May 29, 2024
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Making Good Even Better: A Rosh Hashanah Message

We generally think of Rosh Hashanah and the period of Aseret Yemei Teshuvah leading to Yom Kippur as a time to reflect on our present sins and determine to do fewer sins in the upcoming year. Indeed, this is an important part of the Yamim Noraim season. I want to suggest, however, that this period has a more positive spin as well that is similarly reflective and aspirational.

The Mussaf, or additional prayer of Rosh Hashanah, has three main sections: malchuyot, zichronot and shofarot. Traditionally, each section has a specific purpose. In malchuyot, we crown God as our King and ask Him to forgive the sins of his subjects—ourselves. In zichronot, we ask God to remember the merit of our ancestors and allocate their merit to outweigh our own sins. In shofarot, we recall the sounds of the horns at Mount Sinai and again ask God to honor the covenant with our ancestors and thereby forgive our current transgressions.

The themes cited above are certainly compelling, but they also seem somewhat negative. In each case, we are offering “logical” reasons for God to wipe our own slates clean, because we need to be cleansed of our errors and misdeeds.

I would suggest an additional, more positive spin on the malchuyot, zichronot and shofarot themes. In each case, as I will demonstrate, we ask God to take one of His own positive attributes that He has utilized for our benefit throughout history and to use that positive attribute to bring good things into our present lives. We ask God who is our King and Creator (malchuyot), Who remembers our beginnings as human beings and as a nation (zichronot), and Who made a covenant with our ancestors at Mount Sinai (shofarot), to use these Divine attributes of kingship, memory and covenant to do good things for us in the coming year—to bring us redemption as human beings in our personal lives and as a nation in our communal lives.

It occurs to me that if we ask God to use His positive attributes to make our lives better, we can ask no less of ourselves. The season of Yamim Noraim is not just about addressing our negatives—it is not only about scanning our lives for sins and asking for forgiveness.

The period of the High Holidays is also, and arguably even more importantly, about analyzing ourselves in search of what is best in each of us—our natural gifts, talents, assets and positive attributes. It is a time for each of us to search for what is best in ourselves, and to resolve to do more with our “positives” in the year to come. It is an opportunity for each of us to ponder how to use the good within us to make the world a better place for all human beings.

Wishing everyone a year of health, prosperity and the spreading of goodness and kindness to all!


Dean Rachel Friedman is the founder of Lamdeinu, the center for Torah study in Teaneck. Lamdeinu is now in its seventh year.

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