Three Ladies, Three Lattes: The Real Rosh Hashana

Pam Peled, Danit Shemesh and Tzippi Sha-ked looks at percolating issues in Israel’s complicated social and religious fabric.

Baking (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
I am a youngish mother with four kids; my husband and I made aliya from the States and have no family here.
I know Rosh Hashana is supposed to be something special; but for now, it is just something on my to-do list. My parents visit for the hagim; my mother stresses over the cooking, my father expects everyone to go to shul to pray, and the kids can’t wait for it to be over so we can get on with our lives.
Can you give me a good reason to partake in this thing, other than that my parents expect it of me? I’m not sure if I’m supposed to negotiate with God over the coming year, organize a party for my family, or make resolutions that I know I’ll never keep.
– The cooking, cleaning, crazy mom
Pam Peled: I’m tempted to say I’m too busy cooking to answer, but this is no flippant issue. I remember a newly religious friend complaining that it’s always nearly Shabbat – the pressure is relentless. The pre-Passover run-up can be brutal. What has become of the joy in Judaism? Now I get that tradition and ritual and literal adherence to the law has kept the Jewish people together through the ages. But here’s a thought: There’s a notion in Sifri that fulfilling the commandment of living in the Land of Israel is equal to all the other commandments of the Torah. How about if we say, “OK, we live here now, so maybe we can relax just the tiniest bit on being entirely hag-ready at 5:27 p.m., or 6:32 p.m.? Maybe we can drive to the beach after Shaharit prayers on Shabbat? Now that we have a Jewish state and pay Jewish taxes and wish each other “Hag sameah” as a way of life, and eat donuts on Hanukka and don’t drive on Yom Kippur and live in a Jewish atmosphere for the first time in millennia, maybe we can have dispensation on the kashrut stringencies and be a little less strict? It works for me.
You might want to consider that the punishments for not serving the Lord with happiness and with gladness of heart (Deuteronomy 28:47) include destitution and cannibalism, not to mention olives rotting off trees and brazen enemies. So lighten up and remember: Being Jewish also should be fun.
Shana Tova!
Danit Shemesh: While Rosh Hashana includes cooking, family and resolutions, the essence is something else entirely.
Yes, families regroup to celebrate. Where there is family, there is cooking and mess. Mark Twain said, “Of course you’re depressed, ‘tis the season to be jolly!” We, too, have our season which is not always easy, just as you say.
But we shouldn’t lose sight of the principal idea of the day: to make God King. Positioning Him on His throne on Rosh Hashana is for our sake, not for His. It’s in our minds that He is deemed King; this is obviously not a literal position. He remains the King of kings with or without us; it is we who need to be aware.
The reason is most apparent when we look for a method to this madness we call life. When reality doesn’t quite fit our plan, and chaos appears to take over, leaving sanity behind in its dust, we need to remember that there is Someone in charge, even when this is not immediately clear. That Someone has only our best interest in mind. Rosh Hashana reminds us to respect the King’s “constitution” of behavior in His Kingdom. Rules calm the distraught spirit, providing the stick that guides as well as the carrot that nourishes. Rosh Hashana is about both loving the King and revering Him, accepting Him as the answer to all angsts and the One behind love and joy.
Considering this makes chopping onions more spiritual. Trust me on this.
Tzippi Sha-ked: It sounds like you need to recharge your spiritual batteries and decide what your goals are for Rosh Hashana. It’s probably not the food preparation per se that is the problem but your inability to find the day’s raison d’etre. Whatever your level of religiosity, it would be a terrible shame to reduce Rosh Hashana to physical and psychological miseries.
How about viewing the day as an opportunity? How often do we get the chance to reflect upon our lives and where we should go? I agree with Pam that serving God should be with gladness of heart, but that doesn’t necessarily mean having fun – the joy should be from a deeper place.
The other day I visited the chemotherapy ward at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, where I watched religious patients reciting Psalms with all their hearts. A religious woman hooked to the chemo elixir of life proclaimed that she accepts her illness with love and happiness. At first I wondered what had been slipped into her meds, but then I witnessed the reactions. Her positivity was infectious; others returned her smiles. A Yemenite woman chimed in: “Prayer, prayer, prayer. I’m entirely made up of prayers these days.”
Bottom line, there is a choice; it’s called attitude. Attitude is the unconscious coping mechanism we transmit to our kids. So prepare early, seek balance, cook fewer dishes. Do something that will put you in a reverential mood. Chemo wards help; may we never need to visit them.
Shana Tova to us all, filled with health and joy and peace.
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