My Strive for Perfection During Rosh Hashanah
When I was growing up, Rosh Hashanah was like any other day of the year. Until I was a bat mitzvah, I had no idea when the festival even was, and I hadn’t set foot in a synagogue before.
As I grew older and began to learn about Judaism, I became more fascinated with the holidays. I wanted to explore the beautiful prayers, the blowing of the shofar, and the delicious recipes. To me, it sounded like perfection.
The images of beautiful and serene families and warm communities were a far cry from the reality of my life, and I saw no better way to connect with my roots than through the laws and rituals of the holidays.
In the years that followed, perfection remained on my mind. I began attending a Reform synagogue and felt that I should start doing the Jewish High Holy Days properly. I went to evening services, bought sweet biscuits and cakes, and dipped apples in honey.
But something was missing. I wasn’t quite sure what it was. The warmth of community? The beauty of a Jewish family? I couldn’t place my finger on it, but Rosh Hashanah wasn’t perfect, and so I decided that the next year, it would be.
My life changed immeasurably over the following year. It was marked by family feuds, fallings-out, and violence. By the time Rosh Hashanah arrived, I was a wreck.
I decided that I needed a fresh start, and became more determined than ever to have a perfect holiday.
The kind of perfection I grew up with, however, was almost neurotic, marked by routines, ritual, and usually unhappiness. But I didn’t know of anything else, so I set to writing timetables and lists and planning the holiday.
It didn’t go as planned. I sat and read Tehillim and dipped challah in honey. I was 18-years-old and living with my family, who didn’t care for the rituals of Judaism and made their feelings all too clear.
Disappointed and lonely, I became absorbed with the imperfection of my surroundings and didn’t think to look within. There was no festive meal, no davening in shul (synagogue)– just me and my thoughts and prayers, surrounded by the chaos and confusion that comes with a dysfunctional family who is diametrically opposed to anything that resembles Orthodoxy.
In retrospect, it was one of the most difficult times in my life. The next year, I resolved, my life would be completely different. It would be perfect.
It’s now Elul 5777. A year later. A world apart. And as I hear my friends discussing recipes and seating plans, I sit back and smile.
The past year has been a rollercoaster: there have been exhilarating highs and heartbreaking lows. Throughout the anguish, loss, grief, and illness, as well as the euphoria and joy, I have learned that it’s not what’s on the outside that matters.
No one is truly perfect. Not the married women who host 50 people for holiday meals, not my non-observant family, and not me. In ways, I have witnessed more in the past 12 months than in the 18 years that preceded them, and I have learned that all I can do is trust in G-d.
I’m at peace with the holiday, and at peace with my faith. I recognize the true nature of perfection, and it’s something that can’t be governed by timetables or menus. It’s governed by emotion: by awe and love for G-d.
The Jewish High Holy Days are called the Days of Awe for a reason. They are supposed to be marked by awe, love, and even fear for G-d. And when I focused on the corporeal and the superficial, I lost this sense of awe.
But this year, I know that what happens on Rosh Hashanah is between G-d and myself. It’s about prayer and rejoicing, and connecting with Him. He doesn’t care about tablemats and recipes: He cares about teshuva (repentance).
Finally, I have found perfection.