Rosh Hashana – Bereshis 21:1-34, Numbers 29:1-6, and Samuel 1:1-2:10
Rosh Hashana, we mark by sounding the Shofar— it serves as a memory of Isaac’s binding. The sound of the shofar reminds us how Isaac was spared from sacrifice. Let the shofar serve as a reminder of G-ds test of faith and our ability to change ourselves for the better.
Tishrei 1 in Jewish history marked the sixth day of creation. The creation of man and woman is also marked by a subsequent event from the exact same day—the first sin, transgressing the divine commandment to not eat from the “Tree of Knowledge, of Good and Evil.” The punishment was banishment, facing mortality, and moral confusion. Yet, something else happened on that day, which is just as important but often overlooked in the midst of moral confusion: a remedy of sin is established known as teshuvah.
In antiquity, teshuvah may have differed from how we understand it today. At first, it would include sacrifices, and later on, it included temple rituals. After that, and until today in most Jewish circles, teshuvah often includes immersion in the mikveh. However, the Jewish people were forced to fundamentally change how the concept of teshuvah would operate in the absence of the Beis HaMigdash following the year 70 C.E.
A new methodology to teshuvah was gradually adopted. Rambam’s Hilchos Teshuvah describes an ornate system, methodically thought out.
Rambam writes in chapter one, verse eight of Hilchos Teshuvah, “Even though repentance and calling out [to God] are desirable at all times, during the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, they are even more desirable and will be accepted immediately as [Isaiah 55:6] states: ‘Seek God when He is to be found.’ The time for teshuvah has reached an apex from today until Yom Kippur.
According to Rambam in his work, teshuvah may include the adoption of a new name and a complete dissociation with a former life; reminding someone who is undergoing teshuvah is prohibited.
Adopting a new name, network of friends, and uprooting yourself sounds extreme, but these changes can have lasting effects. However, they are the acts of a Baal or Baalas Teshuva—masters of return. Incarcerated populations often find solace in creating new lives. The Jewish Prison Services and Chabad International have invested heavily in their outreach to incarcerated Jewish inmates in both the United States and the former Soviet Union by engaging with the population with literature that includes the Hilchos Teshuvah.
While it is unlikely any of us will need to undergo the transformations necessary for inmate populations to reintroduce themselves into society, the lessons of Hilchos Teshuvah are just as relevant to us. Today is an opportunity to make dramatic changes in our lives. Let the sound of the shofar awake in ourselves changes for the better. Ken yehi ratzon.