Growing up, Rosh Hashanah was a benign holiday for me. Apples and honey, food and family. That is, until my brother was diagnosed with cancer the summer before my senior year of high school.
During the first week back at school that year, I was asked to deliver a d’var Torah on Rosh Hashanah. I wracked my brain trying to remember the heroes and villains of the Rosh Hashanah story, and eventually had to check out a library book to learn more. To my surprise, I found that Rosh Hashanah isn’t a holiday commemorating any event in Jewish history. It’s a life cycle holiday. It’s about us and our lives, today. It’s about life, and by extension, death. The blast of the shofar is a daily alarm to wake us up from passivity in our lives, we listen to the Unetaneh Tokef in synagogue to remind us of our mortality, and we eat round challah to symbolize the circularity of life. The whole point of Rosh Hashanah, I learned, is to inspire us to live meaningfully by reminding us that we are alive, and that we won’t always be.
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