Rosh Hashanah — a time to create yourself

Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein

There’s a natural human need to predict the future. We want to know what’s going to happen. 

We feel this need most acutely over Rosh Hashanah, when we have a deep sense of our vulnerability, and reflect on Hashem’s decrees for us in the year ahead.

The problem is that when we are preoccupied with prediction, we think passively. We wonder what the future holds, looking on helplessly, pondering what is in store for us. It’s vital that we turn this on its head. Rather than passively anticipating the year ahead, we need to create it ourselves, as if on a blank canvas. 

There’s a lot out of our control — in the hands of Hashem. But who we are, the values and qualities of the families we nurture and the community we build — this is all in our hands. 

Rosh Hashanah is all about creating ourselves. It is the anniversary of the creation of the first human beings, Adam and Eve. And it is the time of year we — as part of our Divine mandate to be creators like Hashem — create ourselves anew. We ask ourselves the question — not what will happen in the year ahead, but — who do we want to be in the year ahead? What kind of person do we aspire to be? What are the traits we wish to develop? As we reflect on the past and repent for our wrongdoings, we also think about the future; we resolve to be better — closer to Hashem and the people around us, wiser, more generous and compassionate, more refined, more selfless, more faithful, more connected.

And that impacts not just us, but our families, our friends, our community, and even the world at large. The journey of self-creation begins with us and then ripples outwards in ever-expanding circles of impact. 

It starts with us. And it starts now. Fortunately, Hashem has given us the tools to achieve this — to create ourselves and our families and our communities: the wisdom and mitzvahs of the Torah. The Midrash tells us that Hashem gave us the mitzvahs to purify and refine us. They guide us on a path of self-transformation and self-realisation — a path of creating ourselves and our families through who we are, how we live and what we do. 

Through learning Torah and doing mitzvahs, we find our Divine purpose and meaning, we learn to be people of faith and compassion and kindness and wisdom. We learn how to nurture a family of love and loyalty, of kindness and integrity. We learn how to build a community and a society of warmth and care and inclusivity, reflecting the values that Hashem has given us.

Rosh Hashanah is when we set ourselves to the task of self-creation. But the truth is, it’s not just once a year. We are given the energy and impetus and opportunity to create ourselves each week, with the Divine gift of Shabbat.

This is the theme of my new book, Shabbat. A Day To Create Yourself. My aim in writing it was to offer a completely fresh perspective on Shabbat, exploring the ways in which Shabbat is more than just a day of rest — that it is a day that completely transforms us. The book explores how practical aspects of the day — what we do and what we refrain from doing — give us the tools to create the best version of ourselves and our world; how Shabbat is a Divine formula to live optimally and joyfully — and curate the kind of life we yearn for.

Writing it has been a real journey of discovery for me personally, and I hope it will be equally eye-opening for those who read it.

I wish all the wonderful readers of the Cape Jewish Chronicle a good and meaningful Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and great success on your journey of self-creation in the year ahead. May Hashem bless all our efforts, and inscribe and seal our special community, and all of Klal Yisrael, with a sweet, healthy, prosperous and peaceful 5783.

• Published in the September 2022 Rosh Hashanah Digital Edition – Click here to read it.

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