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Rosh Hashanah Talk 2023 by Vicki Herriott


L’shona Tova!

It is so wonderful to see all of you in the synagogue again!

As Dean mentioned last night, today is a day of many names.

Each name has a profound meaning and gives us a specific directive. 

Today is known as the Day of Remembrance.  What do we remember?  We remember the creation of the world.  “Today the world was born.”

According to the Sages, however, the world was created on the 25th of Elul, so that Rosh Hashanah actually marks the sixth day of creation, the day on which G‑d created humanity.  So today we remember the creation of Adam and Eve.

Why do we commemorate the creation of Adam and Eve and not the creation of the whole world?

According to, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson

“This is especially strange, given that the creation of the world demonstrates G‑d’s Absolute power in His unique ability to create something from nothing.  Only G‑d, free of all limitation, can bring about being from utter void.

 G‑d was alone in His world. Though the entire created world already existed, it was not separate from its Creator; the world was one with G‑d.” on that first day.

The creation of Adam and Eve opened up a new and deeper relationship between G‑d and the created world.  Rabbi Schneerson goes on to say,

“Of all the beings in the physical and spiritual realms, we alone can choose to accept G‑d’s sovereignty. Our relationship with G‑d stems from our conscious decision and free will. Though G‑d creates and regulates all the other beings in the universe, they do not consciously accept this relationship. Their link with G‑d flows from G‑d’s creativity; it does not result from their own decision.”

With our creation, G‑d introduced the potential for voluntary acceptance of His unity and active consent to His will.”


According to scripture, we alone were created in G-d’s image.  What does this mean? I don’t think it refers to a physical resemblance, although that makes it easier for us to imagine a form for G-d.

Instead, it refers to our ability to consciously experience G-d and consciously choose to follow his laws .


Unlike every other created being, we have the choice of acquiescing to G‑d’s dominion or rebelling against it. We alone have been empowered to acknowledge and experience the unity of G‑d through our own consciousness.  To us has G-d given the gift of consciously recognizing the will of the creator, the laws of nature that structure the universe, and the gift of our own free will to choose to follow those laws.


Rosh Hashanah emphasizes the special relationship between G‑d and humanity: our dependence upon G‑d as our creator and sustainer, and G‑d’s dependence upon us as the ones who make G-d’s presence known and felt in the world. Each year on Rosh Hashanah, “all inhabitants of the world pass before G-d like a flock of sheep,” and it is decreed in the heavenly court “who shall live, and who shall die . . . who shall be impoverished, and who shall be enriched; who shall fall and who shall rise.” 


On this day G-d remembers and reviews all our actions.

So what do we remember on this day?   This is the day we proclaim G‑d King of the Universe. We remember and recognize G-d’s sovereignty.

We remember and recognize G-d as our creator and we remember and recognize our unique ability to consciously act in accord with the will of our creator. 


The Kabbalists teach that the continued existence of the universe is dependent upon the renewal of the divine desire for a world, and when we accept G‑d’s kingship each year on Rosh Hashanah we inspire the renewal of this divine desire.


Today we also celebrate the beginning of a new year.  Rosh Hashanah.  Literally, Rosh Hashanah means head of the year.  Rosh is the Hebrew word for head. Shanah is the word for year.

Shanah is also the root of the Hebrew word for change or transformation and the root of the word for rehearse.  Transformation is a part of rehearsal.  When we rehearse, we correct our mistakes; change negative behavior and repeat positive behavior till all the mistakes are gone.  We transform wrong action to right action.  Today we celebrate a new year of rehearsal.  A new opportunity to “get it right.”


Rosh Hashanah as the head of the year is said to be like the head of the body. The head controls the body.  What happens during the 48 hours of Rosh Hashanah is said to control the rest of the year. 


How could that be?  How can our actions today affect the whole rest of the year? 

According to Shifra Hendrie, the kabbalah tells us that

at sunset on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, G‑d will remove some of His light from the world. He will still remain present in a basic way, of course, or the world could not exist. But that presence will be remote, withdrawn.

Then He will wait. The next move is ours.

At around midday of the holy day, when Jews in every corner of the world acknowledge His sovereignty with prayers and the blowing of the shofar, G‑d will once again agree to be our King. He will recommit to His relationship with our world. And when He does so, it will be with an entirely new level of light and power. Entirely new possibilities—possibilities that never existed before—will enter the world. We will advance one giant step closer to our ultimate destiny.”

This seemed like a very strange idea to me.  G-d would withdraw from Creation?  Impossible.  But then I thought about our experience of transcending.  What might appear to others, as withdrawal is really going beyond the surface level of creation and reconnecting with the source of creation.  So during this time when G-d appears to have withdrawn, we can transcend and reconnect with him.  This act of reconnecting allows us to return to the world with a fresh perspective, more clarity and strength.  We can begin again.  We let go of our past behavior and spontaneously act more in accord with the will of G-d, more in tune with our ultimate destiny.  So during this time it is not G-d who withdraws from us, but we who withdraw from the outer world to reconnect with him – to reaffirm our relationship and commitment to live in accord with his will.


This is powerful time of transformation or change that allows us to reflect on our behavior over the past year and choose to let go of that, which is not useful to us or to others.


We are given this opportunity to reset ourselves, to change and transform any behavior that takes us away from living in accord with G-d’s will.


According to Maimonides, “Free will is offered to all men.  If they wish to follow the path of goodness and become righteous the will to do so is in their hands, and if they wish to follow the path of evil and become wicked, the will to do so is also in their hands.”

Rosh Hashanah is our opportunity to reset ourselves and our behavior for the rest of the year.


This is brought home to us in another special feature of today. The Torah does not actually mention the term Rosh Hashanah, but instead calls for a day of memorial – of blowing the Shofar as a call to remember the events and attitudes which led to the destruction of the two ancient Temples and the subsequent exiles.  Such a day offers us a chance to learn from our mistakes and improve our behavior.  In the Torah, today is called “Yom Te’roo’ah” (the day of blowing the Shofar). The mitzvah of the day is to hear the blasts of the shofar. But the blasts of the shofar are also wake-up calls. Rosh Hashanah is the time to shake out of our spiritual slumber, reconnect to our source, and recommit to our divine mission in this world.


The Shofar is the key symbol of Rosh Hashanah.  It was blown to gather people to the battlefield and is a symbol of Jewish unity.

Today, the Shofar gathers us to a soul-searching battle between positive and negative attitudes and behaviors.  It begins the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. 


Between two notes there is a gap, an empty space, just so, there is a gap between two ways of being. There is always an empty space, a space of transition. In this space we have the opportunity to let go of the old—the pettiness, the resentments, the past mistakes, failures and fears. We can embrace a brand-new way of being, a more passionate sense of purpose. We can commit ourselves to a new level of kindness, to a new level of respect and compassion for the people around us—those we already love, and those we could love if only we stopped being angry, defensive or afraid.


In listening to the Shofar we open ourselves to life, we create the greatest possible opening for G‑d to inscribe us in the Book of Life for a year that is good and sweet in the truest sense.


The act of Teshuva is a gift from G-d.  He gives us a second chance.  In the service today we heard. “I am the Lord G-d, merciful and compassionate, patient, loving and forgiving, promising My love until the last generation, forgiving transgressions and pardoning.” And also

“My children, if you turn this day, changing your bad ways, you will become new creatures, not the same people as before.  Then will I consider you as if I had created you anew, And then shall you, newborn, be as the new heavens and new earth which I shall create.”


Rabbi Harold Kushner tells us,

“In plain language, G-d is saying, “I am not just a G-d of awesome power, a G-d who decides who should be rewarded and who should be punished. That is what human rulers do. I am a G-d of second chances. I understand that human beings can’t be perfect. I help people so that they don’t repeat next year the same mistakes they made last year. I give people the amazing ability to be somebody different next year than they were this past year. I am a G-d who helps people in difficulty, not by making their path smooth and easy but by holding their hand as they walk a difficult path, not by taking away their problems but by giving them qualities they didn’t believe they were capable of, so that they can deal with the problems themselves. You yourself become the answer to your prayer.” And when the Israelites heard those words on the 10th of Tishri so many years ago, they realized they had not lost their connection to G-d after all. What they had lost was a childish notion of G-d, one that was never really true to begin with, and replaced it with a more realistic one, a demanding G-d who was also a G-d of forgiveness.


So the call of the Shofar today also invokes the sounds of the Shofar on Mt. Sinai, when Moses received the Ten Commandments.  It reminds us of the responsibility that we assumed when we accepted the Torah.

The book of Exodus describes the covenant between G-d and the people of Israel that had been led by G-d from Egypt.  A special relationship was created before the revelation of the 10 commandments: “If you will obey me faithfully and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all the peoples…you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation…” 

And the whole nation responded collectively, “All that the Lord has spoken, we will do.”


We are considered chosen because we have a special covenant with G-d to follow his laws and live according to his will.   Rabbi Hillel once expressed the essence of Judaism and the fundamental law we must follow to a would be convert, “What is hateful unto you, don’t do unto your neighbor.  The rest is commentary  – now go and study”.  He is citing the more positively stated instruction from G-d in Leviticus (19:18) “Love your neighbor as yourself, I am the Lord.”

In Amos 3:2, we learn, “You alone have I singled out of all the families of the earth.  That is why I call you to account for all your iniquities.”  Iniquities or sins are transgressions against our fellow man or against G-d.


It is in this period of T’shuvah between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur that we “account for our iniquities.”   T’shuvah is often translated as redemption, and we ask forgiveness for our sins, during this 10-day period.

During this time we ask ourselves, “Who might have been hurt by my words or actions? 

Who could I have helped that I ignored? 

What might I have done differently? 

How did I fall short of my commitment to live according to G-d’s will?” 

Not only do we ask these questions of ourselves, we ask forgiveness from those we have harmed and on Yom Kippur we ask forgiveness from G-d.

But shouldn’t we also ask why we have sinned in the first place?  It is because we have forgotten who we truly are -that we are indeed made in the image of G-d, and that we have the choice to live in accord with his will.

Rav Kook, the spiritual guide of the generation of Jews that began the return of our people to the Land of Israel, was especially attuned to the power of t’shuvah:

sin primarily harms the one who sinned, as it cuts him off from the roots of his very being, from the light of his soul. This estrangement is sin’s worst punishment. T’shuvah, on the other hand, redeems the sinner from this darkness. It rejuvenates him, restoring his previous state of life and joy.

The word t’shuvah literally means, “return.” It is not an escape from the world. On the contrary, it is precisely through genuine, pure t’shuvah that we return to the world and to life. 

What are we returning to?  Our Self with a capital “S”.  We are returning to our Oneness with G-d.  On the Day of Atonement we are literally at one if we have the eyes to see.

More than a simple horn, the shofar is an instrument of transformation. Its sound is said to be “like a heartbroken cry, and its power is the power of tears.”

In the words of Nahman of Bratslav, the great-grandson of the Bal Shem Tov, the founder of the Hassidic movement,

“Just as a hand held before your eyes hides the highest mountain, so our petty day-to-day life hinders us from seeing the fantastic lights and secrets that fill the world.  He who is able to put life from his eyes shall see the intense brilliance of the inner world.

Every man is called upon in his own way and at his own level.  G-d summons one man with a shout, another with a song, and a third with a whisper.”

The Days of Awe that begin today are a way to take down the hand that hides our inner light and turn away from our day-to-day activities and return to Our Self.  We respond to the call of G-d to return, to remember our true Self.

This is a time of Self-reflection – on every level, and in every sense of the word.  May we use this time to return to our true selves and reflect the glory of G-d in its fullness.



On a more personal note, today is the Day of Remembrance, and as we hear the Shofar we are reminded of Jerusalem. 

There are so many reasons Jerusalem has a special place in Judaism and in the hearts of all Jews.  Jerusalem is considered the place where Heaven and Earth meet. It is believed to be where Abraham bound Isaac. It was the site of Solomon’s Temple and the Western Wall, remnant of the Second Temple, is one of our holiest sites.


Isaiah tells us there will be a time of peace that will begin in Jerusalem.

And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

3            And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

4        But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken it.

5             For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever. Isaiah 2.2-4

40 years ago, I was blessed to spend Rosh Hashanah in Jerusalem.  We were there because Maharishi had given Skip the task of doing research on the square root of 1% effect in one country on every continent in the world.  For many reasons, Israel became the country we chose for the first study.  There were enough sidhas in Israel that if we gathered them together in one place we would have a group large enough to affect the war in Lebanon.

Because the course was held in Jerusalem, I feel it is part of the fulfillment of the prophecy that Peace will come to the world from Jerusalem.  It inspired the Taste of Utopia or 7000 course held here in Fairfield, and the published study that described our results has been used to help the world understand the power of a small group of people to influence a larger group, and in fact the world, in a positive way. 


As the course progressed Maharishi wanted us to share the amazing results with anyone who would listen, so we spoke to professors at different universities, members of parliament and military leaders.  Interestingly, the concept of a small group of people affecting the larger population was easy for them to accept because of their familiarity with the Kabbalistic belief of “Lamed Vav Tzadikim.


This is the belief that there are 36 righteous people in the world who sustain it.  They do not necessarily know each other nor are they necessarily recognized as special. 


Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Spira of Dinnov wrote that “in every generation, there are great righteous people who could perform wondrous acts, but the generation is not deserving of that, so the stature of the righteous people is hidden and they are not known to the public; sometimes they are woodchoppers or water-drawers.”


The midrash explains that “just as the stars are sometimes revealed and sometimes hidden, so, too with righteous people. And just as there are innumerable clusters of stars, so, too, there are innumerable clusters of righteous people,” which indicates that there are significantly more than 36 in the world.


As we embark on this period of self-reflection, and rededication let us remember that we can be Tzadikim and uphold the world with our righteousness.  It is our duty as knowers of this reality to do so, to live our lives in the “light of G-d” and follow the supreme commandment to love each other as we love ourselves.


L’shona Tova!