Every Rosh Hashanah we wish each other “Shanah tovah”,
a good year. The root of Shanah, shin-nun-hei means both “to repeat” and “to
change,” (leshanot). Rosh Hashanah, the ‘head of year’ brings an
opportunity for us to not just repeat the same thing we did last year, but to
change aspects of our lives. Beginning tonight, we come together, not only to
reflect on the past but to celebrate the potential for growth and
transformation that lies ahead. This isn't a mere formality; it's a call to
In our everyday lives, we seek the counsel of professionals like doctors, lawyers, and accountants to ensure that our affairs are in order. Similarly, Rosh Hashanah calls us to check in with our souls. Heshbon hanefesh translates to "the accounting of the soul,". Hebrew, a language that in its modern form bridges the sacred and the secular, reminds us that there is a connection between the holy and the ordinary. The word Heshbon can mean "the bill" in modern Hebrew but takes on a richer significance when applied to our lives. Just as we examine our financial accounts to know where we stand, we must also enquire into the state of our souls. This isn’t meant to be punishing or self-flagellating; as we account for ourselves, Judaism still always recognizes the infinite worth of every individual, rejecting the notion of a "worthless" soul. Without this introspection, how can we identify what needs to change?
During this period of self-examination, we should ask ourselves: Are we having the impact we want? How have we contributed to the betterment of the world? In what ways have we caused harm? How have our actions affected others? Do we make their lives easier or more difficult because of our behaviour?
These questions shift our focus from self-centeredness to a broader perspective. Heshbon hanefesh invites us to reflect on our relationships with others and our role in making the world a better place. It brings to mind the famous quote from Gandhi: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme.” What is the leshanot that you will seek in 5784 to make the world that you want to see? By looking within how can we connect more to our lives in harmony with the divine?
Remind yourself: this is not merely the start of a new year that we find ourselves swept along in. Rosh Hashanah can be the start of YOUR year; a year dedicated to self-discovery and personal growth. Look within to see what tikkun, what ‘improvement’ you can make to yourself and to our world.