It’s hard to believe, but the High Holiday season is upon us once again. With the arrival of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, at sunset on Wednesday, Sept. 24, the Earth completes one orbit around the sun and begins another. For more than 4 billion years the Earth has circled its parent star, and for an infinitesimal fraction of that time humanity has traveled along with it, each generation shepherding their children into the future. As we begin the new year of 5775, Jews around the world reflect upon the year past, and face the promise of tomorrow. For Jewish parents, Rosh Hashanah and the Days of Awe, which culminate in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, are a time to consider our children. At this auspicious season we look to G-d and within ourselves for the wisdom to guide them on their path.
According to Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of the cosmos, and subsequently of humanity. Thus, the biblical story of Genesis (Parsha Bereshit) is often read in synagogue on this day. A time of reflection and soul searching, we examine our conduct during the past year and prepare to be judged by G-d for inscription into the Book of Life. To that end we embrace the concept of teshuva or repentance. In the Talmud it is written that repentance was created even before the world was. Thus it is embedded deep within our nature to turn away from sin and embrace righteousness.
Ideally, with each trip around the sun we gain insight into the human condition. Yet no matter our kavanah, or intent, like a poor archer sometimes we miss the mark. However, even our mistakes have a purpose if we learn from them. In this season of turning and change, we can resolve to bring what works for us into the new year and leave the past behind. This year gone by has been an eventful one for our household. I began a new job, my twin sons Leo and Ethan, age 8, completed second grade, and my daughter Sela, age 5, graduated from preschool. My wife Leslie and I continue to navigate the never-ending mysteries of parenthood. Parenting, much like the Peace Corps, really is the toughest job you’ll ever love. On any given day all your capabilities will be called upon: diplomat, strategist, medic, counselor, chef and most crucially, entertainment director. It is not for the faint of heart. Children can be relentless in pursuit of their wants and desires. They will push you and challenge you in ways you never anticipated. But at the end of the day, they need you as much as you need them.
Like Sisyphus, the mythological Greek king condemned for eternity by the gods to roll a boulder up a hill each day, only to have it come crashing down, we parents schlep our metaphorical boulder up the hill each day. It’s kind of like the old saw about the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Whether it is asking our kids to clean up their room for the umpteenth time, intervening in the same old arguments or getting them to look up from their devices every now and then, parenting can become a bit like the movie “Groundhog Day,” with Bill Murray’s character living the same day over and over. Fortunately, we need not fear the wrath of the gods. Our G-d has endowed us with free will, enabling us to break the cycle and chart our own destiny.
One such moment came on the last day of the school year. When Leo was in first grade, trying to get him to do homework was like pulling teeth. This year things were completely different. Leo’s second grade teacher told me “he was the most improved student academically and socially.” After struggling with schoolwork in first grade and trying to find his place among his peers, all on his own Leo has embraced the concept of teshuva and has made remarkable progress in his personal evolution. Meanwhile, my daughter Sela decided that she wanted to learn to read this summer in anticipation of kinder- garten. She has been working hard each day blending words and sounding them out when we read books together and is on the verge of achieving her goal. Sometimes kids just need to make a change on their own terms, at a time when it’s right for them.
Each year that we are inscribed in the book of life is a chance to grow ethically, morally and spiritually. To be the best parent I can be, I try to be available and present for my kids whenever possible. On those occasions when I miss the mark, when I am too stern with them or when I don’t spend enough time with them, I try to embrace the spirit of teshuva and repent.
One of my strongest memories of growing up was attending High Holiday services with my family each year at Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, NJ. As we walked from the park- ing lot into services, my Grandma Adele would invariably say, “The sun always shines on the Jews!” Somehow I don’t recall a single rainy Rosh Hashanah from my childhood. What I do remember from those days is that on the High Holidays we were always together as a family.
This spring our family took a trip back to my hometown of Short Hills. We visited King Solomon Memorial Park, the Clifton, NJ, cemetery where my parents are buried. As I knelt by my parents’ graveside, my son Ethan held my hand as tears streamed down my cheeks. My father has been gone for 25 years and my Mother for 10. I try my best to pass on the lessons I learned from them to my little guys. Only now that I have kids of my own do I truly comprehend what it must have been like for them to raise four kids!
With each passing year and each voyage around the sun, we add layer upon layer of depth and meaning to the tapestry of our lives. Each loop also provides an opportunity to mend our ways. We can resolve to grow beyond our failings, treat each other with kindness and nurture the connections between the people in our lives. Or are we condemned for eternity to roll that boulder uphill only to have it crash down again? Will we be like Sisyphus, or can we break the cycle?
As we celebrate the anniversary of the creation of the universe, we chase the sun at speeds approaching 70,000 miles per hour. On Rosh Hashanah we express our gratitude for having arrived safely at this season after an orbital journey of 585 million miles. Year after year, century after century, the Earth traces its graceful elliptical path around the sun. Like the round challah we enjoy during Rosh Hashanah, the path has no beginning and no end. Each trip is a gift from G-d, and if we are fortunate we will enjoy many in our lifetime. How we use this time is up to us, but hopefully we use it wisely. Spaceship Earth just keeps rollin’ on.