5 Tips to Navigate Change and Uncertainty
This year, the fall equinox and the Jewish New Year are perfectly aligned. To honor this season new beginnings, here are 5 lessons on how to navigate change and uncertainty.
(1) A Natural Pause
Technically, Rosh Hashana is not the “Jewish New Year,” but one of four new years in the Jewish calendar. We celebrate Rosh Hashana on the first of Tishrei, which is the seventh month in the Jewish calendar. Just like the seventh day of the week is dedicated to the Sabbath, a day of rest, so too, the seventh month is considered a sacred time to rest. On Rosh Hashana, we pause to assess where we are and where we are headed, like a painter stepping back from the canvas to evaluate her work.
For me, this has always felt like a more fitting time for the “new year” than January 1st. More than any other time of year, this season just feels like the right time to pause, take stock, and look ahead.
Fall, too, offers a natural point to pause, as the earth shifts its position and we shift into new rhythms with the new season. In a year-long leadership program with my mentor Christine Arylo, I’ve learned that the equinoxes and solstices have long been viewed as times to create a sacred pause. Throughout the year, we have gathered in circle to pause at these major shifts of the earth.
(2) A Disruption to Our Routine
Fall is a season of change, both in nature and culture. The summer heat starts to dissipate as the temperature cools down. Even on a warm fall day, there is a chill in the air when the sun fades behind the horizon. The days are getting shorter, and the early mornings are darker. We abandon our summer routines as we kick into “back to school” mode, even if our academic days are long behind us.
Rosh Hashana is the first of a ten-day period in which our lives hang in the balance as we return and repent to God and our fellow humans, with the hope of securing a positive fate for the coming year. It also is the opening celebration to over three weeks of holidays and observances that will continue with Yom Kippur, followed by Sukkot, a seven-day harvest festival, and Shmini Azeret and Simchat Torah. Jews who observe and celebrate these holidays commit to almost a month of interrupted routines and shaken-up schedules.
(3) Paradox: Creation vs Destruction
Rosh Hashana and Fall share a common paradox: each is a celebration of life and abundance, and, at the same time, a reminder that everything and everyone dies.
On Rosh Hashana we celebrate the anniversary of creation and of life itself. We marvel at God’s creativity to create such diversity in the world. Yet it is also the Day of Judgment: we are called by the sound of the shofar to stand trial before God and give an account of our lives. God decides our fate: who will live and who will die?
As we stand before the Divine presence in the holy sanctuary of the temple, we express gratitude for all the abundance God has given us, while also being mindful that our own days may be numbered. We reap the merits of our positive actions from the past year to strengthen our case before God as we pray to be inscribed in the book of life.
Fall is also a season of where we celebrate creation, as we harvest the abundant fruits of our labors. At this time of year, the stands at the farmer’s market are full with the late summer tomatoes, peppers and corn, and first offerings of pumpkins and other fall squash.
But Fall is also the season when nature starts to wither. Leaves fall off the trees and the grass loses its vibrant color. As the days get shorter, we are reminded that everything in life and nature eventually dies. We reap the harvest to prepare for the inevitable darkness of winter, when crops will be scarce.
This is the cycle of life: all creation begins with destruction. When things appear to be dying, know that new life will come. When things seem to be scarce, know that abundance will follow.
(4) The Fragility of Life
As the last of summer fades into a persistent Fall chill, we can feel that the year is waning. We look back to the goals, dreams and desires we set for ourselves at the start of the year, and assess how far we’ve come and how we have grown. Fall gives us the opportunity to reprioritize. If you’ve grown this year, some of your goals may no longer be relevant. This is the time to reactivate the projects that still move us and release those that are no longer aligned with our purpose.
On Rosh Hashana, too, we have an acute sense that our time is precious. The prayer liturgy and symbolism of the day remind us that life is short. We will not be able to achieve everything we want to do in one day, one year or one lifetime, but we must make the most of the time we have. Our “annual review” before God offers us the opportunity to take stock of where we are headed, and realign with our purpose.
(5) Fumbling in the Dark
The saying that “you don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone” is especially fitting at this time of year. As the days grow darker and the amount of daylight decreases, I feel my desire to be outside even more during the day, to soak up whatever sunshine I can. The shorter days make the daylight hours even more precious.
On Rosh Hashana, as we stand before God in judgment, aware that our days may be numbered, we often feel like we are in a dark place. As we begin a process of returning to our purpose, we reignite the light within ourselves and reconnect to the Divine light.