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5 ways to embrace the spirit of Rosh Hashanah

At sundown on September 25, Jews around the world will begin observing the holiday of Rosh Hashanah.

Translated as “head of the year,” Rosh Hashanah is one of four, yes, FOUR, Jewish “new years,” and is marked is a time for renewal of mind, body and spirit. The holiday leads off a period of deep prayer and reflection concluding with Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement.

I have long found the timing of Rosh Hashanah to be more auspicious than the secular new year that begins in January. The timing of the holiday alongside the start of fall and, for many, the transition from a more leisurely summer to the busier days of work and school make it an ideal time for checking in on where we are in our lives.

There are many aspects of Rosh Hashanah most Jews, myself included, would find appropriative if those with no affiliation with the religion were to adapt, however, anyone, regardless of religion or lack thereof, all of us can use this time to set our intentions for the coming year. Note, these aren’t resolutions, such as “lose 20 pounds” or “earn more money,” but rather a mindful path toward achieving our best selves.

Set Intentions

During the days of Rosh Hashanah and the period leading up to and including Yom Kippur, I use my time in the synagogue to focus on what I want for myself and my family. The long periods of prayer enable me to clear my mind and meditate on what is most important. If prayer is not for you, set time for yoga, running, or another activity that helps you engage in mindful and intentional thinking.

Reflect On Mistakes Made

From Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur, it is customary for Jews to reach out to those they may have wronged and seek forgiveness. We also use this time to consider our own transgressions and reflect on our past sins. The Jewish ritual of tashlich involves tossing pieces of bread into a body of water as a way of “casting off” our misdeeds. The idea is that these mistakes do not define us, and we have the chance to do better. As an alternative or additional practice, you could write those mistakes down in pencil and erase them, use sage to cleanse your home of negative energy, or write in sand or dirt and let nature take care of the rest.

Connect With Nature

Speaking of nature, Rosh Hashanah is a wonderful time to get outside and embrace the beauty of the world. For Jews, this time marks heightened awareness of G-d and his power, and even those who don’t believe in a higher power can take time to appreciate the wonder of the world around them. Use this time to hike, bike, kayak or do anything else that makes you feel one with nature.

Connect With Your Body

During Yom Kippur, Jews fast as a means of limiting distractions. This is a time of great prayer and focus on the days ahead, so thinking about when and what to eat is considered detrimental to this practice. For me, fasting is about cleansing the body alongside the mind and allowing myself to connect physically and spiritually to a higher level. I hesitate to recommend fasting, as I know many have and still struggle with eating disorders and body shame, however, if this is a practice you want to try for the purpose of spiritual renewal and growth, please proceed with caution. Short of fasting, you can take the time to reflect on your physical well-being and consider how you are feeling in your body.

Make Space For The New

All of the concepts described above are about getting ourselves ready to welcome in the new year. By clearing our minds and our bodies, we create space to bring in goodness. This sets us up to be active participants in our future and make the efforts toward achieving what we need. Even the custom of dipping apples in honey is done as a way of welcoming in a sweet new year.

Whether you are observing Rosh Hashanah this coming week or not, I wish you well on your journey and hope you find joy in the days to come.

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