Published on August 29, 2020
A holiday is a holy day because it interrupts the daily flow of our usually very busy lives with messages and reminders that we need to make life worth living. As we approach the holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur that so many will observe, it’s a good time to remember the purpose of this first 10-day period of the Jewish New Year—which is, namely, to fill one with humility and soul-searching, introspection and self-evaluation.
The 12th century Spanish rabbi, philosopher and scholar, Moses Maimonides, was also a great physician. In the Mishneh Torah he wrote:
“Since it is impossible to have any understanding and knowledge of the Creator when one is sick, it is one’s duty to avoid whatever is injurious to the body and to cultivate habits that promote health and vigor.”
No matter your religion or to whom you pray, if you do, but especially to observant Jews at this time of year, I ask this question: Can you honestly claim that in your daily life you perpetuate eating habits that promote health and vigor?
If you believe your body is not just a body; that it’s the receptacle of the soul, then you also believe that God’s spirit lives in it. So, therefore, it’s obvious to me that you have a choice to make: Do you want God’s spirit to reside in a healthy house, one whose foundation is strong and full of healthy energy and life? Or, do you want God’s spirit to live in a house suffering from a weak foundation and long list of medical problems, and which is dependent upon a multitude of prescription drugs to keep it going?!
On the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah, observant Jews will perform “Tashlich,” (“casting off” in Hebrew) which involves tossing pieces of bread or another food into a body of flowing water; this symbolizes the casting off the sins of the previous year. Just as the water carries away the bits of bread, so too are sins symbolically carried away. In this way the participant hopes to start the New Year with a clean slate. For those who will perform Tashlich this year, cast off all the improper decisions you’ve made and actions you’ve taken that have contributed to your unhealthy body over the last year. Then, for that repentance to be meaningful, it must be accompanied by a commitment to change.
On Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Jews will fast. Fasting isn’t supposed to be fun, and it isn’t supposed to be easy. Fasting is meant to be impactful, a way of atoning for sins or one’s improper behavior through an act of self-denial of something that is otherwise enjoyable. By the ability to “just say no” to whatever may tempt you this day, you prove to yourself and to God that in the coming year you can be master of your own destiny and you can control your behavior.
As the rabbis of the Talmud put it, God brings out His scales in order to weigh the deeds of every person. Just as it is always the first steps we take on any journey that sets our course, how we start the new year may be the key to everything else that follows. So, this New Year do yourself a really good deed: Make a commitment to tip the scales in your favor, and get your “house” in order!