“‘On the first day of the seventh month hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. It is a day for you to sound the trumpets.’” — Numbers 29:1
At sundown on Friday, Sept. 18, my family will join Jews around the world in celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. My devotions this week focus on this very holy day, a time when our attention is on repentance and starting afresh.
My friend Jennifer is generally a very safe driver, but one time she made the mistake of driving in a parking lot while talking on her phone to her daughter. Her daughter was waiting nearby, and Jennifer was having trouble spotting her. As her daughter verbally guided her to where she was, Jennifer did not notice that she drove right past a police officer who promptly pulled her over.
The officer immediately started with his diatribe, scolding Jennifer for talking and driving. She immediately replied, “You are completely right — I shouldn’t have been on the phone. It’s dangerous! Hand me the ticket!” She even thanked the officer for pulling her over. The officer looked completely shocked. Obviously, he didn’t hear that too often! In the end, he decided not to give Jennifer the ticket because she knew she was wrong and had learned her lesson.
When I heard this story, it reminded me of a teaching about Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which is also our yearly Judgment Day. According to tradition, when the shofar, the ritual trumpet, is sounded in the synagogue, God gets up from the throne of judgment and sits down on the throne of compassion and mercy.
In the olden days, a Jewish trial began with the blasting of the shofar. So, when we blow the shofar, it is as though we are willingly starting our own trial. It is as if we are saying to God, “hand me the ticket — give me my penalty!” We recognize that we have done some wrong things, we take responsibility for our sins, and we accept our verdict.
Tradition teaches, “When there is judgment below, there is no need for judgment above.” When God sees that we have judged ourselves and take responsibility for our sins, He no longer needs to judge us, but rather looks at us with an abundance of mercy, compassion, and love.
In Judaism, this is the time of year that we focus on self-reflection and repentance. However, introspection and self-improvement are worth investing our time in all year-long. God does not expect us to never make mistakes — but He does expect us to learn from them.
Identify one mistake that you have made in the past year and ask yourself what you can learn from it and how you might grow from the experience.