Over the years, you hear of people who have endured flooding or other kinds of damage that necessitated an overhaul of the inside of their homes. It is not a pleasant experience to go through, but often, if insurance covers the work, their homes come out nicer than they were before. Once the work is being done anyhow, it becomes an opportunity to update and remodel even parts of a home that were not damaged.
We are given such an opportunity at this time of year. This awesome day we are approaching is named Rosh Hashanah, which literally means “the head of the year.” Techilas Hashana (the beginning of the year) would seem to be a more appropriate name.
The head controls and dictates to the rest of the body. So too, Rosh Hashanah represents the day that sets the course for the rest of the year, not only because of the judgment that determines our physical state the rest of the year, but, more importantly, because it establishes our spiritual state – who we will be and how we will conduct ourselves.
During the last almost thirty days, we have ended off our davening with the words “vekaveh el Hashem – and hope to Hashem.” I believe that one of our greatest challenges may be our lost sense of hope. The thoughts that often underlie this time of year, and really our lives in general, are those pessimistic ones that tell us that we cannot change. I said I would do this and that last year and look what happened. I have been relatively the same person the last who knows how many years and I am confined to that reality, give or take a little here or there.
The Gemara (Brachos 58b) says that one who hasn’t seen his friend in twelve months recites the blessing of “mechayeh hameisim.” The Maharsha explains that this is because these twelve months included Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when it is determined whether one will live or not.
Parenthetically, I was always bothered by the following question: If it is specifically connected to the passing of Rosh Hashanah, why the need for twelve months? Even if it has been a few days and Rosh Hashanah has passed, we should recite the bracha.
Perhaps the answer is that while, indeed, this person has been granted a new lease on life on Rosh Hashanah, his friend has never felt his absence to experience the joy of his rebirth. Therefore, we also need the passing of twelve months, which the Gemara (ibid.) tells us is the time period needed to forget a person who passed away.
The Maharsha is teaching us that on Rosh Hashanah, we start completely anew. The walls are torn down. The floors are gutted. It is the opportune time for the reconstruction of self.
But we must believe in our ability to build. Kaveh el Hashem. We see growing bochurim taking on new projects and steps of growth. We see young entrepreneurs, their minds constantly racing with new ideas of how to make money. Yet, as we grow “old,” we are at risk of reaching a point of stagnation. We have become sleepy and, as Donald Trump may call it, “low energy,” rather than vibrant and fresh.
When it comes to ruchniyus, we need to continuously be thinking of different areas and ways to better ourselves. Im kakesef tevakshena… No matter how many times we fail, as long as we keep coming up with new ideas and goals, we are alive and moving in the right direction.
Uru yesheinim mishinaschem. Let us become alive. Let us believe in ourselves and our ability to change. It all begins with Rosh Hashanah.