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One Grand Lesson of Rosh Hashanah: To Be Our Best

Seeing Our Goodness and Our Potential: One grand lesson of Rosh Hashanah is that we are, and can continue to be, very good. It is sufficient if we strive to achieve our potential. It is only when we fail to be the fullness of who we are that we are held accountable. Rabbi Zusya said, "In the world to come, they will not ask me, 'Why were you not Moses?' They will ask me, 'Why were you not Zusya?'"

Self-Assessment: Even those of us who wonder about the nature and the existence of God can find a place for ourselves in the rhythms and the texture of Rosh Hashanah. For it is not only God who judges us. In private moments of contemplation, often without prompting, we judge ourselves--when we lie in bed at night, unable to sleep; when we drive long distances with little to distract us; on vacation, when we sit alone, gazing at the stars. It is good to capture those moments, to harness them and channel them into more than passing speculation or the regrets of "if only." Those moments of awareness can mark turning points in our lives. Such is the gift of Rosh Hashanah. Safe in a community busy with self-assessment and turning, we are encouraged to make an honest assessment, too.

When we look carefully, we often find that the texture of our lives is an enlarged pattern of the little things: the times we lost our temper and the times we held our peace, the times our friends could count on us and the times we weren't there, the times we did what was right in our workplace and the times we looked away. We recall the times we took too much, drank too much, spent too much, cared too little; the times we acquiesced when we should have fought back, when we fought hard but for the wrong reason.

Rosh Hashanah is a day set aside for such remembering. We ask God--and we ask ourselves--to see our goodness, understand our frailties, accept our regrets, deepen our wisdom and strengthen our resolve to weave new threads of goodness into the fabric of our lives.

We also ask God to forgive us when our offense is both against God and against another person. What is an offense against God? Is it when we reject God's rituals? Yes, for it is as if we reject a gift given to us lovingly and expectantly. But even more, it is when we reject God's ways. "What is good and what is it that God wants of you but to do justly, pursue kindness and walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).

When we fail in our task as the partners of God, which we all do at times, we can seek God's forgiveness. But when we hurt others, we must seek them out for forgiveness. God can forgive us only after we seek the forgiveness of those we wronged. They own the hurt. They deserve and are owed the first apology.

Excerpted from The Tapestry of Jewish Time: A Spiritual Guide to Holidays and Life-Cycle Events (Behrman House, 2000, $24.95) by Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin. Available from

Hebrew for "Head of the Year," the Jewish New Year. With Yom Kippur, known as the High Holy Days. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.
Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin

Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin is Director of Jewish Life at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore, and chair of the editorial committee of Sh'ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility ( She lives in Baltimore with her husband, Rabbi Avram Reisner, and their children. Rabbi Cardin is a daughter of Jewish leader Shoshanna Cardin.

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