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How the Jewish High Holy Days Relate to Recovery
The High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are considered the most sacred on the Jewish calendar. The autumnal holidays signal a time of personal reflection and reconciliation of attitudes and behaviors that occurred in the previous 12 months. Prayer, fasting, asking for and offering forgiveness, as well as time in synagogue await those whose heritage calls for such rituals.
They’re referred to as the Days of Awe, and 10 days between the two holidays are set aside to focus mindfully on change. One need not be of the Jewish faith to engage in these practices, because they relate to renewal the same way that entering into recovery does.
A Brief Background
Rosh Hashanah is viewed as the Jewish New Year. It heralds the birthday of the world. Yom Kippur is called The Day of Atonement during which people with serious intent turn inward to examine the shadow aspects of their lives. They contemplate whether they’re the best and most loving versions of themselves.
One of the concepts revolves around atoning for “sin.” In many religious traditions, the focus is on shame and blame for heinous acts committed. The Hebrew word for sin is “chet,” which translates as “to miss the mark,” as in archery. When one’s arrow falls short of the target, there are two choices: give up in frustration or reload the arrow and aim again. Sins take at least one of three forms: those we commit against ourselves, such as addiction to substances or behaviors, those we wage against others, such as stealing or causing physical or emotional harm, and those we commit against God, such as lying and breaking promises.
A ritual known as “tashlich” involves symbolically casting off sin by tossing bread into a moving body of water and letting it be carried away by the tide. Another is the term “teshuvah,” which means “return.” It describes the concept of repentance for wrongdoing. Although we can’t change previous behaviors, we can make amends, which goes beyond “I’m sorry” to “What can I do to compensate for my actions and see that I don’t repeat them?”
Certain foods are part of the tradition, such as apples and honey to signify a sweet New Year. Round braided bread called challah symbolizes the circle of life. “New fruit,” means fruit that’s new to the season, with pomegranate being the most popular, so that our good deeds may be as plentiful as the seeds it contains.
Blowing the shofar, or ram’s horn, is used as a wakeup call — to reconsider the path we’ve been on and decide whether we want to keep moving in that direction. It’s easy to get into repetitive patterns of behavior in addiction, and sounding the alarm might become necessary to awaken us.
There’s a special greeting that’s offered: “L’shanah tovah tikatevu.” It translates to “May you have a sweet new year,” or “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year.”
These rituals can be done at any time of year and in any setting. There are clear similarities to recovery, such as:
- Clarifying a relationship with the God of our understanding
- Doing a searching and fearless moral inventory
- Being willing to change
- Making amends
- Being in fellowship with others who may share our beliefs and intentions
- Considering the areas in our lives where we may have missed the bullseye
- Internal focus in meditation
While you can borrow from Jewish rituals to reflect on your recovery, there are other practices you can try to encourage the same mindfulness. For example:
- Journal about the previous year, including the acts you’re proud of and the ones you regret.
- Write a list of six-month, one-year and five-year goals. Revisit them each year to determine how many you have achieved.
- Sit with prayer beads. They might be a Catholic rosary or Buddhist or Hindu mala beads. As they run through your fingers, bring to mind a person for each bead and offer them love and well wishes. If you feel a need to forgive them or want them to forgive you, ask for that as well.
As the leaves may be changing colors where you live and tumbling earthward, so too may you turn over a new leaf. L’shanah tovah tikatevu.
By Edie Weinstein, LSW
Follow Edie on Twitter at @EdieWeinstein1