May 27, 2024
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Rosh Hashanah and Healing: Values and Lessons

I recently delivered a webinar for Monte Nido with Dr. Melissa Spann on the subject of eating disorders in the Jewish community. This topic is my passion, one that I hold near and dear to my heart; my goals are advocacy and to spread awareness, debunk myths and promote the very hope that exists as full recovery is possible.

Part of this webinar, a talk that Melissa and I have delivered multiple times, is about the values that exist within Judaism—both religiously and culturally—and how they overlap with values that exist in recovery from mental health issues. Values-based work is a strong component of ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) as it encourages the client to live in accordance with values and examine the ways this may or may not be happening.

This concept and aspect of the webinar had the wheels in my head turning, thinking about this time of year as we prepare for the new year and the values that we endorse and the manner in which they, too, can promote messages of support in recovery. I discussed this theme with my parents, two educators who inspire me daily, and they aided me in creating this piece and processing the concepts below.

Listening: We teach our children that an essential part of Rosh Hashanah is the sounding of the shofar as a means of instilling within us the need to “wake up” and understand the importance of the day. It is not simply about hearing the Shofar—it is about listening. It is about listening and critically thinking, not simply hearing. This is an essential part of the healing process. It is not about hearing the recommendations, challenges and support of those around you. Rather, it is about truly listening and integrating the help of others, knowing what is being offered and integrating your understanding with next steps.

Understanding: The Rambam stated that with understanding comes love. The power of understanding and what this can bring allows for change and for repentance. On Rosh Hashanah we reflect and understand the gravity of this time, as we enter the New Year, and hope to be “written in the book of life” and to understand what we have done, how we can do differently and our place in this world. So, too, understanding oneself and utilizing introspection helps individuals to move forward. I recommend clients engage in a behavior chain after engaging in a behavior deemed maladaptive. This allows the individual to explore the events leading up to the behavior and what could be different the next time, as well as warning signs for the future. This understanding allows the person to do the next “best thing.” Both recovery and Rosh Hashanah encourage understanding to further growth.

Doing: With understanding comes the push to act, to do. Rosh Hashanah and the Aseret Yemei Teshuva, the days leading up to and including Yom Kippur, not only including reflecting and understanding but include taking action. Pirkei Avot Chapter 1:17 states, “Study is not the most important thing—rather, action.” Yes, there is immeasurable value in understanding, for without it there would be no momentum toward change. But the understanding alone does not constitute the action—the doing. One might argue that understanding and doing are linked, once an individual understands, he will do. But we know that people can become distracted, and in the process of recovery, the internal dialogue that tempts an individual to engage in maladaptive means of coping can cause the person to resist the stage of doing. But this stage is essential in that it brings forward growth. The Rambam in describing teshuva emphasized that teshuva is complete when the “doing” in a future time includes acting differently; the person is faced with the same temptation but does not sin, s/he resists. So too in the healing process; the person understands and uses intention to then do the next best thing.

Joy: An essence of the holiday is the aspect of joy within the context of this being a holiday. While themes revolve around teshuva, this is a time, according to Ezra and Nechemiah, that one should be joyful. When questioned as to how this could be, they explained that we should celebrate our privilege in doing teshuva and asking for forgiveness and not let the focus be on sorrow but on joy. So, too, we hold space for the dialectic around finding joy and gratitude while reflecting on the deeper themes.

Forgiveness: The idea that forgiveness is available to us, at our disposal, and that this process is not simple, but causes us to truly pause and take steps toward growth. Forgiveness of self and others in the recovery process—or truly any journey toward growth—may be the key to healing. It allows us to let go of our grudges, of the feelings and experiences that may inhibit us from connecting with ourselves and with others and inhibit us from humility and gratitude. Healing requires the concept of forgiveness. I speak with clients regularly about the idea of their bodies forgiving their minds and vice versa. We speak about forgiving those who have wronged us; this does not necessarily mean that a better relationship must take place, but forgiveness does in fact creates space and potential.

Readers, as we enter this new year I wish you all a year of growth, reflection, connection and overcoming the challenges that you face, while inviting support from those around you.

Shana tova umetuka!


Temimah Zucker, LCSW, is the assistant clinical director at Monte Nido Manhattan and works in private practice helping to heal those struggling with mental illness. She specializes in working with those suffering from disordered eating and eating disorders and speaks nationally on the subjects of body image, mental health concerns, eating disorder awareness, and health at every size. To learn more, visit www.temimah.com

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