Rosh Hashanah offers families chance to seek forgiveness

While other religions talk about sin and confession, Judaism has its own way of cleansing the soul. It’s called the Days of Awe, a spiritual journey that begins in the Hebrew month of Elul, which directly precedes Rosh Hashanah.

Rosh Hashana is the Hebrew word for “head of the year” and occurs on the first days of Tishri. Rosh Hashana begins the period called teshuvah, Hebrew for “returning to God,” or Ten Days of Repentance. It’s a time for serious introspection, a time to reflect on how we’ve behaved over the past year, and how we can do better in the next one. It’s a time to ask forgiveness for saying or doing something hurtful to a loved one. It’s a joyful yet solemn time to make amends and do whatever it takes to move on and learn by our mistakes. When we make peace with God and another human being, we make peace with ourselves.

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Sounds like free therapy, only sweeter.

No wonder the High Holidays attract the largest audience to temple services. At Rosh Hashana, extra folding chairs are lined in rows and the walls of the sanctuary are open to capacity to accommodate an eager, standing-room-only crowd. It’s a time when we come together to listen to a sound that we hear only once a year, the sound of the shofar.

The shofar, which is the Hebrew word for “ram’s horn,” commemorates the day that Abraham offered to sacrifice his adored son Isaac. On this holy day, Jews blow the shofar because the ram in the thicket was sacrificed instead of Isaac. The sound of the shofar is our wakeup call and reminds us that sacrifice is sometimes necessary, and we’re supposed to ask God, for Abraham’s sake, to forgive us for our sins.

With each note, we hear the voice of God. Tekiah is a long plain note; shevarim is three broken notes; and teruah is a series of nine short blasts. (If your kids want to try to mimic the sound of the shofar at home, try a dime-store kazoo, then plug your ears).

Legend tells us that God opens the Book of Life on Rosh Hashana, kind of like Judgment Day. God judges each person and writes down his or her fate for the next year. For those who truly repent their sins, God shows mercy. The record is open until sundown on Yom Kippur.

That’s why another tradition before Rosh Hashana is for Jews to send each other cards that say, “L’shanah tovah tikatevu, May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year. ” Making New Year’s cards is a great activity for young children. All it takes is a little creativity and construction paper.

Rosh Hashana is also a time for moms and dads to show their sons and daughters the meaning of unconditional love and family support.

It’s a time for parents to admit to each other and their children that they were wrong and teach by example how to take responsibility for their actions. Children as young as preschoolers can benefit from these heart-to-heart discussions in which their parents and siblings learn the value of a sincere “I’m sorry.”

Another tradition to start at an early age is tashlikh, which is the Hebrew word for “you shall cast away” and a Jewish custom that dates back to the Middle Ages.

On the first day of Rosh Hashana, stroll with your family to a nearby lake, creek, or any natural body of water. Take breadcrumbs from your pockets and toss them into the water, symbolically “throwing away” your sins into the purifying waters.

As you stand by the water, ask everyone in the group to think of which attitudes and behaviors they would like to “cast off.” While you enjoy the outdoors, spread a blanket on the ground and munch crunchy apples dipped in honey for a sweet New Year!

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Currently, she is busy peeling apples. Feel free to send any comments to: [email protected] or visit her Web site at