do an intervention. One day, they walked down the street to the local ‘skid row’, and they showed their father, by way of warning, the number of lives that were destroyed. “See father, this could be your end if you do not change your ways,” the children exclaimed. Without missing a beat, the father turned to one of the men on the street, carrying a large bottle of gin. “Where did you get that bottle. I have never tried that gin label. Looks good. Where do I get my hands on it!”
God says in the Torah, “See I have placed before you today life and blessing, and death and curses” (Deut. 30:15); we are encouraged to choose life and blessing. Very strange statement. It’s an obvious choice. Who would choose curses?!
But the truth is, there can be times in our lives when we lose the ability to see and are consumed by inner forces that pull us away from who we truly are.
You see, freedom does not only mean freedom from outside constraints. It is the ability to make deliberate choices and to live according to our values.
Freedom means the ability to navigate the internal forces within ourselves. Just like the outside world can be chaotic, so our inner world can be as well. We do not want to be like the alcoholic father, blinded to opportunities and alternatives. We want to be a source of blessing and sweetness. We don’t only want life, but we want to choose life.
On Rosh Hashanah, we are not only praying for physical life, but a life that is worth living. We do not want to just exist and persist; we want to thrive and grow.
This internal dialogue with ourselves, what we would call in Hebrew teshuva, is a serious process of honest conversation. It is not easy, and therefore these days do have a seriousness and gravity.
Rosh HaShanah is not for the lighthearted. And yet, we are supposed to go into these days with confidence. We have the power within us to make the changes we need to make. So yes, we also come into these days with hope, expectation, and even joy of the new visions for ourselves, families, and community.
And during these uncertain days, we need that hope more than ever!
You have in your bags apples and honey. We ask God when we dip the apples in the honey that ‘God renew for us a year of sweetness.’ These high holidays are all about renewal and new beginnings.
By dipping an apple in honey, we aren’t going to magically have a sweet new year. Rather, our symbolic action
s represents our own efforts to dip into the wells of sweetness and blessing, to dip into the reservoirs of the inner gifts with which we have been endowed. By eating the apple and honey, we commit ourselves to become the sweetness, and when we do, the year will be sweet, because we will be living a life based upon our higher values.
Just as the sweet taste of honey provides us with a sense of delight and joy, may the sweet deeds we perform this upcoming year give us a sense of delight as we live up to our higher, unique selves.
In this way, we will commit not only to live life, but to choose life as God instructed the Jewish people in our Torah so many years ago!
 Story related by Rabbi Berel Wein