Lessons from Rosh Hashanah


The Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites: On the first day of the seventh month you shall keep a Sabbath rest, with a sacred assembly and with the trumpet blasts as a reminder; you shall then do no sort of work, and you shall offer the oblation to the Lord.” (Leviticus 23:23-25)

I’m embarrassed to admit how little I actually know about Judaism, but I’m always interested in learning more. An article in The Springfield Republican about Rosh Hashanah by Rabbi Max Davis set me on a mission to find out more about the Holy Day of the Jewish New Year.

The creation of this Holy Day by the Lord is recorded in the book of Leviticus. Rosh Hashanah literally means “Head of the Year” and will be celebrated this year the evening of September 28th through the evening of September 30th. The Jewish people are beginning the year 5772 on their calendar. Rosh Hashanah is known by a few other names. It is referred to as Yom Ha-Zikkaron (the day of remembrance) or Yom Teruah (the day of the sounding of the shofar). It is also known as Yom HaDin which translates as “Judgment Day.” As Rabbi Davis states, “It is considered a judgment day of sorts, the days upon which God scrutinizes our deeds of the previous year and notes whether or not we have lived up to our potential.”

One of those areas of living up to our potential is in the realm of our personal relationships. Rabbi Davis continues, “Rosh Hashanah celebrates the fact that it is never too late to attempt to repair our friendships, even if they are stale or sour. Rosh Hashanah bids us to seek forgiveness from the Almighty as well as from fellow mortals – and be willing to grant forgiveness too whenever possible. We are urged to mend our fractured relationships through prayer, dialogue and most importantly, through pushing ourselves to look in the mirror and admit fault when we see it.”

One of the customs that is part of Rosh Hashanah is Tashlikh (“casting off”).  According to Judaism 101, “We walk to flowing water, such as a creek or river, on the afternoon of the first day and empty our pockets into the river, symbolically casting off our sins. Small pieces of bread are commonly put in the pocket to cast off.”

We Catholics have the wonderful gift of the Sacrament of Confession for casting off our sins, but we can always use the reminder to repair our human relationships. It is a sad fact of life, but we all hurt, and are hurt by, those we care about. We let important relationships fade because of these hurts – it sometimes seems easier to walk away then deal with the messiness of human life. We hate to have to admit we were wrong.

“I’m sorry” can be the hardest words to say. “I forgive you” falls into that category as well. Yet, those two statements, provided that the meaning behind them is genuine, can go a long way in healing our wounded relationships.

Rosh Hashanah is a Jewish Holy Day, but we can all take a lesson from it. What relationships do we need to heal? What apologies do we need to offer? What forgiveness do we need to extend? This is the time to begin anew.


About Author

I am a life-long Roman Catholic, homeschooling mom of two boys (ages 9 1/2 and 8), married for thirteen years. I am a Senior Editor with Catholic Lane and a freelance writer on topics related to women's spirituality. I am also the author of "Letters to Mary from a Young Mother." I have a BA in History and Fine Art and a Master of Arts Degree in Applied Theology.

  • Theodore Kobernick

    You have a gentle touch. This article is more than educational. Thank you.

    As a relative newcomer to Catholic Lane, I had not seen your earlier articles, which I now have begun to enjoy.

    I was sorry to see that so few readers had responded to your request for their insights regarding your children, and how to teach them about sex belonging in marriage, but that you would love them no matter what. That’s really the article this comment is responding to.

    As their parents, of course you and your husband have the responsibility to train your children. But the rest of the Christian community has the responsibility to contribute whatever we can.

    I have found this to be a useful view of most sins: sins are usually perversions or misuse of blessings God has bestowed on us. Two rather obvious examples of such sin are misuse of money (greed, stinginess, profligacy, etc.), and abuse of sexual relations.

    God made us with a desire for one another. When that desire is sexual — and godly — it will draw a man and woman together in a powerful bond, a powerful attachment to one another which becomes a starting point for their life together, and for their having children which they will raise to be godly blessings.

    The Bible does not contain a bunch of arbitrary restrictions. God’s laws are practical and realistic. Exodus 22:16 recognizes that our urges can carry us away. So it does not call for punishment, but for sealing the sexual love with marriage.

    Too often, people think that sex and marriage must go together solely because the young woman might get pregnant. But this is by no means the only case the Bible addresses. In fact, the pregnancy is sometimes entirely beside the point. When the Bible says not to have premarital sex, it does not focus upon pregnancy! Thus the sexual act (notice that I cannot say “union”) without the right commitment is the sin.

    Why is it a sin? Of course, because God says so. But people want to know WHY God would forbid it. For one thing, fornication cheapens the sex act, removes from the context of abiding love, renders it unfit to be one of the foundations of a wonderful marriage. It also cheapens the persons involved. And worst of all, such a sexual relationship rejects the Lordship of God in their lives.

    Even in my Protestant view, Catholic young adults ought to marry a Catholic. But if these (usually) young persons go regularly to Mass, while their actions are denying God’s lordship in their lives, surely they are practicing hypocrisy, toward God, toward their fellow worshipers, and toward themselves.

    Getting down to bedrock, God made us in his own image. This is not to say that you and I are gods. But it certainly includes us having the ability in many areas of life to behave as God behaves. (Maybe, in other words, to express Christ in our lives) One characteristic of God which the Bible repeats again and again, is FAITHFULNESS. Faithfulness is a godly characteristic available to each and all of us. In sexual matters promiscuity is the direct opposite of faithfulness.

    Sexual promiscuity before marriage breaks down resistance to promiscuity after marriage. The same line of thinking that justifies the one will justify the other. You don’t need me to tell you to teach your children how devastating adultery is.

    It is almost impossible to overemphasize the clear fact that a young person engaging in premarital sex is not only fornicating, but is coupling with another fornicator (or even an adulterer). The whole thing creates a MESS, a disaster brewing.

    When the youngsters feel their hormones raging, you will need to have in your mind some pertinent analogies to share with them — perhaps after the manner of Jesus teaching in parables. Just off the top of my head here’s one. “If you were doing something important, but nowhere as important as joining yourself with another, would you take great care? For example if you were selecting a puppy, would you choose a [their favorite breed], or would you commit to a pit bull?” Or maybe something simple: “If you want to go to [pick a location in your area], would you get on the first bus that came along, even if it were going to [pick some other location]?”

    You must lay the groundwork for years ahead of time [and I’m almost certain you and your husband are doing this, but some other readers might not]. The groundwork is, together with your children, to take all sorts of decisions to God, to seek his leading, to appreciate the benefits of following his leading, and to follow his guidance. This must become the normal practice in the lives of you and your children. It is most important in all matters, but for the matter of sexual relations — godliness won’t carry a lot of weight unless godliness is a habit.

    As for the other part of your concern: assuring your children that you will love them no matter what — I give my view more hesitantly, but here it is.

    Romans 5:10 show that God loves persons even when they oppose him — loves them, but does not endorse their wrongful attitudes and deeds. In Matthew 5:43-5:48, Jesus teaches love for all. I think that when your children repeatedly hear the doctrine of God’s love, and consistently witness you living that doctrine (and letting your children see that you do), it may not be necessary to tell them ahead of time that you will love and forgive them no matter what.

    Patrice, one suspects that you have a mature, godly way of raising your children. May the Lord continue to bless your family, and to expose the wiles of the devil, and to protect your children. Amen

  • Theodore,

    Thank you for the time you took to write such an insightful comment. I greatly appreciate it.

    Best wishes,